Remains of St. John Neumann unscathed

By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA – A recent fire at the National Shrine of St. John Neumann burned a wooden pulpit to ashes, but the nearby altar where the remains of St. John Neumann are interred was unscathed, according to a shrine official.

“St. John Neumann, continue to protect us,” said Redemptorist Father Arthur Gildea, a parochial vicar at St. Peter the Apostle Parish. The shrine is located in St. Peter’s lower church, at Fifth Street and Girard Avenue in the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia.

“It’s his home, his resting place – he’s going to continue to bless us and the people who come here,” added Father Gildea.

According to Father Gildea, an electrical short in a receptacle underneath the pulpit caused the fire to break out sometime during the night Tuesday, May 12. The sacristan discovered the ashes where the pulpit had been early Wednesday morning, May 13. “It didn’t spread at all beyond that wooden pulpit,” Father Gildea said. “It must have burned very slowly.”

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Wooden beams underneath the floor were only slightly charred, Father Gildea said. “There was a possibility that could have passed along the passageways underneath the floor, out of sight, but it didn’t,” Father Gildea said of the fire.

In between what was the pulpit and the altar is a credence table, a small table where the chalice, paten and cruets are placed prior to the celebration of Mass. The table was also unscathed by the fire. “That had a tablecloth on it that might have caught fire too, but it didn’t,” Father Gildea said.

The lower church is being cleaned as a result of the smoke damage it sustained. The shrine is operating on a normal schedule.

“A lot of people talk about it being miraculous,” Father Gildea said. “I certainly say it was miraculous that nothing further happened, thank God.”

In that regard, a miracle would be business as usual. “We talk about the grand miracles of St. John Neumann,” Father Gildea said. “It’s almost daily, or at least weekly, that we hear some story that something happened for the good of somebody through the intercession of John Neumann.”

St. John Neumann was the diocese’s fourth bishop and first canonized saint. Born in Bohemia on March 28, 1811, he was ordained a priest in 1836 and became a Redemptorist in 1842.

For more information, contact the shrine at (215) 627-3080 or visit the web site

CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at (215) 587-2468 or