By Christie L. ChicoineCS&t Staff Writer
PHILADELPHIA – The step near 13th and Vine Streets where St. John Neumann collapsed on an icy sidewalk before his death 151 years ago is displayed in the museum of the National Shrine of St. John Neumann at St. Peter the Apostle Church at Fifth Street and Girard Avenue in North Philadelphia.
The remains of the fourth bishop of the Diocese of Philadelphia, who is also renowned as the Archdiocese’s first saint, lie beneath the altar of the lower church of St. Peter the Apostle, adjacent to the museum. Pilgrims from near and far sojourn to the shrine daily to see the remains of the “little bishop,” so named because of his short stature.
And it is anticipated many more will visit the shrine this year, in commemoration of the 200th birthday of St. John Neumann on March 28. {{more}}
Acknowledging the two centuries that have passed since John Neumann’s birth, the Church of Philadelphia recently opened a Neumann Jubilee Year through June 23, 2012.
Among the youngest of the pilgrims are the church and shrine’s next-door-neighbors, the students of St. Peter the Apostle School.
Twelve-year-old Austin Baxter, a seventh-grader, can attest to the power of intercessory prayer to St. John Neumann.
Austin recalled the day in sixth grade, he petitioned the saint to help him with a science test. “I couldn’t get a lot of the questions,” Austin said.
“I had studied, and I tried, but I couldn’t really get it. Then, I just prayed to St. John Neumann and he helped me out and I got through it.”
He handed in his test hoping and praying for the best.
Then, when the marked test came back, Austin was more than satisfied with his score: 85 percent. “I didn’t think I had made it through that well.”
Austin appreciates the shrine museum picture that depicts St. John Neumann as a boy. “It actually lets you know that people like us can actually become saints because he was just like us when he was little.”
Austin is also awed by the step where St. John Neumann collapsed. “It’s pretty cool and inspiring to see that part of history,” he said.
It is a privilege, Austin said, to be in the presence of the saint’s remains. “It’s good to have a saint that’s in the room with you at Mass.”
“It’s good that we have St. John Neumann here at St. Peter’s so that as we go to church, we get to tour the shrine and learn more about him,” said 11-year-old Maya Merriman, a sixth-grader.
“I feel like he’s helping us every day,” in school and at play, she added. “He’s right there with us in our hearts.”
Third-grader Abigail Salamone, 8, said she was amused to learn that St. John Neumann died with candy in his pocket.
She was referring to the fact that Bishop Neumann was known to always carry a rosary for prayers and candy for the children entrusted to his care.
As she recently knelt in prayer before the remains of the saint, Abigail felt happy, she said, “because he was with me.”
She said she also feels the saint’s presence on the school playground and thinks about what he must have been like as a little boy: “helpful and nice and kind.”
With that in mind, Abigail said she strives to follow in the footsteps of the saint by being “helpful and nice and kind – and giving.”
Born in Bohemia on March 28, 1811, John Neumann was ordained a priest in 1836 and became a Redemptorist in 1842.
He was bishop of the Diocese of Philadelphia from 1852 to 1860.
In his eight years in the diocese, 80 churches and 35 Catholic schools were built.
To educate the faithful of all ages about the significance of the Real Presence, Bishop Neumann required churches to make the Forty Hours devotion to the Eucharist available to Catholics in Philadelphia.
In addition to starting the Catholic school system and the practice of the Forty Hours devotion in the diocese, Bishop Neumann was known as a trusted advocate of immigrant Catholics.
The last day of his life, Jan. 5, 1860, Bishop Neumann was, reportedly, returning from the post office where he had been checking on the status of a chalice that had been sent to him by a priest in Bellefonte, Centre County, to be consecrated.
On his way home, Bishop Neumann collapsed on an icy sidewalk in front of a house at 1218 Vine St. He was carried inside the house, where he died shortly thereafter.
Four days later, on Jan. 9, Bishop Neumann’s body was placed in the Cathedral chapel, where it was visited by thousands of mourners. A lengthy procession made its way from the chapel to St. John the Evangelist Church – then the pro-cathedral – for the funeral Mass.
Bishop Neumann’s body was taken to St. Peter’s Church, where he had asked to be buried with his fellow Redemptorists.
St. John Neumann was canonized by Pope Paul VI on June 19, 1977.
For more information about the National Shrine of St. John Neumann, visit or call 215-627-3080.
CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at 215-587-2468 or