Saturday, 30 January 2010
Thursday, 28 January 2010
Shortly after his ordination, Father Freitag had an excellent opportunity of displaying his zeal for souls among the sick and paroled soldiers in and around Annapolis. Besides working in the holy ministry, he had charge of some branches of study, especially of Greek, which he taught the younger students then in Annapolis. In 1865, he was transferred to New York where, for the first three years, he was stationed at the house of the Most Holy Redeemer, afterward, until 1869, at that of St. Alphonsus, whence he returned to Annapolis.
From 1871 to 1873, being Rector, he was most solicitous for the adornment of the church. He furnished it with new and costly vestments and other articles pertaining to Divine worship. After leaving Annapolis, he was stationed first in Boston, and then at St. Alphonsus, New York, where he died. As a missionary, he was very zealous and full of charity. Indeed, his charity toward the abandoned sinner was that of a tender mother for her sick child. It may be mentioned that, when in Boston, he took delight in visiting the colony of Penobscot Indians, in Maine, whose hearts he won by his devotedness.
While still in the vigour of manhood, a slow sickness gradually sapped his strength and, after prolonged suffering, he died peacefully on 26 July, 1882. The large concourse at his obsequies betokened the great esteem in which Father Freitag was universally held. †
Saturday, 23 January 2010
and One of the Greatest
Redemptorist Missioners of All Time
Written by Rev Fr M.J.A. Lans
Professor at the Minor Seminary of Haarlem, Holland
Click Here for all Fr Bernard chapters posted to-date
In Rome the students were assembled by the Count of Celles, and read an ordinance in which they were informed that if they did not return to Holland immediately they would never be permitted to hold the position of parish priest in their country. After some consideration, and at a second meeting, Fr. Bernard, as their ‘spokesman’ firmly announced their resolution to remain at Rome.
By a Decree on 2nd October 1829, William I of Holland permitted the opening of the diocesean seminaries as well as the lifting of the penalties on students abroad who returned to Holland before 1st February 1830. The news was announced in Rome after an audience of the Court of Celles with the Pope to the great delight of Fr. Bernard. The question however soon arose as to whether they would have to return to the Dutch Seminaries or if they could complete their studies in Rome. The decree was a little obscure in its details, which caused them some confusion. Fr. Bernard wrote that if it was the will of his parents and the ecclesiastical authorities he would return home. It is believed that the Archpriest under whose jurisdiction they fell gave them permission to continue in either place.
In June 1830 both Beelen and Hafkenscheid received an invitation from the same Archpriest Jan Van Banning who governed the Church in Holland and Zealand to return as – in Fr. Bernard’s’ case – Professor of Philosophy at the Hageveld Seminary. After much thought and consultation with enlightened persons, he politely declined the offer which was indeed very flattering to them. Their future now stable, the two friends had also reached the first steps of their journey towards the altar. Both were given the minor orders on Ember Saturday 1829 and received the sub-deaconate at the hands of the Cardinal Vicar on Holy Saturday, 10th April 1830.
At the end of the year of study Fr. Bernard now gained three medals - for Dogmatic Theology, Moral Theology and Hebrew. This fact he communicated with great joy to his parents – rejoicing at the pride they would feel. He had a great devotion to them both and consecrated many hours to writing them long and detailed letters, simply to give them pleasure, doing what he could, he said, to render to his father what he owed him either in medals or prayers. The prayers he called the capital and the medals the interest.
On Holy Saturday 1831, he received the deaconate. The opportunity to study in Rome and the excellent courses given had developed his mind to an extraordinary degree. Fr. Bernard was also very generous while at Rome to assist financially fellow students from Holland and Brabant.
Also his stay at Rome and his contact with the Sovereign Pontiffs developed in him – at this time when there were already difficulties in the Papal States – a lively dedication to the successor of Peter. During his studies he witnessed the reign of three popes and his letters are full of descriptions of the funeral ceremonies and coronation of these Popes; Leo XII, Pius VIII and Gregory XVI – as well as about the political unrest which started at this time. His solution to the problems he summarised into two words – patience and prayer. During these years he was a witness too of the extraordinary piety of the Roman people and their prayers for the cause of the Sovereign Pontiff – particularly one evening at the exposition of the relics of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul at St. John Lateran’s, where the crowd was so great that it appeared as if they had come to take over the church as would a vast crowd of revolutionaries.
During this time in Rome, Fr. Bernard was fortunate in having the opportunity to learn much by assisting at the sermons of many excellent preachers who spoke powerfully but on the simple style of the Gospel – something so dear to St. Alphonsus. It was here that he began his formation as a preacher which he would later perfect and use to such magnificent effect in Europe and America.
During his holidays he was able to make many pilgrimages – themselves a formation – to such places as Montefalco, Assisi, and Loretto. The latter made a particularly profound impression on him, along with the piety of the Italian country people when he saw them, while approaching the shrine, on their way home in the streets wearing crowns of flowers as a sign of having made the pilgrimage to the Holy House.
This somewhat longer chapter gives long and interesting excerpts from many of Fr. Bernard’s letters from the epoch.
SUITE DU SUJET PRECEDENT
Un peu plus tard, il écrivait encore : "De toutes les lettres que j'ai reçues de vous jusqu'à ce jour, la dernière m'a été sans contredit la plus agréable et la plus intéressante. Que nous soyons fondés à attendre avec assurance la fin prochaine de nos épreuves, nous en avons un gage dans la nomination du régent Van Bommel à l'évêché de Liège, et dans les circonstances qui l'ont précédée et accompagnée. Je me réjouis chaque jour et à chaque heure du jour, et tous ceux qui ont à coeur les intérêts de la Hollande, se réjouissent comme moi de cette promotion heureuse et inattendue. Les grands talents du régent et les éminents services qu'il a rendus à l'Eglise, ces trois dernières années principalement, l'ont rendu plus que digne de l'épiscopat. Aussi n'y a-t-il aucun doute, que, secondé par tous ceux qui défendent la bonne cause, il ne soit d'un grand secours pour l'Eglise. Que Liège se félicite de l'avoir pour évêque, et prie Dieu avec ardeur de lui garder longtemps un tel pasteur !"
Une brillante fête d'adieux avait été célébrée en Hollande en l'honneur du régent, fête où l'amour et la reconnaissance de ses anciens élèves s'étaient manifestés avec un élan extraordinaire; la petite colonie de Rome en fut bientôt informée. "Il faut bien, écrit Bernard, que la fête d'adieux offerte à notre digne régent ait été splendide. Du moins la description que vous m'en avez faite montre clairement que tout a conspiré à rendre des honneurs et des remercîments convenables à celui dont le nom demeurera vivant dans tous les coeurs, qui a rendu de si grands services à l'Eglise et qui lui en rendra à l'avenir de plus signalés encore. Ses mérites transcendants, jusqu'ici cachés derrière les murs de Hageveld, vont enfin être révélés; l'Eglise de Hollande tout entière va bientôt partager avec nous cette haute estime dans laquelle nous l'avons toujours tenu, nous qui l'avons connu de plus près ... Peu après la réception de vos lettres, j'étais à les lire dans un petit cercle de Néerlandais romains; voilà que tout à coup nos mains s'emparent de nos verres, nous trinquons, et dans un hoezee répété, nous buvons à la santé de l'évêque de Liège. Vraiment, vos comptes-rendus et la lettre envoyée au Courrier étaient de nature à exciter un tel enthousiasme ... Si les adversaires ont encore un petit grain de bon sens, ils ne doivent pas être peu embarrassés, en voyant un éloge si éclatant donné à Hageveld, à son régent et à ses élèves !"
Bernard ne s'était pas trompé; depuis la promotion de Mgr Van Bommel, la cause des Catholiques néerlandais commença à prendre une tournure plus favorable. Les étudiants de Rome suivaient avec un intérêt toujours croissant chaque évènement qui se passait dans leur patrie. Ils désiraient ardemment voir la fin de tant de mesures attentatoires aux droits de l'Eglise, et conjuraient Dieu d'exaucer ce désir de leurs coeurs. Vers cette époque, Bernard écrivait : "Je laisse les Russes et les Turcs se battre ensemble; pour moi, quand je m'occupe de politique, je ne fais attention qu'aux affaires de notre pays."
L'exécution du Concordat, nous l'avons déjà dit, avait été différée à plusieurs reprises. A la vérité, avant même la conclusion de ce pacte, le gouvernement des Pays-Bas avait donné l'assurance que l'obligation de suivre les cours du Collège philosophique serait annulée; mais il ne tenait aucun compte de ses engagements. Ce fut seulement par un décret du 20 juin 1829, que l'on donna finalement suite aux conventions du Concordat, et encore ne fut-ce qu'à demi. L'assistance aux cours du Collège philosophique était, il est vrai, déclarée facultative pour les jeunes gens qui désiraient faire leurs études théologiques dans les séminaires épiscopaux; mais les étudiants qui séjournaient à l'étranger, restèrent une épine dans l'oeil du gouvernement.
Un jour, tous les étudiants néerlandais résidant à Rome reçurent ordre de comparaître, à jour et heure déterminés, devant Son Excellence le comte de Celles . Personne ne savait ce dont il s'agissait. Lorsque, au moment fixé, tous furent réunis à l'hôtel du comte, M. Germain parut, accompagné de son secrétaire. Il fit lecture d'un mandat qu'il disait avoir reçu du gouvernement néerlandais; en vertu de ce mandat, tous les étudiants de Rome avaient à retourner immédiatement dans leur patrie, afin d'achever leurs études au Collège philosophique. S'ils refusaient d'obtempérer à cet ordre, jamais ils ne pourraient espérer remplir dans leur pays les fonctions de vicaire ou de curé. A cette nouvelle, ils se regardèrent les uns les autres avec surprise. Mais bientôt Bernard, prenant la parole, déclara au nom de tous qu'ils ne pouvaient tout d'un coup donner une réponse définitive, qu'ils désiraient prendre conseil de leurs supérieurs, que par conséquent ils demandaient quelque délai avant de se prononcer.
Quelques semaines plus tard, ils furent de nouveau cités à comparaître devant Son Excellence, et personne ne manqua à l'appel pour le jour indiqué. On leur fit lecture du même mandat, la menace de la peine fut réitérée, et on les somma de donner une réponse. "Notre ferme résolution, dit Bernard d'un air grave et réfléchi, est de demeurer à Rome et d'y achever nos études." Après leur avoir fait de vifs reproches sur leur esprit de révolte contre le gouvernement et sur leur peu d'amour pour la patrie, on les congédia en leur déclarant que leur résolution serait notifiée sans retard au gouvernement. En réalité, ils n'eurent jamais lieu de constater les suites fâcheuses de leur conduite en cette circonstance.
Quoiqu'il en soit, Bernard put encore écrire avec raison le 1er août 1829, que l'expression tant répétée : "Tout s'arrangera", signifiait peu de chose, et que le décret du 20 juin n'avait apporté aucun changement essentiel dans la situation. - "Il paraît, continuait-il, que l'arc est toujours tendu à l'égard de ceux qui étudient à l'étranger. C'est sans doute à cause des principes étrangers et anti-patriotiques, qui leur sont inculqués. Mais pourquoi le comte de Celles, ou quelqu'un de sa suite, n'a-t-il pas, durant son séjour triennal à Rome, honoré au moins une seule fois de sa présence le Collège Romain, qui est ouvert à tous ? Son Excellence, qui nous a constamment épiés avec des yeux d'aigle, aurait-elle jamais pu mieux se convaincre de l'enseignement de ces principes pervers que les jeunes gens puisent à l'étranger ? A la bonne heure; voilà que le sort en est jeté : la porte du saint ministère est fermée aux jeunes gens qui quittent leur pays sans en avoir obtenu la permission.
Nous attendrons jusqu'à ce que cette chanson soit finie. Ici, à Rome, j'ai plus de jouissances que ne pourrait m'en procurer la Hollande; quant à l'avenir, je l'abondonne au Seigneur."
Souvent aussi il exprimait sa profonde indignation contre les inventeurs et les défenseurs du Collège philosophique; mais en même temps, plein de confiance dans le secours de la divine Providence, il écrivait : "Vous voulez, paraît-il, m'inspirer du courage, comme si de tels décrets me jetaient dans le trouble. Oh ! si vous saviez combien peu ces mesures m'embarrassent !
Sait aussi des méchants arrêter les complots."
Faut-il s'étonner que Bernard et ses compagnons d'études, après avoir pris une part si sensible aux douleurs de l'Eglise de Hollande, après avoir tant prié pour obtenir du ciel des temps plus favorables, se soient réjouis de tout coeur lorsque les jours de deuil furent enfin passés ? Le 2 octobre 1829, parut le décret suivant du roi Guillaume Ier : "Considérant le deuxième article de la convention du 18 juin 1827, passée avec le Saint-Siège et ratifiée par Nous le 25 juillet de la même année, et qui porte : "Chaque diocèse aura son chapitre et son séminaire," Nous avons décidé et décidons :
"Art. 1. ... Nous déclarons que les évêques qui veulent ouvrir leur séminaire épiscopal, sont autorisés à pourvoir incontinent à son organisation ...
"Art. 2. Les jeunes gens qui ont fait leurs études préparatoires hors du pays, et qui se présenteront avant le 1er février (1830) pour être admis aux séminaires épiscopaux, nous les dégageons des règlements de notre décret du 14 août 1825, les assimilant à ceux qui ont fait leurs études hors du pays avec notre consentement."
Nous laissons de nouveau la parole à Bernard Hafkenscheid. Il va nous décrire la satisfaction que le décret royal apporta aux séminaristes hollandais de Rome : "Vous ne sauriez comprendre quel indicible plaisir votre dernière lettre nous a causé à tous ... Une rumeur vague, qui ne tarda pas à se confirmer, nous avait appris que quelque chose d'important allait se passer dans notre pays, que les affaires ecclésiastiques avaient reçu une toute autre direction, et que, par un nouveau décret, des stipulations fort avantageuses avaient été arrêtées à l'égard des étudiants expatriés. Voilà que tout à coup nous lisons le texte de ce décret dans la Gazette de France. Bien plus, M. Germain a eu une audience du pape, et dès le lendemain, le décret se trouvait dans le Diario di Roma. - Oh! combien Beelen et moi, nous soupirions après les correspondances d'Amsterdam ! car c'était seulement alors que nous devions être parfaitement informés de tout. Et voilà que les lettres nous arrivent ! Quelle joyeuse, quelle importante nouvelle ! "
Et dans une autre lettre : "Croyez bien, dit-il, que jamais nous ne nous trouvons ensemble sans nous réjouir de l'heureuse tournure qu'ont prise les affaires ... Les évêques rétablis sur leurs sièges, le toujours cher Hageveld ouvert de nouveau, la jeunesse des écoles auparavant dispersée, rappelée dans les lieux qui lui sont destinés, une source nouvelle de bénédictions ouverte pour l'Eglise des Pays-Bas. Voilà autant d'évènements qui, même à Rome, causent une joie d'autant grande que toutes les prévisions sont dépassées. Oui, du plus profond de notre coeur, nous prenons part à l'allégresse des Catholiques néerlandais. Les récents évènements sont une nouvelle preuve que, seules, la patience et la résignation triomphent des ennemis de l'Eglise, et que les maux temporels, supportés chrétiennement, attirent toujours après eux la bénédiction divine. Puisse un sentiment durable de reconnaissance confirmer dans tous les coeurs cette bénédiction que le ciel a répandue sur la Hollande !"
On comprend que la petite colonie de Rome se posa bien vite cette question : Serons-nous obligés de nous rendre en nos séminaires respectifs, ou bien nous sera-t-il permis d'achever nos études ici ? Nos séminaristes ignoraient encore ce que désirait l'autorité ecclésiastique. Ils étaient également dans le doute touchant le sens du décret royal, aux termes duquel ils devaient se présenter avant le 1er février 1830. "Notre unique désir, écrivait Bernard, est de pouvoir étudier encore quelque temps à Rome ... Ce n'est pas le désir seulement de quelques-uns, mais de tous. Quelque satisfaits que nous soyons de l'heureuse marche des affaires catholiques, tous nous aimerions de rester ici ... Nous sommes si bien établis au Collège et les études y sont si excellentes, que personne d'entre nous ne souhaite un changement. Mais, encore une fois, les intérêts personnels mis de côté, chacun se réjouit et remercie le Ciel du rétablissment de l'ordre et de la paix. Béni soit, et trois fois béni celui qui est l'auteur d'une pacification si honorable ! " - Il ajoutait que si, cependant, l'objet de son désir était en opposition avec la volonté de son père et de sa mère, ou avec celle de l'autorité ecclésiastique, ou bien encore, que s'ils devaient lui, et ses amis, se mettre pour plus tard dans l'impossibilité d'exercer le saint ministère en Hollande, ils étaient tout prêts à retourner dans leur patrie.
Il y a lieu de croire que l'archiprêtre, de la juridiction duquel relevaient Bernard et plusieurs de ses condisciples, leur laissa la liberté d'achever leurs études soit en Hollande, soit à Rome. Toujours est-il que Bernard écrivait vers la fin de 1829 : "Ce qui nous réjouit extrêmement, c'est la paix profonde dont nous jouissons jusqu'à présent, non seulement nous, mais encore tous les amis hollandais. Pas un seul n'a reçu la moindre apparence d'invitation à retourner au pays. Chose étrange ! lorsque les séminaires étaient fermés, chacun était mécontent et triste; et maintenant qu'ils sont ouverts, rien ne nous serait plus désagréable que de quitter Rome pour aller étudier dans les séminaires."
Cependant cette paix, dont jouissaient les deux amis, Hafkenscheid et Beelen, faillit être de courte durée. Moins d'une année après la réouverture des séminaires, en juin 1830, ils reçurent, conçue dans les termes les plus flatteurs, une lettre qui les invitait à reprendre le chemin de la patrie. Déjà la renommée de leurs talents et de leurs vertus les avait précédés; les rapports les plus favorables avaient été faits sur leur compte. Aussi l'archiprêtre qui gouvernait alors la Hollande et la Zélande, M. Jean Van Banning, songeant à rétablir le séminaire de Hageveld, jeta-t-il les yeux sur eux pour la réalisation de son projet. Les termes dans lesquels il leur écrivit montrent quelles grandes espérances il fondait sur l'un et l'autre. La chaire de philosophie d'Hageveld était offerte à Bernard; Beelen était destiné au séminaire de Warmond.
Les deux amis ne furent pas peu flattés de l'offre si honorable qui leur était faite. Dans leur réponse à l'archiprêtre, ils déclarèrent combien ils appréciaient l'affection et la confiance qu'on leur témoignait : "Une telle proposition, disaient-ils entre autres choses, est le gage d'un amour et une confiance qui surpassent tout ce que nous aurions pu ou osé attendre." - Se faisant illusion sur leur mérite, ils ne pouvaient comprendre comment cette offre avait pu leur être adressée. "L'offre m'est fort honorable, écrivait Bernard à ses parents, mais ce n'est que pour autant que je la considère en elle-même; car si je considère qu'elle m'est faite à moi, je ne sais où j'en suis." - Les deux amis réfléchirent longtemps sur la détermination qu'ils devaient prendre. Ils consultèrent plusieurs personnages distingués par leur prudence; maintes fois les intérêts de leur avenir furent l'objet de leurs prières comme le sujet de leurs entretiens. Enfin, considérant leur jeunesse, le peu de temps qu'ils avaient étudié à Rome, et leur vif désir de continuer jusqu'au bout un travail qui produisait de si beaux résultats, ils résolurent de décliner, pour le moment, l'honneur que leur faisait l'archiprêtre. "Après mûre délibération, lui écrivirent-ils, toute considération humaine mise de côté, et déférant à l'avis des personnages les plus éclairés, nous avons pris ce parti et nous croyons devoir en conscience nous y tenir."
C'est ainsi que les deux amis purent, à leur grande satisfaction, continuer paisiblement leurs études dans la capitale du monde chrétien. Leur seconde année scolaire touchait à sa fin. Ce fut une des plus importantes années de la vie de Bernard; car elle lui fit faire le pas décisif dans sa marche vers le sanctuaire. Après avoir reçu les ordres mineurs le samedi des Quatre-Temps de décembre 1829, il fut, avec son ami Beelen, ordonné sous-diacre par le cardinal-vicaire Zurba, le Samedi-Saint 10 avril 1830. Le langage, dans lequel il répondit aux félicitations de sa famille, nous fait voir les sentiments de joie, de reconnaissance, de confiance en la divine Providence dont son coeur était rempli en cette circonstance importante de sa vie. "Que le Ciel bénisse vos souhaits, dit-il à ses parents, et m'accorde les grâces dont j'aurai besoin dans ma carrière ecclésiastique. Quel bonheur de voir mes voeux accomplis, d'être entré dans la voie vers laquelle m'ont toujours dirigé mon esprit et mon coeur ! Jamais je n'aurais pu croire que la fixation de ma vocation dût me procurer tant de joie intérieure. Vraiment c'en est trop ! Que ne puis-je remercier dignement le Ciel de m'avoir accordé un si grand bienfait ? Mais j'ai la confiance bien fondée qu'en cela vous me viendrez en aide."
La fin de la première année d'étude de notre digne lévite à Rome avait été, nous l'avons vu, marquée par un triomphe éclatant; celle de la seconde année fut marquée par une distinction nouvelle et plus splendide encore. Laissons-le parler lui-même : "Mes chers parents, mes chers frères et soeurs, amis et connaissances, réjouissez-vous avec moi ! Le Ciel, cette année encore, a couronné mes labeurs ! Que si, l'année dernière, il m'a été permis de vous annoncer l'heureuse nouvelle que j'avais obtenu une médaille, je viens vous faire savoir que, cette année, j'en ai gagné trois. Encore une fois, le Ciel a béni mes travaux. Le cardinal Odescalchi m'a remis une première médaille pour la dogmatique, une autre pour la théologie morale, et enfin une troisième pour la langue hébraïque. Vous ne sauriez vous figurer mon bonheur de pouvoir communiquer une nouvelle si agréable à mon père et à ma mère. Réjouissez-vous; encore une fois, réjouissez-vous tous ! ... Aurais-je pu, chers parents, vous offrir un plus beau présent ? Quel plaisir pour moi de pouvoir, à la fin de ma seconde année scolaire, vous offrir cette petite compensation pour toutes les peines et pour toutes les dépenses que vous avez supportées, et que vous ne cessez de supporter pour moi !
Grâces soient rendues au Seigneur, qui nous procuré, à vous et à moi, une telle joie ! Je vous annonce en outre que, peu de jours auparavant, après avoir passé mon examen, j'ai été élevé au grade de bachelier. Ce premier degré était le but auquel je visais pendant l'année qui vient de s'écouler; je l'ai atteint; aussi je passe d'agréables vacances."
Nous ne reviendrons pas sur les fêtes que la petite colonie hollandaise organisa pour célébrer le nouveau triomphe de son lauréat, de celui qui était son honneur et sa gloire. Mais nous prendrons occasion de la joie qu'il procura par là encore à ses parents, pour parler de l'affection qu'il leur portait. Cette affection, il l'avait manifestée dès l'âge le plus tendre. Il s'en fallut bien qu'elle s'affaiblit pendant sa longue absence; et plus tard, après même qu'il se fut voué tout à Dieu dans la vie religieuse, elle se maintint toujours aussi vive. Que d'heures ne consacra-t-il pas à écrire à son père et à sa mère des pages où, pour leur faire plaisir, il descendait jusqu'aux plus menus détails ! car il le savait : c'était une fête pour eux de convoquer leurs amis et leurs voisins, pour leur lire les lettres qu'ils recevaient de Rome. Souvent il s'entretenait avec ses amis de ses chers parents; il se transportait en esprit auprès d'eux. Il partageait toutes leurs joies et toutes leurs douleurs. Chaque jour de fête que célébraient ses parents, il s'y associait; souvent même il convoquait quelques-uns de ses compagnons à la joyeuse solennité. C'était surtout alors que ses lettres rendaient un témoignage éloquent de sa vive allégresse, de sa reconnaissance sincère et de son respect filial.
"Je fais ce que je puis, écrivait-il un jour, pour rendre à mon père, soit en prières soit en médailles, tout ce que je lui dois. Les prières sont les capitaux, et les médailles les intérêts." - Au cinquante et unième anniversaire de la naissance de sa mère, il lui écrivit les lignes suivantes : "Oh ! que ne m'est-il donné, en ce jour où tous vos enfants s'empressent à l'envi auprès de vous pour vous féliciter, de prendre place au milieu d'eux, et de joindre ma voix à la leur pour vous donner avec eux les marques les plus sincères de mon amour et de ma vénération !
Combien je voudrais contribuer pour ma part personnelle à faire de ce jour l'un des plus beaux jours de l'année, un jour de fête solennelle ! Vos enfants vous prouveront non seulement par des paroles, mais encore par des faits, combien la fête de votre naissance leur est chère. Votre joie sera leur joie, leur contentement sera le vôtre. Tous ceux qui vous aiment s'efforceront de vous faire plaisir en cette occasion; ce sera une fête de famille. Tout cela, ils le feront sans moi. Ils ne manqueront pas de se souvenir de vous dans leurs prières; et voilà, chère mère, le seul présent qu'en union avec eux, je puisse aujourd'hui vous offrir. J'ai la pleine confiance qu'une prière faite par des enfants pour leurs parents, est exaucée. C'est pourquoi nos prières unies vont faire jaillir pour vous une nouvelle source de bénédictions. Votre bonheur ne fait qu'un avec celui de notre père, avec celui de nous tous. Donc, si nous recommandons au ciel vos intérêts, nous en ferons descendre des bénédictions et sur vous, et sur notre père, et sur nous tous.
Chère mère, demeurez encore longtemps parmi nous; plus vous avancez en âge, plus votre présence nous devient douce. Vous voir à côté de notre père, au milieu de nous, voilà ce qui fait notre plus grande joie sur la terre. Soyez encore pendant une longue suite d'années témoin de la prospérité et de la sanctification de vos enfants et de vos petits-enfants, au bonheur desquels vous avez tant contribué par vos travaux et vos soins infatigables. Jamais nous n'oublierons les preuves d'amour dont vous avez marqué chacun des pas de notre jeune âge. Que si un jour je dois entrer comme prêtre dans le sanctuaire de l'Eglise de Dieu, alors, encore plus efficacement qu'aujourd'hui, je prouverai par mes prières que je sais apprécier les bienfaits dont vous m'avez comblé dès mon enfance. Je me souviendrai de vous spécialement au saint autel. Tout en vous obtenant le bonheur temporel et éternel que nous devons, à tant de titres, nous efforcer de vous procurer, j'attirerai encore sur moi ces faveurs que Dieu a promises à tous ceux qui honorent et aiment leurs parents."
On nous permettra de donner encore un fragment d'une lettre écrite par Bernard, lors d'un anniversaire de la naissance de son père. Les mêmes sentiments s'y révèlent avec la même naïveté de langage : "Je souhaiterais, pour aujourd'hui seulement, d'être non pas à Rome, mais auprès de vous. Avec quel plaisir ne jetez-vous pas les yeux sur cette couronne d'enfants et de petits-enfants, qui viennent féliciter leur père et leur grand-père ! Aujourd'hui tous quittent leur propre demeure pour aller célébrer votre fête dans la maison paternelle. Chacun retrouve là sa place et se remet en mémoire toutes les années heureuses qu'il y a passées dans vos bras. Chacun contribue à vous faire honneur. Il n'y a personne qui ne soit dans l'allégresse et qui ne fasse entendre de joyeux accents. Et mes souhaits donc seront-ils aussi entendus, au milieu de cette joie domestique ? ... Votre fête est pour moi un jour de doux souvenirs, un jour de grande reconnaissance, un jour où je fais des voeux sincères pour votre bonheur. Oh ! tandis que tous les enfants qui sont auprès de vous s'empressent de faire du 21 août un jour de grande fête, que ne m'est-il pas donné ici, en cette ville de Rome, de monter à l'autel du Seigneur et de lui offrir pour vous le sacrifice immaculé de son Fils ! Je puis du moins prier pour vous, et à mesure que j'approche davantage du saint autel, ma prière, je l'espère, deviendra toujours plus efficace. Un des voeux que je forme pour votre bonheur, je veux le formuler ici : "Que Dieu vous accorde l'accomplissement du désir que vous éprouvez, de revoir un jour votre fils au milieu de vos enfants et de vos petits-enfants ! Tous alors, nous ferons la couronne et la consolation de votre âge mûr et d'une vieillesse prolongée au delà des limites ordinaires de la vie."
Ce coeur si affectueux, si rempli d'amour pour les auteurs de ses jours, ne pouvait se contenter de paroles et de promesses. Il y joignait des prières multipliées et ferventes, surtout le jeudi. A son départ pour Rome, en effet, on s'était promis en famille que le jeudi serait le jour où l'on prierait d'une manière spéciale les uns pour les autres. Peut-être faut-il attribuer en grande partie à ces prières une faveur dont jouirent les parents de Bernard : la faveur d'être témoins, pendant si longtemps, des travaux apostoliques de leur fils bien-aimé, et d'admirer les fruits de salut qu'ils produisaient dans les âmes.
La fin de la troisième année d'études de Bernard à Rome ne se signala point par des triomphes semblables à ceux des années précédentes : il ne fut plus question de médailles. La raison en est que ni lui, ni son ami Beelen, ne jugèrent à propos de prendre part aux concours. Préférant l'utile au brillant, ils n'avaient plus en vue que d'achever promptement leurs études. Bernard n'en obtint pas moins ce qui était l'objet de ses désirs, le grade de licencié en théologie.
Le Samedi-Saint de cette année 1831, il reçut le diaconat. Les sentiments qui animaient le coeur du pieux lévite à l'approche de sa prêtrise, on en jugera par la lettre qu'il écrivit à son ami Broere, devenu, depuis 1830, professeur au séminaire de Hageveld : "Encore un pas, très cher ami, lui disait-il, et je suis prêtre ! tout mon être est comme concentré dans cette pensée, et j'espère me préparer sérieusement à cette démarche importante entre toutes. Dès ce moment, je me recommande à vos prières, surtout dans le saint sacrifice de la messe. Si je considère ce que j'ai été et ce que je suis à cette heure, je vous l'avoue franchement, je tremble à la pensée que je vais être revêtu d'une si haute diginité. Mais il faut accomplir la volonté de Dieu qui m'appelle. Je tâche, autant que possible, de purifier mon âme et d'attirer en moi le vrai esprit sacerdotal. Neuf jours avant le Carême, j'ai fait à cette fin, chez les Jésuites, les exercices spirituels. Que Dieu daigne couronner mes efforts. Je me confie dans les prières de ma famille, de mes amis et connaissances; au reste j'abandonne au ciel tous mes intérêts, me remettant entre les mains de la Mère de Dieu. Voilà deux ans et demi que je suis éloigné de la Hollande; et grâce à Dieu, je suis parvenu à une indifférence complète touchant le lieu que j'habiterai et le genre de travaux auxquels je devrai un jour me livrer. Ma famille attend mon retour à la fin de ma quatrième année d'études; eh bien ! si cela doit se faire, je dis fiat. Les choses doivent-elles tourner autrement ? je n'en serai pas moins content. J'apprends toujours avec plaisir que l'un ou l'autre de mes amis est entré dans les fonctions du saint ministère; j'espère les suivre un jour. Bien que je brûle du désir d'être utile aux autres, je ne saurais néanmoins laisser échapper l'occasion qui m'est donnée de faire toute espèce de provisions pour la formation de mon esprit et de mon coeur.”
En réalité, son application assidue à l'étude et l'excellent enseignement du Collège-Romain avaient développé son intelligence dans un degré extraordinaire. D'un autre côté, la direction spirituelle des Pères Jésuites, toujours sage et éclairée, avait formé en lui un coeur vraiment sacerdotal. Les témoignages nombreux de ses amis d'études concordent tous, pour nous apprendre combien la vertu et la piété de Bernard étaient unanimement reconnues et appréciées.
L'un d'eux a écrit à ce sujet : "Il fut pour moi et pour tous ceux qui le connurent, un modèle de piété et de régularité. " Un autre : "Vers la fin des promenades, il avait coutume de conduire ses amis à l'église où avait lieu l'exercice de l'Adoration perpétuelle, afin de recevoir la bénédiction du Très Saint Sacrement qui s'y donnait vers le soir. En temps de carême, il ne prenait d'autre nourriture le soir qu'un morceau de pain sec avec un peu de sel." - "A Rome, nous dit un troisième, il fut un modèle en tout. Souvent lorsque, après le repas, il sortait du restaurant avec ses amis, il donnait une aumône aux pauvres, en disant d'un ton jovial : "Je ne puis guère me dispenser de faire cette petite charité; sans quoi mon père dirait : "Mon cher, tu as dépensé bien peu de chose !"
La charité, une charité généreuse, était une des vertus qui brillaient le plus dans notre jeune lévite. Il s'y était formé en quelque sorte sur les genoux de ses parents, que Dieu avait gratifiés d'une fortune considérable. Or, l'occasion d'exercer cette belle vertu était loin de faire défaut à Rome. Si la discrétion ne nous imposait silence sur plusieurs détails mentionnés dans les lettres de Bernard, nous pourrions citer plus d'un de ses amis comme témoins et même comme objets de ses libéralités. Qu'il nous suffise de citer les deux extraits suivants : "L'état d'indigence, écrivait-il en 1829, où se trouvent réduits quelques-uns de nos étudiants hollandais et aussi certains frères du Brabant, qui sont ici en grand nombre, ne me permet vraiment pas de les abandonner à leur sort. Ne travaillent-ils pas pour le même but que moi ? Je me vois donc dans l'obligation, depuis longtemps déjà, de mettre la main à la poche. Je sens que c'est mon devoir; aussi je n'y manque pas." - Un autre jour, il écrivait : "J'ai eu, ces jours derniers, l'occasion d'exercer la charité ... Voyant que mes compagnons, moins favorisés de la fortune que moi, donnaient une grosse aumône, il fallut que moi aussi, je fisse preuve de générosité ... Je donne volontiers, vous le savez, et je ne crois pas pouvoir mieux dépenser mon argent. Qui sait si ce n'est point à ces aumônes que je dois attribuer toutes les faveurs que Dieu me fait à Rome ? "
Les cérémonies religieuses si nombreuses auxquelles Bernard assistait dans la Ville éternelle, et d'un autre côté les tristes évènements dont les Etats pontificaux furent le théâtre à cette époque, produisirent sur son âme sensible une impression ineffaçable. Ils y enflammèrent cet ardent amour pour la foi catholique qui se révéla plus tard, lorsqu'il défendit nos croyances du haut de la chaire chrétienne avec tant de vigueur et de succès. Ils déposèrent en lui le germe d'une inébranlable confiance dans le triomphe de l'Eglise, confiance que plus tard il sut communiquer à un si grand nombre d'âmes ! Ils le remplirent de cette sainte indignation contre les ennemis du Pape et de la religion, qu'il exhala dans la suite en un langage si énergique. Ses lettres sont déjà pleines de ces sentiments.
"J'ai vu le Saint-Père, s'écriait-il après avoir assisté une nuit de Noël à la messe du Souverain Pontife; ce fut pour moi un spectacle des plus émouvants. Jamais l'impression que cette cérémonie fit sur moi, ne s'effacera de mon âme; Quoi ! contempler le Chef visible de la sainte Eglise offrant le sacrifice non sanglant de l'autel ! Oh ! il faudrait que la foi fut entièrement éteinte en un coeur, pour assister à une action aussi sublime sans se sentir pénétré de saintes pensées ! Tout le long du jour j'étais en extase. Ce que j'avais vu, je le racontais à qui voulait l'entendre. En ce moment même, ce spectacle se présente de nouveau à mon esprit. Je me sens poussé à vous faire participer à la joie que cette solennité m'a causée; mais, hélas ! je ne me sens pas capable de vous la décrire comme il convient." - D'autres lettres ont pour thème, tantôt les rites qui s'observent à la mort et aux obsèques du Souverain Pontife; tantôt l'élection et le couronnement d'un nouveau Pape (pendant son séjour à Rome, il connut trois papes successifs); tantôt les cérémonies de la Semaine-Sainte et des grandes fêtes de l'Eglise. Toutes ces lettres abondent en détails intéressants et en effusions de coeur des plus touchantes. Ce n'est qu'à regret que nous nous bornons à quelques citations, pour ne point dépasser les limites de cette biographie.
Voici en quels termes il communiqua à ses parents l'impression que lui avait causée la procesion de la Fête-Dieu : "Le Chef visible de l'Eglise se trouvait agenouillé, en adoration silencieuse, devant son Chef invisible ! qui ne se serait jeté à genoux pour adorer avec lui ? Qui ne se serait senti fortifié dans sa foi au Très Saint Sacrement ? La splendeur ineffable qui entourait cet auguste mystère vous saisissait jusqu'au fond de l'âme; elle suffirait à elle seule pour arracher à l'impiété même cet aveu secret : Oui, Dieu est vraiment ici présent."
On sait les bouleversements politiques dont l'Europe fut le théâtre en 1830 et en 1831. Pie VIII mourut le 30 novembre 1830 et Grégoire XVI lui succéda le 2 février 1831. La révolution menaçait de si près la ville de Rome, qu'au jour même du couronnement du nouveau Pontife, 6 février, la sinistre nouvelle se répandit qu'une insurrection venait d'éclater dans les provinces. Bernard écrivit en cette circonstance la lettre suivante :
"Le cardinal Maur Capellari est élu pape et a pris le nom de Grégoire XVI. Voilà une élection qui excitera partout l'admiration la plus vive. Promu au Cardinalat, nommé en même temps Préfet de la Propagande par Léon XII, le voilà maintenant placé sur la chaire de Saint Pierre, pour gouverner la barque de l'Eglise dans ces temps pleins de tempêtes. Le doigt de Dieu se montre dans l'élection de ce religieux Camaldule. Qui jamais aurait deviné dans le cardinal Capellari le successeur de Pie VIII ? Le Seigneur a daigné pourvoir son Eglise d'un Chef suprême; ainsi a-t-il montré une fois de plus son inviolable fidélité à sa promesse. Le monde entier est en révolution; tous les trônes chancellent; seul le siège de Pierre reste éternellement debout ! Le fléau de la guerre châtie les pays et les peuples; des maux, des calamités dont on ignore encore la fin, font pleurer les fidèles, qui soupirent impatiemment après la délivrance. Que le déluge de l'irréligion et de l'immoralité inonde le monde, l'arche de l'Eglise de Dieu s'élèvera au-dessus des eaux et, dirigée par un successeur de Pierre, elle offrira un asile assuré à tous ceux qui resteront attachés au devoir et à la vertu.
Que si l'Eglise a son Chef, les Etats Romains ont leur Prince. Qui n'admirera le bon esprit du peuple romain ? Tandis que tout s'agitait autour de lui, il attendait patiemment et tranquillement le moment où il plairait à la divine Providence de donner un successeur au bien-aimé Pie VIII ? Rome, contre qui le libéralisme lance sans cesse ses traits; Rome, dont le libéralisme a juré la chute et la ruine; Rome, par la chute de laquelle le libéralisme espère rendre son triomphe complet; Rome seule connaît le prix, le haut prix du repos et de la paix. L'autorité du gouvernement peut être amoindrie par suite de la mort du Pape, son influence sur le peuple peut être entravée; l'esprit religieux du peuple est une garantie de repos intérieur pour le pays. Jamais l'esprit révolutionnaire ne se fixera à Rome, à moins qu'il ne soit forcément imposé au peuple romain par la violence et par une force majeure venues de l'étranger. L'attachement des Romains au gouvernement pontifical s'est de nouveau manifesté pendant le conclave. Un interrègne de neuf semaines n'aurait-il pas été mis à profit par un peuple qui soupirerait après un changement et qui serait mécontent du régime actuel ?
Je vois bien que des feuilles étrangères ont osé répandre des mensonges au sujet d'un prétendu revirement d'idées chez le peuple romain. Ces mensonges sont l'effet de la jalousie et de la haine. Ceux qui défendent leur cause avec des armes pareilles, montrent clairement ce qu'ils désirent, mais non ce qu'ils peuvent. Ce n'est point par des paroles, mais par des faits que Rome se venge de cette calomnie. Heureux ceux qui apprennent à connaître le peuple de près; qui, libres de tout préjugé, savent discerner le bien du mal, et qui, la balance en main, savent mesurer la portée de l'un et de l'autre ! Les Romains se distinguent par beaucoup de bonnes qualités. Aussi les touristes, narrateurs de voyages, et les visiteurs étrangers doivent-ils être taxés d'une grande injustice, en ce que non seulement ils refusent de reconnaître les vertus du peuple romain, mais encore en ce qu'ils peignent ses défauts sous des couleurs si odieuses, que Rome semble être à leurs yeux je ne sais quelle ville abominable et malheureuse."
La solennité de la prise de possession de l'église Saint-Pierre par le nouveau Pape, eut lieu le 3 février 1831. Bernard s'exprime ainsi à ce sujet : "A peine le Pape fut-il arrivé au grand portail de l'église, que les chantres, qui le précédaient, entonnèrent l'antienne : "Ecce sacerdos magnus : Voilà le Souverain Pontife ! Regardez-le, ce Pontife ! Qu'il est beau de le voir assis sur la sedia gestatoria ! Comme il est ému ! Voyez le successeur de Pierre, le vicaire de Jésus-christ, étendant les mains pour bénir le peuple chrétien qui s'agenouille respecteusement devant lui ! Non, personne, de quelque contrée du monde qu'il vienne, à quelque religion qu'il appartienne, ne saurait échapper à l'impression d'un spectacle aussi sublime ! Voilà déjà deux fois que je reçois la bénédiction d'un nouveau Pape ! Oh ! heureuses circonstances que celles qui m'ont amené à Rome ! N'est-ce pas pour moi un suprème bonheur de contempler de mes yeux le Saint-Père, Grégoire XVI, de l'acclamer de bouche et de coeur, et de compter que je pourrai lui baiser les pieds, s'il plaît à Dieu, à mon départ de Rome ? ... Qu'un cardinal d'origine bourgeoise, qu'un moine bénédictin, un Vénitien, après avoir porté seulement pendant quatre ans le chapeau de cardinal, soit élu Pape, dans des circonstances comme celles où nous nous trouvons, cela n'est-il pas de nature à faire naître chez plusieurs de sérieuses réflexions ? Réjouissons-nous donc, nous catholiques, et remercions Dieu qui a visité son Eglise !
Quelques jours plus tard, il rendait compte de ses impressions au sujet de l'émeute qui avait éclaté à Rome, le 12 février, et de ses premiers effets. "Ce qui est certain, ajouta-t-il, c'est que les circonstances actuelles exigent la prière unanime et fervente de tous les Catholiques. L'avenir est sombre : voilà ce que je vois; mais qu'il se prépare un nouveau triomphe pour l'Eglise, voilà ce que je crois. "Le désir des méchants périra." Dieu vengera l'injure que les impies font à son Eglise et à son Pontife. Et lorsque tous les secours humains feront défaut, il fera voir au monde impie, par de nouveaux miracles, que l'Eglise est l'ouvrage de ses mains et qu'elle ne saurait être renversée par aucune puissance infernale. De la patience et des prières : voilà nos armes, voilà notre devise ! De la patience et des prières ! ... Le Pape reçoit du secours de tous. Les jeuns gens s'arment, les riches et les nobles ouvrent leurs bourses, les femmes et les enfants prient; donc, tout tournera au mieux. Mais de la patience et des prières ! Encore une fois, patience et prières !"
La confiance de Bernard en ces deux armes était inébranlable comme un roc. Après avoir décrit en détail tous les pieux exercices auxquels on se livrait pour la délivrance de Rome. "N'est-ce pas cette fervente prière des chrétiens de Rome, continue-t-il, qui a sauvegardé le repos et la paix de cette ville ? Pour moi, j'en suis pleinement convaincu. La violence faite au Ciel par la prière, l'aumône, les communions, la vénération des saints lieux, voilà l'unique auxiliaire qui a renversé les plans que des hommes ingrats et pervers avaient dressés contre l'Eglise et l'Etat. Un soir que je me rendais pour prier à l'église Saint-Jean (où les reliques des saints apôtres Pierre et Paul étaient exposées à la vénération publique), je rencontrai par hasard le R.P. de La Marche, dominicain. Dès qu'il m'aperçut, il me montra tout étonné cette foule immense, qui semblait vouloir prendre l'église d'assaut. "Eh bien, mon Père, lui dis-je, sont-ce là les hommes qui devaient, en ce jour de samedi, faire une révolution ? " - "Cher enfant, me répondit-il avec sa bonhomie habituelle, il faut que la Mère de Dieu et les saints apôtres Pierre et Paul soient bien sourds, s'ils n'entendent point la prière de tant de milliers de chrétiens. Croyez-moi hardiment, j'ai passé à Rome des années et des années, et je suis en contact avec des gens de tous rangs et de toutes conditions; eh bien ! les bonnes oeuvres faites par la masse du peuple surpassent toute imagination. Quiconque a jamais douté ou doute encore s'il y a de la foi à Rome, peut maintenant se convaincre de la vérité. "Vraiment, quoique j'eusse déjà les Romains en grande affection, cette affection s'est accrue de beaucoup en cette occasion. Ce peuple a son côté faible, il est répréhensible sur bien des points; mais celui qui l'accuse d'irréligion, parle contre la vérité, ou montre qu'il ne le connaît pas. La grande foi des Romains prend sa source dans une connaissance profonde de la religion; elle s'entretient par les différents exercices religieux de toute l'année, et elle m'a bien souvent touché et confondu. Où trouve-t-on, comme à Rome, la dévotion envers le Saint-Sacrement ? Où la Mère de Dieu est-elle honorée avec plus d'ardeur ? Où se souvient-on davantage des âmes des fidèles défunts ? "
Si Bernard ressentit une profonde douleur à la vue des complots dirigés contre l'Eglise et son chef, il fut saisi d'indignation, en voyant, parmi les perturbateurs, des hommes d'un rang élevé, comme les "cousins de Napoléon". Ces derniers, dit-il, sont regardés à Rome comme des vilains. "L'un d'eux n'a-t-il pas eu l'audace d'écrire directement au Saint-Père sur un ton injurieux et menaçant ? Il osait dire "que les forces qui s'avançaient vers Rome étaient invincibles; que, par conséquent, il conseillait à Sa Sainteté de renoncer à son pouvoir temporel, La priant en même temps de lui faire réponse ?" L'indignation de notre séminariste ne fut pas moindre lorsqu'il apprit la conduite hypocrite du roi des Français; en dépit de la protestation du Saint-Père, ce prince venait de faire occuper Ancône, et tout en feignant de se charger lui-même de la défense, il n'avait d'autre but que de chasser de l'Italie les troupes autrichiennes accourues pour protéger le Saint-Siège.
Bernard sentait son coeur consolé à la vue des ferventes prières que le peuple chrétien faisait monter vers le Ciel; car des foules immenses assistaient régulièrement aux exercices religieux, prescrits par Grégoire XVI pour écarter les maux de la guerre et du choléra. Il s'unissait de toute son âme à ces supplications. "Celui qui cherche, écrivait-il, des remèdes contre le choléra dans les pharmacies de Saint-Pétersbourg et de Vienne, et dans les conférences des médecins des différents pays, ne fait point mal sans doute; mais, à mon avis, celui-là prend des mesures plus efficaces qui s'en tient au conseil et à l'exemple du médecin Grégoire XVI, de Rome, et qui prend les remèdes de la pharmacie céleste, suivant la recette, affichée à toutes les églises de Rome, je veux dire: l'"Invito sacro per l'Indulgenza in forma di Guibileo." Eh bien, le peuple romain, disons-le à son honneur et à sa louange, est entré dans cette voie. Les églises sont trop peu nombreuses et trop peu spacieuses pour contenir la foule qui s'y presse tous les soirs. Les prédicateurs ne répondent pas moins au zèle religieux du peuple que le peuple au zèle apostolique des prédicateurs. En voulez-vous un exemple ? Avant-hier soir, le peuple assemblé dans une église fut tellement ébranlé par le langage énergique et persuasif de l'orateur, que tous tombant subitement à genoux, à l'exemple du prédicateur, demandèrent unanimement et à haute voix pardon à Dieu de leurs péchés. Vraiment je fus touché jusqu'au fond de l'âme tant de la grande foi de ce peuple, que du talent admirable de mon digne professeur. C'est un homme aux cheveux gris, mais il est jeune par le zèle. La réputation de sainteté qui l'accompagne, donne à ses paroles une force irrésistible."
Comment ne pas admirer ici la conduite de la divine Providence, qui plaça Bernard dans de circonstances si propres à développer en lui le talent oratoire, ce talent qui se signala plus tard sur les plus vastes théâtres, et qui produisit tant de fruits de salut ? Il a raconté lui-même quelle impression faisaient sur son âme les prédications qu'il entendait à Rome. "On n'entend point ici, dit-il, des ruisseaux qui murmurent; on ne cueille point de fleurs; mais on habille les vérités évangéliques de leurs vrais vêtements, et on les débite devant le peuple avec une éloquence magistrale; j'oserais presque dire, on les impose. Heureuse Néerlande, trois fois heureuse, si des prédicateurs de cette trempe annoncent un jour l'Evangile à tes enfants !" - Evidemment le jeune lévite ne songeait guère, en écrivant ces lignes, que lui-même était l'homme choisi pour occuper un jour une place glorieuse parmi "les orateurs de cette trempe", et pour procurer à la Hollande, sa patrie, le bonheur qu'il lui souhaitait avec tant d'ardeur !
Bernard profita de son séjour à Rome, principalement à l'époque des vacances, pour visiter les nombreux sanctuaires disséminés sur le sol de l'Italie; ces visites ne contribuèrent pas peu à alimenter et à accroître en lui l'esprit de piété. Montefalco, sanctifié par sainte Claire; Assise, lieu où naquit et demeura saint François, où saint Joseph de Cupertino passa une grande partie de sa vie dans des entretiens tout intimes avec Dieu; Tolentino avec ses sanctuaires et ses reliques de saint Nicolas; Lorette surtout avec sa santa casa, et plusieurs autres lieux chers à la piété des fidèles furent tour à tour témoins de ses ferventes prières et les objets de sa profonde vénération. Aussi inspirèrent-ils souvent sa plume, laquelle se plaisait à reproduire en expressions touchantes les sentiments que son coeur y avait éprouvés. Contentons-nous de reproduire le passage d'une de ses lettres où il raconte son pèlerinage à Lorette.
"Arrivés là, dit-il, (il voyagait en compagnie de deux condisciples, Beelen et Eulenbach ), nous récitâmes le Te Deum en action de grâces de la protection divine dont nous avions été favorisés pendant notre voyage ... Mais hélas ! au moment où je veux vous parler de Lorette et de son sanctuaire, ma plume se refuse à rendre mes pensées et mes émotions. En cette maison le Verbe s'est fait chair : voilà l'inscription que porte cette sainte maison; voilà la pensée qui remplit le fidèle au moment où il va y pénétrer. Ici le Verbe s'est fait chair, voilà tout l'éloge de cette demeure. Ces paroles, chaque chrétien les lit sur le superbe autel qu'on y a érigé; mais on ne saurait les méditer, ni les répéter sans éprouver le sentiment le plus vif de sa propre abjection. Qui d'entre nous, s'il a la foi, ne croit voir et entendre ici l'Ange qui révéla à Marie sa sublime destinée : son élévation à la maternité divine ? Qui n'entend Marie répondre à Gabriel qu'elle est la servante du Seigneur ? Oh ! combien de fois pendant les six jours que j'ai passés à Lorette, je me suis cru admis dans l'intérieur de la Sainte Famille après qu'elle fut revenue d'Egypte à Nazareth ! Il me semblait voir Marie, assise devant cette cheminée noircie par la fumée, qui maintenant se trouve derrière l'autel; je croyais l'entendre parler avec son Fils et son Dieu, tandis que saint Joseph, debout devant son établi, exerçait l'honnète métier qui devait pourvoir à la subsistance de Dieu, de sa sainte épouse et à la sienne propre. Heureuse ville, m'écriais-je souvent, qui possède un tel trésor ! Heureux le peuple à qui Dieu a fait la faveur de pouvoir honorer et adorer le Verbe fait chair dans sa propre maison !
"Lorette est bien digne d'avoir le dépôt d'un si précieux trésor. Le respect que le peuple, le peuple de la campagne surtout, porte à la sainte maison, peut sembler excessif à certaines personnes. Quant à moi, je voudrais bien, je l'avoue, avoir une vivacité de foi semblable à celle qui distingue ce bon peuple; aussi est-elle récompensée par des miracles continuels. Non, ce n'est point une exagération : les murailles de la sainte miason sont, à l'intérieur, devenues lisses à force d'être baisées, et les pierres du sol qui l'entourent sont devenues creuses sous les genoux des pèlerins. Toute la ville de Lorette se plaît à nous raconter les démonstrations de joie auxquelles se livrent chaque année les Napolitains, lorsqu'ils viennent visiter ces lieux bénis, comme aussi leurs accents de tristesse au moment où ils font leurs adieux à la divine Mère, pour s'en retourner chez eux. Plus nous nous approchions de Lorette, plus nous redoublions de ferveur pour nous recommander à la saint Vierge. Un' Ave Maria alla Madonna ! tel est le salut qu'on se donne en chemin. Eh ! voyez un peu comment ces hommes et ces femmes reviennent de Lorette, la tête couronnée de fleurs, et chargés de toutes sortes d'objets ! ce sont des présents de la Madonna. Il est d'usage qu'à leur retour les parents causent une surprise à leurs petits enfants par des souvenirs de Lorette. Oh ! quels beaux usages en l'honneur de la Mère deDieu j'ai vus à Lorette ! Le soir, après vêpres, le peuple se réunit dans la sainte maison ou dans son contour, afin de prier en commun pour l'Eglise, pour le Pape, pour les besoins temporels des citoyens, etc. Pendant ces prières, l'autel et l'image miraculeuse de la sainte Vierge sont époussetés et ensuite voilés; puis les Pères Capucins, après avoir donné un signal au peuple, recueillent la poussière du sol, et ferment les portes du Sanctuaire."
2. M. Joseph-Bernard Eulenbach, né à Amsterdam en 1804, acheva ses études théologiques à Rome, y obtint le grade de docteur en théologie, et y fut ordonné prêtre le 18 septembre 1830. Depuis 1858, il est curé à Ouddorp, près d'Alkmaar.
Thursday, 21 January 2010
Blessed Francis Xavier was born at Füssen, Bavaria, Germany on January 11, 1819 and was baptized the same day in the parish church of St. Mang. According to his own testimony, he received the first impulses for virtue and piety from his truly Christian mother. The years of his studies, which he began in 1842 at Augsburg and Munich, he passed without the slightest blemish. His great love of God and ardent desire to promote His glory and the salvation of souls led him first into the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer into which he was received on 22 November, 1842, and then to apply for the American Mission. He left Europe via Le Havre, and arrived in New York, on 18 April, 1843 (some sources say 20 April). He completed his novitiate in Baltimore, was professed on 16 May, 1844, finished his studies, and was ordained on 22 December, of the same year in the Redemptorist Church of St. James in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A.
Until May, 1845, he was attached to the community of St. James, where he already gave proofs of truly apostolic zeal. In the confessional he was indefatigable, winning the hearts of sinners by his extraordinary affability and kindness. In the pulpit, and particularly when giving catechetical instructions, his language was so persuasive, so full of heavenly unction, that his hearers never failed to derive spiritual profit. Such was the effect of his public discourses all through life.
In May, 1845, he was transferred to Pittsburgh where his Superior was Saint John Nepomucene Neumann, afterward Bishop of Philadelphia. Besides F. Seelos, Rev. Joseph Mueller was then stationed at Pittsburghh. These three men were such, that the Bishop, Right Rev. M. O Connor, used to call them “The three saints of St. Philomena’s.” Later Bl. Francis Xavier would say of Saint John Nepomucene that he had introduced him to the active side of religious life and had been his spiritual father.
In 1847, Father Seelos was placed in charge of the novices. In 1851, he was made Rector of that community. During the nine years that Father Seelos laboured in Pittsburgh, he acquired the reputation of a saint, a reputation which rendered his name immortal, and with that of Father Neumann's left a kind of sacred prestige in that place. He became well known as an expert confessor and spiritual director, so much so that people came to him even from neighbouring towns. But his greatest joy was to instruct little children in the Faith.
From Pittsburgh, Father Seelos was transferred in 1854 as Rector to St. Alphonsus, Baltimore, where from over-exertion in 1857, he fell sick. After a short stay at Cumberland and then Annapolis he was appointed spiritual Prefect of the professed Students. The years of his prefecture may be considered the most important of his whole life. By word and example, he preached to the young men the spirit of self-denial and prayer, the love of study and true apostolic zeal. Most of his pupils imbibed under such a director that spirit which ever afterward made them staunch Redemptorists. During the Civil War, Blessed Seelos relocated his seminarians to Annapolis in 1862. He visited President Abraham Lincoln in an effort to exempt seminarians from the draft. Because only priests could be exempt, Blessed Seelos arranged for Archbishop Francis Patrick Kenrick to ordain all 20 seminarians. In 1860, Father Seelos’ name was proposed for the episcopal see of Pittsburgh, but his humility succeeded in averting a blow which seemed to him the greatest misfortune that could befall him through a dispensation conferred by Blessed Pius IX.
From 1862 he was to devote himself to the work of giving Missions and retreats. In that sphere he again won the reputation of sanctity wherever he appeared preaching in English and German in the states of Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wisconsin. The Faithful, as well as the clergy in general admired his heroism, and proclaimed him the saint among the missionaries. No wonder that God’s blessing accompanied him wherever he went.
In 1866, after being attached for a short time to the Detroit monastery, he was transferred to New Orleans. He arrived there in September, 1866, and it was not long before his name became a household word among the Faithful of the three churches under the Redemptorists’ charge. From far and near, people of every class and condition, rich and poor, old and young, learned and unlearnd, men and women, came to make their confession, particularly general confessions, to that saintly priest. He was looked upon as a heaven-sent physician for the cure of every spiritual ill. But Fr. Seelos earthly career was soon to be terminated.
On 17 September, 1867, he took the yellow fever which he had contracted through his pastoral visits to those suffering from the disease and, notwithstanding the most tender care lavished upon him, and the numerous prayers and offerings made for him, his life was not spared.
Cheerful and contented as ever, he looked forward to his eternal reward. He died, while the brethren around his bed were singing, at his request, one of his favourite hymns to Our Blessed Lady on 4 October, 1867. He was 48 years old.
Father Francis Xavier Seelos was beatified on 9 April, 2000, and his Feast was established on 5 October. His precious relics repose in his shrine at St Mary’s Church, New Orleans. †
Tuesday, 19 January 2010
He was professed on 6 December, 1844. There, too, he was ordained on 21 December, 1845. He performed his first ministerial services in Baltimore until 1848, when he was sent to Buffalo as Superior, at the age of twenty-eight. His spirit of regularity, prudence, solid learning and piety justified his appointment. In 1854, he became Rector of the monastery in New York, which office he held until 1860.
For only a short time, from 1860 to 1863, he again became a subject, and as such lived contented and happy. But in 1865 he had to accompany the Provincial, Father DeDycker to Rome, whence he returned as the latter's successor. The heavy burden and great responsibilities of the Provincialate, which he had to bear for four successive terms, made him only more humble and charitable. During those twelve years of office he had innumerable trials and sufferings, some connected with his office, others of a private nature. Some of them demanded more than ordinary courage and confidence in Divine Providence. But he bore everything with heroic fortitude. We refer only to the Annapolis disaster of 1866.
When relieved of the Provincialate in 1877, he was appointed Rector of St. Michaels, Baltimore, and in 1880 of the monastery of the Most Holy Redeemer, New York, where he had been Rector twenty-five years before. The faithful of the parish, who had known him long ago, were delighted to see him back in his old position, but the good Father was worn out by cares and troubles. He sighed for the moment when he could again be a simple subject, a favour which he daily implored of Almighty God.
God granted his desire. At the expiration of his three-year term, another Father was appointed Rector, and Father Helmpraecht was free to endure in silent patience the torments of his protracted sickness. Like a true and genuine disciple of his Crucified Redeemer, he suffered almost without relief and comfort. Such had long been his desire. He wished to die within the Octave of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and to die with no one present.
The Octave came, the 15th of December, 1884. It was past ten o clock that night, when good Brother Lambert, his beloved infirmarian, said to him: "Well, Father, you are not going to die within the Octave, after all." Father Helmpraecht, in his native language, was heard to whisper: "Mother! Mother! Mother!" The "Mother" heard her faithful son. After some little time, he said to the Brother: "If you will leave me, I think I can sleep a little now." Brother Lambert, to gratify him, withdrew from the room. Looking in a little later, he found Father Helmpraecht lying dead, as calm and composed as when he had last seen him. His words were fulfilled.
All who were closely acquainted with Father Helmpraecht knew him to be a truly saintly priest and Redemptorist. It is, therefore, to be hoped that, at some future day, a lengthy biography of this holy man will be published. James McMaster, the celebrated journalist, who knew the Father well, declared that he did not hesitate to invoke his intercession. †
Wednesday, 13 January 2010
From 1895-1911 he resided at the Redemptorist Monastery in Rome, becoming Consultor to the Holy Office in December,1900, counsellor to the newly formed Commission for the Codification of Canon Law in 1904 and General Consultor of the Redemptorist Congregation under the Most Rev. Fr Patrick Murray from 1909-1911. In Rome he grew to be much appreciated by Pope St Pius X. He was created Cardinal Deacon, while remaining a simple priest, in the consistory of 27 November, 1911, by St Pius X, the news reaching him at Riedisheim where he was staying.
He received the red hat and the deaconry of S. Cesareo in Palatio on 30 November, 1911, becoming the first Dutch Cardinal since the Protestant Reformation. He served as Papal Legate to the International Eucharistic Congress in Vienna, Austria, and was decorated with the Grand Cross of the Austrian Order of Sankt Stefan, in 1912. On 13 January, 1914, he became President of Pontifical Biblical Commission, Cardinal van Rossum participated in the conclave of 1914, which elected Pope Benedict XV. Becoming Grand Penitentiary, on 1 October, 1915, in place of the deceased Cardinal Serafino Vannutelli, he was admitted into the order of Cardinal Priests under the title of S. Croce in Gerusalemme (one of the principal basilicas of Rome), on 6 December, 1915. He also served as a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Authentic Interpretation of the Code of Canon Law and finally became Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Propaganda Fidei, on 12 March, 1918, a post which he filled until his death and where he exercised an important influence on Papal policies for the Missions. It is certain that the prodigious development of the Foreign Missions from that year has a direct bearing on his appointment.
He was elected Titular Archbishop of Cesarea in Mauretania, on 25 April, 1918, and consecrated on 19 May, 1918, in the Sistine Chapel, by Pope Benedict XV, assisted by Giovanni Battista Nasalli Rocca di Corneliano, titular archbishop of Tebe, privy almoner of His Holiness, and by Agostino Zampini, O.S.A., titular bishop of Porfireone, sacristan of His Holiness. Cardinal van Rossum participated in the conclave of 1922, which elected Pope Pius XI. He is the author of numerous works on Moral Theology and Canon Law. He was also the Cardinal Protector of the Order of Redemptoristine Nuns, the Sisters of Niederbronn, the Sisters of Ingenbohl and numerous other Congregations.
Despite his age he remained always an indefatigable worker. He undertook all with a charming modesty, which willingly left honours to his collaborators. As Prefect of the Propaganda he inherited an immense workload. 444 diocese or vicariates spread around the world fell under his jurisdiction. 282 missionary bishops, 91 prefects apostolic, 12959 priests, 5112 brothers and 28099 nuns venerated in him their legitimate superior. Under his leadership schools sprang up everywhere for the training of local clergy, and Japan, China and India received their first local Latin Rite bishops. Under his Prefecture the great Missionary Exhibition of 1925 took place at the Vatican and developed later into a permanent museum at the Lateran Palace.
In 1929 he supervised the enlargement of the Seminary of the Propaganda and visited far-flung Iceland where he consecrated Bishop Meulenberg as Vicar Apostolic along with his Cathedral of Christ the King.
He was also a warm supporter of the movement of Perpetual Supplication to Our Mother of Perpetual Succour, which he called a magnificent work that corresponded to the plans of God and the needs of the Catholic people and which he believed was destined to produce great fruits.
He died on 30 August 1932 in a Maastricht hospital, after falling ill on returning from an apostolic visit to Denmark, and was buried first in the Wittem Monastery cemetery, but later in the Redemptorist Church in Wittem. †
Sunday, 10 January 2010
He was born in Colmar, on September 15, 1817, of parents originating from Saint-Dié (Vosges), and he went with his family to live in that city a short time later. His father had obtained a position as eulogist at the cathedral, and despite his unceasing labour, it was only with great effort that he was able to provide bread for his twelve children, for he spent his free time giving individual lessons. From the age of twelve, Victor was happy to add to his father’s earnings the humble payment that his early talent brought him. This child proved to have real talent from his tenderest childhood, and the first reward of his study of music theory was the benefit of becoming a teacher of several rich children of Saint-Dié. At the same time, he was the most distinguished student at the best high school in the city. At the age of twenty, he obtained a superior diploma and baccalaureate, the crowning of his secondary studies. The high school directors had already entrusted him with a share in their work, despite his youth, as student supervisor. A brilliant future opened before him in university teaching. But God was calling him urgently to the priesthood.
He was ordained on October 30, 1842, by Mgr. de Jerphanion, Archbishop of Albi, who indicated to the young priest his intention of bringing him into his service. However, this was prevented by the prelate’s departure, and Fr. Humarque was named the vicar of Saint-Amé.
There he devoted himself for two years to the humble duties of a country priest. His excessive zeal ruined his health. The bishop of Saint-Dié, Mgr. Manglard, learned with sadness the state of this young priest, and listening only to the inspiration of his charitable heart, brought him into his palace, and built up the health of his ailing assistant. Fr. Humarque repaid his benefactor service for service. Successively tutor for the Count of Vesvrette and the Marquis of Lambertye, when he heard that Mgr. Manglard had just been struck by illness, he left his position and stationed himself at the bedside of the man who had become to him like a second father. He attended him with a devotion inspired by that devotion earlier shown toward him, and it came to pass that he gave the prelate final absolution and received his last sigh.
Fr. Caverot, vicar-general of Besançon, attended the funeral of Mgr. Manglard. After the ceremony, he walked beside Fr. Humarque, who, with mourning heart, extolled the charity of his benefactor, and concluded, “The man who must succeed him is to be pitied.” Several months later, Mgr. Caverot was appointed to the seat of Saint-Dié. Upon seeing Fr. Humarque, he said to him, “Is it not true that I am indeed to be pitied?”
Mgr. Caverot brought into his service this distinguished and devoted young priest. As director of the cathedral supervision and secretary-assistant to the bishop, he gave him all the proofs of affectionate attachment which had bound their hearts ever since they had first come together. When, obeying the call of God who wanted him to be “the poor priest and priest of the poor,” Fr. Humarque left the Saint-Dié Episcopal palace in 1856 to enter the noviciate of the Redemptorist Fathers, Mgr. Caverot could not hold back his tears. He kept in his room a photograph of the humble priest, and in the various houses where he lived he honoured him by many visits even after he became Archbishop of Lyon. As for Fr. Humarque, we could say that he had won the esteem and veneration of the entire clergy of Saint-Dié.
We would now like to follow, step by step, our dear brother in the journey of his religious career. Opening at the eleventh hour, it nevertheless doubled its course, and one could say that he carried the weight of a long journey full of weariness and merits.
Professed in 1857, he successively evangelized the regions of which the monasteries of Saint-Nicolas-de-Port, Châteauroux and Avon are the apostolic centres. He was a notable saviour of souls, still more by his exemplary virtues, his incessant prayer, and his heroic sufferings than by his oratorical talent.
Alas! In the month of May 1879, a cruel disease attacked the pupils of his eyes. At first Fr. Humarque wept, but he broke into song with the Magnificat. As the poet said:
the eye of my spirit is illuminated.
But above all, when the hand of God closed his eyes, he consecrated his time from then on to prayer and to fraternal charity. In doing this he did not have to do himself violence; grace and nature prompted him to this type of life. Slave to his religious rule, he promptly settled himself, until eight days before his death, to all the duties of community life. And still more, as the long hours Fr. Humarque passed before the Blessed Sacrament were not enough to satisfy his thirst for union with God, he added to those his hours of solitude, when his confreres took walks to relax. Everywhere, always, he would be seen with his lips moving and his rosary in hand. Piety, the piety of a saint, was the soul of all his life.
From this Thabor where he elevated himself in prayer, he loved to come down to the plains where he would exercise his charity. His inability to work directly for the salvation of souls afflicted him, but he rejoiced in remembering that he was as a missionary by his prayers and sufferings. He was also happy to have kept some interaction with souls through his fellow-brothers, and through the secular priests to whom he was spiritual director. Obliged by his blindness to depend more on his confreres’ charity than on his own heart’s appeal toward devotion and compassion, he witnessed in return of each service, however small, a touching recognition that continued to express itself in a thousand ways. After all, in his relations he carried by charity his wide share of interest and edification. Fr. Humarque was very witty. Especially in the years when his imagination had kept all the springtime freshness of his impressions, his conversations were a rolling fire of points, jokes, puns and riddles. In the midst of the small change that he spent to please his neighbour, this man of God would always slip in beside it, like a golden coin, some pious reflection or edifying story. Even in the days of decay, when the soul seemed ready to sink under the weight of bodily infirmity, suddenly a leap full of spirit would bring to the lips of the old blind Father this touching smile peculiar to children and the elderly. He loved above all to repay the acts of generosity that he had received during his long career. The memories of his pure youth particularly attracted him, by this charm that comes to all of us, when old age is come, bringing us back to the distant years, already coloured by the reflections of sunset…
Such was the man of God. After eight days of collapse, during which, until the last sigh, his soul held itself united constantly to God by prayer. At the moment when he expired, the feast of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin was reaching its end and Saturday was about to begin.
After death, the face of Fr. Humarque took on an expression of heavenly serenity, and as was said by his confreres and by the many persons who came to pray near his open bier, they felt moved to pray to him rather than to pray for him, and to touch to him their rosaries, crosses, and medals. All who knew him proclaim his sanctity, and nobody doubted that the eyes of the old blind Father, closed for twenty-six years to the light of day, contemplate the light of eternal glory. †
O charm of my life,
Come each morning,
And be for me a window.
Look for who will take you,
Even for who will read you.
Poor little verses,
Written on the hop,
By an unsure hand.
In writing you,
My soul is ravished,
But I forget you,
At the same moment.
I may write you,
But cannot read you again.
And behold why,
When they criticise you,
I may remain silent.”
[Fr Victor Humarque, C.SS.R.]
Tuesday, 5 January 2010
This post is published in honour of the Saint
on the 150th Anniversary of his holy death.
May he bless us all from Heaven.
John Philip Neumann was born in Bavaria. A weaver by trade, when a young man he left his native country and settled at Prachatitz in Bohemia. God blessed his honest toil by success in trade, and rewarded his many virtues by giving him as wife Agnes Lebisch, a young woman full of piety and good sense. He considered it a duty to honour in a special manner the holy patrons whom God gives to each country. Now amongst the heavenly protectors of Bohemia a foremost place must be assigned to the martyr of the seal of confession, St. John Nepomucene. An equally prominent place belongs to the holy King, St. Wenceslaus of whom St. Alphonsus speaks so touchingly in his Visits to the Blessed Sacrament. God blessed this happy union with two boys, and Philip faithful to his principle called them John Nepomucene and Wenceslaus. To the two boys were added four girls, Johanna, Catherine, Veronica and Aloysia. Wenceslaus and two of his sisters lived long enough to be able to give their sworn testimony to the sanctity of their brother John. This they did in the Process for the Introduction of the cause of him whom we can now style Saint John Nepomucene Neumann.
John was born at Prachatitz on Good Friday, March 28th, 1811. He was baptized the same day in the church of St. James the Greater. He, together with his brother and sisters grew up under the watchful eyes of their good parents, whose lives were constant lessons to them. There are many instances of the care with which Philip watched over his children. Johanna tells us of the severe correction which he once gave to John, for having told a little lie. She adds that the boy never forgot this correction, and that it was the only fault that he committed in his childhood.
That sweet Providence which watched over him in later years manifested itself when he was only three years of age. One day he fell from a height of fifteen feet into a cellar. When he was taken up, it was found that he was not in the very least injured by the fall.
John commences his studies
At the age of seven he began his elementary lessons. He soon learned to read, and from that time all his delight was in books. Nothing could have given his father greater pleasure. He too was fond of books, and when his day’s work was over he loved to spend much of the evening reading. One might say that little John devoured his books. His sister Catherine chided him saying: “John, you are only turning over the leaves.” “I beg your pardon,” he replied, “I read quickly! But I take it all in.” His mother who thought his application excessive, used to playfully call him Buchernarren, Book-mad. Wenceslaus, who shared with him the same room, but not the same taste for learning, was disturbed at night by what seemed to him his brother’s undue ardour for study. On one occasion, not able to bear the annoyance any longer, he went straight to his mother, and complained that John would not let him sleep. The mother went to the room; but scarcely had she entered when she was accosted by the little philosopher: “Mamma, look here. Is it possible that the earth on which we live floats in the air without falling?” “Let the earth go its way,” said mamma, “you need not stop it. It is God who sustains it. Go to sleep, then, and let your brother do the same.” The merest sign from his mother was enough for him, and both brothers were soon sound asleep.
His progress in virtue
John was pre-eminently a pious boy, and we shall not be surprised when we are told that his progress in virtue was even greater than his progress in secular knowledge. His charity alone would go far to prove this. We have seen how he was wont to distribute his pocket-money to the poor. He would not keep any little presents, which he might chance to receive. He gave them away either to his companions or to the poor. “If Neumann receives anything” said one of school-fellows, “we all have a share.” One day he saw a poor lad begging from door to door, and putting into a bag the pieces of bread that were given to him. “Oh!” he exclaimed, “if only I had a little bag like that boy, I too would go with him, and then he would get twice as much.” Such, indeed, was his progress in virtue, and in the knowledge of the Christian doctrine, that, contrary to the custom of the diocese, he was admitted to Confirmation at the age of nine, that is to say, three years before the usual time. The following year he was allowed to make his First Communion, and for this he prepared himself with extraordinary care and fervour. Henceforth he burned with most ardent desire to receive Holy Communion frequently, and he ever approached the Divine Banquet with the tenderest devotion. Long after this time, he candidly confessed that he prepared himself with great care, and that the Holy Communion was for him the source of every grace.
From his infancy, one might almost say, he had a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and this grew as he advanced in year’s ever keeping pace with his love for her Divine Son. She in turn jealously guarded his soul from sin. Indeed this devotion together with his love for study and the beautiful family spirit which reigned in his home kept him far from the dangerous pleasures of the world. His virtue at this early age was so remarkable that it attracted the attention of the neighbours, who used to point out John as a model to their own children. Many a one said of him, as it was once said of the Baptist: “What will this child one day be?”
He wishes to be a Priest
John’s father charmed with his son’s intelligence, industry and progress, spoke of a secular profession for him. No, no, said a good servant of the family, our little John will be a priest. We know now how correct was her judgement: but then his vocation was only in germ. One day, the children with their mother looking on, were playing a game of what shall I be? There was undoubtedly much chattering and not a little laughing; but John was silent and pensive. He took the matter very seriously. At last his mother said: “Come John, tell us what you wish to be.” “Mama,” he replied, “I would wish for something, were it not for the great expense.” He wished to be a priest, but, sharp-witted boy that he was, he foresaw all the difficulties that stood in his way.
His higher studies
After his first Communion he began the study of Latin, and of his own choice he added Botany for which he had a great taste. This study was for his innocent and enlightened soul a meditation; for he saw God in His works. What a contrast to so many grown up men of our days, who in their studies of nature seem to see everything except the hand that fashioned and nourishes all that lives. When he was twelve he went into lodgings at Budweis, and attended the classes of the excellent college of that town. Here he distinguished himself not in one or other branch, but in all, in Christian Doctrine, in Literature, Mathematics, Physics, Natural History and Modern Languages. His free time and his vacation he devoted to pious pilgrimages, to modern languages, and to his favourite study of botany. A fellow-student, who visited him one day, found his table covered with sheets of paper. “What in the world,” he asked, “have you written on all these sheets.” “These,” he replied, “are the Italian Regular Verbs, and they are hard to learn.”
He becomes certain of his vocation
It was while thus occupied that he became quite certain of his vocation. Hence in 1831 he began his course of Theology. His eminent success opened to him the doors of the great seminary of Prague in 1833. There we find the same earnest striving to become more virtuous, the same indefatigable industry, the same success. It was his success that earned for him the privilege of frequenting the University. This is perhaps, the most fitting place to give the impression which John Nepomucene made on one who had studied with him for eight years. When he gave his testimony he was a Cistercian Monk. Here are his words: “John Nepomucene was full of faith, most cautious in his words; he studiously avoided every sin and every danger of sin; he never neglected to receive the sacraments regularly; he was humble and modest yet full of courage; he was temperate, meek and obedient; he won the good will and esteem of his fellow-students; he studied Theology and Languages with the greatest success; he was loved by his superiors and was a model for all.”
Notwithstanding his success he expressed to a student his regret at having left Budweis. The following incident explains why. He had earned the privilege of attending the lectures of the University. At that time the teaching was tainted with error. The innocence of John’s life, the fullness of his faith, his obedience to the voice of his conscience made him, so to speak, spiritually sensitive. He, therefore, promptly detected and rejected error. One of the professors held Febronian principles. The subtle poison contained in them was soon detected by John and he at once sounded the alarm. Not content with refusing to accept a teaching which he believed to be false, he composed an admirable thesis in defence of the Infallibility of the Pope. His courage and his knowledge won for him the admiration of all. It was, therefore because the teaching at the College of Budweis was untainted with error that he regretted having left it. But at the time the prospect of having at Prague an opportunity of learning English and perfecting himself in other languages was a great inducement to him to make the change. It is true he did not find the wished for opportunity, but nothing daunted he continued his studies in private. In this way by the end of his course he had sufficiently mastered all the difficulties in no less than eight languages. He knew Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Bohemian, French, Italian and English, and of course, German, which was the language spoken in his home. He made no show of his success, but he saw in it the hand of God, Who was preparing him for a special work, a work in which he was to save souls of every tongue and nation.
St John Nepomucene is called by God to Work in America
He leaves home
John was then in his 25th year, he had completed with distinction his course of studies; and his life was above all reproach. He looked forward to his ordination and first Mass with humility indeed, but also with confidence. His mother had ever cherished his vocation as the greatest gift of God to her son and to herself and family. John on his part thought more of the sweet consolation his ordination and first Mass would bring to his mother than of the joy it would be to himself. Both were robust souls in the spiritual life and God would strengthen them still more not by the sweets of consolation, but by the invigorating food of sacrifice. The diocese was over-stocked with priests, and the Bishop was unwilling to ordain others till vacancies occurred. This was a great disappointment; but it was God’s way of making it easier for John to declare his resolution to leave his native land and devote himself to the Missions of North America. It is easy to imagine how keenly his father, mother, brother and sisters felt this announcement. But they generously gave their consent, and thus shared fully in the sacrifice which the young missionary made to God of all that was most dear to him. “My dear Father and Mother,” he said, “I have come into this world not to seek honour and glory, but to seek sheep that have gone astray.” He needed a strong vocation and God gave it to him. We shall see how difficulties and trials only strengthened it. He desired however to bear all himself, and to give as little pain as possible to his parents. Thus his preparations for departure were made little by little and very quietly. The boy who had been book mad, now a full grown man loved above all his spiritual books, and these as his greatest treasures he distributed amongst the members of his own family. To Johanna he gave The True Spouse of Christ, by St. Alphonsus, knowing, a he did, her desire to consecrate herself to God in religion. Had the future been thrown open to his view, he would have seen this same sister, a venerable nun of nearly four score giving sworn testimony of how much it cost this dear brother to tear himself from the bosom of their happy family, and how he strengthened himself by prayer and the reception of the Sacraments. It was she who found him one day prostrate before a picture of Our Lady of Good Counsel bathed in tears. She was witness of the generosity with which he overcame his feelings lest he should aggravate the sorrow of those whom he loved.
When the day for departure came, he slipped away very quietly from Prachatitz, as if he were about to make a short visit to some friends at Budweis. It was from there he wrote his farewell letter to his parents. It is dated February 11th, 1836, and it assures them that his only motive in leaving secretly was to diminish the pain of separation: he was sure that their blessing would ever follow him; for nothing but a Divine call could have torn him from their loving embrace; he assures them that his sacrifice will benefit them: “May you, my dear parents,” he concludes, “bear patiently and with resignation this trial sent you by God. The greater our sorrow now, the greater will be our joy hereafter. God would not have demanded this sacrifice, had He not deemed it salutary, and were He not willing to give us the necessary graces to make it. May His Holy Will be done.”
His journey to Paris
He left Budweis on the 18th of February and reached Paris on the 11th of March. He stayed some days at Linz, Munich, Strasburg and Nancy. It was a long and painful journey. Disappointments met him almost at every halt, so that he arrived in Paris without having received any assurance that he would be accepted for the American Mission. To exterior difficulties were added great interior depression and desolation. His courage, his resignation, his abandonment of himself into the hands of God was, without his knowing it, preparing him for the great work which was before him. A great work indeed, but hidden from his eyes; for his future during his whole journey remained shrouded in uncertainty. Of this we find ample proof in his Diary. Take for example the following entry; “I was disappointed more than ever at Strasburg .... Admission into the dioceses of New York or Vincennes is uncertain.” His first disappointment was to learn that there was no room for him in Philadelphia. – No room for its future Bishop! But this is anticipating. “O Jesus,” the entry continues, “I am under Thy protection. The greater the struggle, the more glorious the victory. Thy will be done, O Lord, show Thy love for me, that I may in return love Thee more confidently. Jesus have mercy on Thy poor servant, who for Thy sake left father and mother and all that is dear to him. For Thee, my Jesus, I live, in life and in death I am all Thine.”
While in Paris he profited by the many opportunities for acquiring grace which this city gives to those who wish to use them. Difficulties, interior trials and humiliations abounded. He was rejected at St. Sulpice. He was received at the College of Foreign Missions, but with considerable suspicion, and the servants treated him very rudely. He accepted lovingly his humiliations, and prayed for all who offended him; but he desired that those who treated him badly should not thereby commit any sin. “As for me,” he wrote, “do I not deserve severer reprimands and greater punishment? Yes, my Jesus, were the whole world to trample me underfoot, I should still be obliged to confess that I deserve a thousand times more.”
It was in trials, in fasting, which sometimes lasted the whole day, and in prayer that he prepared himself for a general confession by which he hoped to gain peace of soul. He wrote in French and in fullest detail all his faults and then made his confession in the Church of Notre Dame. There was a passing gleam of light, there was a peace which lasted a few moments, there was a feeling of consolation which vanished before he had fully realized it, and then there was desolation more dark and painful than ever. In his anguish he exclaimed: “O Lord, there is nought but gloom and misery in my soul; the staff (his general confession) on which my hope rested is broken. I am as a plank at sea dashed about by wind and wave. Chaos more dreary, more desolate than that which reigns in my soul could not have existed before the creation.” This was God’s way of giving this his faithful servant the great grace of casting all his care on Him. In his desolation there remained light enough to see that his sanctification and the work that awaited him must be God’s far more than his. Hence he wrote: “O my God, I see that Thou dost will to do this work Thyself. My plans never lead to any good. Be Thou, therefore, my constant guide and protector.” The buoying himself with the hope of embarking soon on the sea of Almighty Power, he adds: “I will joyfully accept, my Jesus, whatever Thou hast marked out for me, even death itself, if conducive to Thy glory and my own salvation.” But whilst so resigned to God’s will, he does not hide from our Lord how grievous a thing it would be to him to fail in his project. He says he deserves failure on account of his sins; but he cries for mercy: “O Jesus,” he prays, “do not punish me by detaining me in Europe, as I have deserved a thousand times. Poverty and disgrace I am willing to bear, but, O my Jesus, do not punish me by holding me back from the sublime and life-giving struggle for souls.”
It was thus struggling that he daily grew in strength. Holy Week came, and it was an agreeable surprise to find that God allowed him to taste the sweets of interior consolation. This was unexpected at such a time, and he feared that it would not last. He often suffered desolation even on the greatest Feasts. Easter came and its alleluia found no joyful response in his poor heart.
He leaves for Havre
After much prayer and fasting he took a resolution for which God seemed to have waited, namely, that he would start at once for Havre, and that he would take ship for America and that he would trust in Divine Providence for the rest. He had already waited more than a month, and he had not received one encouraging word from any Bishop. This brings out the heroicness of his resolution. He made the journey from Paris to Havre partly on foot and partly by Coach. He was supported in a wonderful manner by God, but trials and desolation more than tempered the consolation he felt. He did not fail to note in his Diary the kindness of a French inn-keeper’s wife. At one of the stage-coach stations all descended to partake of a good meal. Our poor traveller followed the others at a civil distance. He was thinking how he might get some food at the least possible cost, when he heard an encouraging voice calling him. It was the inn-keeper’s wife, who invited him to enter. He accepted and soon found himself before a well charged table. He did not hide his embarrassment, or its cause, and he asked for a simple fare more in keeping with his means. “Eat, eat,” said the good French woman, “and we will not quarrel over the bill.” He had a hearty meal, which he badly needed, and when he offered to pay, the account was settled by the pious request: “Pray for us, pray for us.”
He sails to America
When John Nepomucene Neumann left Prachatitz he had 200 francs in his purse. Now if we consider the length of his journey, and the many delays, which circumstances forced upon him; if we consider that he ventured to buy some books at Paris, as well as a lovely ivory crucifix which cost seven francs, we shall wonder to hear that on arriving on the 7th of April he had still more than 100 francs. He had to wait for thirteen days at port; but no news came to cheer him. Moreover he was visited by a very severe attack of home sickness; but grace ever triumphed in his generous soul. “This poor heart of mine,” he writes, “yearns for home today. What are my loved ones, my parents, my brother and my sisters doing now? Ah! How often do they not think anxiously of me? ... O my God, lay my parents’ sorrow upon me. Give them peace in their old age. Oh, how I love them! My God have mercy on us all. Grant us to meet again in Heaven and there, without fear of parting, to be happy with Thee for all eternity.”
The longed for morning of the 20th of April at last arrived. He was up early. He made a most fervent Communion, the last in Europe for many a day. He had been able to engage a second class berth in the Europa at a very reasonable fare. At noon the good ship hoisted her signal for sailing. John was already on board, and although there were some two hundred passengers, he was as much alone, as if there were only God and himself in the world. The ship weighed anchor and put out to sea, and next morning there was nothing to be seen but the heavens above and the ocean all around. In the notes of our traveller we find him complaining that he could not make meditation. This can only apply to meditation in set form; for his was a really contemplative soul, whose communing with God were almost continual. Everything seemed to lift his mind to Him. He looked upon his being allowed to embark as a sign that God had accepted his oblation, and for this his heart overflowed with gratitude. “Thou hast heard,” he prayed, “my request; Thou hast granted my petition: Oh how I now rejoice! Mayest Thou be forever praised! After so many struggles, I am once more in peace. O Jesus, I will never forget Thee, since Thou hast so graciously remembered me. Bless my enterprise! Stay with me, assist me, grant me success.”
The voyage was fully forty days. He experienced the joy which favourable weather brings the weariness of a dead calm, the grandeur, cold and danger of icebergs, and the fury of an appalling storm. It was during this latter that he made a most perfect act of entire abandonment of himself to the Providence of God. While all the others were forced to seek shelter below, he alone stood on deck contemplating Divine power in the elements and thinking of the future as if no danger were near. Suddenly a warning, clear as if a human voice had spoken, made him change his position, and in an instant a sail yard came down with a terrible crash on the very spot where he had been standing. Long years after he would recall this escape to awaken within him an unbounded confidence in the paternal protection of God, to which he there and then abandoned himself for ever.
Arrival in America
America was sighted on Trinity Sunday, and on that same day the Europa cast anchor three miles below Staten Island. How long the vessel remained there is uncertain; but young Neumann by downright importunity won from the captain the favour of being up ashore on the island on the Feast of Corpus Christi. It was in the afternoon, and he took the first steam-boat for New York. He had a most ardent desire to make at least a visit to our Blessed Lord on this feast of His Love. It was pouring rain, but to that he seemed quite insensible. In street after street he sought his Beloved but without effect. Not having been able to find a Catholic Church, he took lodgings for the night in a Swiss Inn. Next morning he repaired to the nearest church, and when he was satisfied his devotion he went to the Cathedral. Here he had the good fortune of meeting Rev. Father Raffeiner, and we will leave the reader to imagine his joy when this good priest told him that he had been accepted some weeks since for the diocese of New York. He was then introduced to his Lordship, the Bishop, Monsignor Dubois. It was no ordinary meeting. The venerable appearance of the octogenarian Prelate reminded Mr. Neumann of St John the Evangelist, and the Bishop’s experienced eye saw in the young missionary a true servant of Jesus Christ. He received him most cordially and through very joy knew not whether to address him in Latin, English or French. And here we had better give the words of an illustrious Archbishop of New York. In his Petition to the Holy See for the Introduction of the Cause he writes: “While still young, Neumann moved by a Divine call and strengthened by his confidence in Divine aid, although destitute of human resources set out for America, which he reached after a long and dangerous voyage ... Already even before he was a priest, my predecessor... at first sight discovered in this young man the virtues of riper years. He committed to him the catechising of children who were preparing for First Communion, and while thus engaged he was promoted to Holy Orders.”
St John Nepomucene Neumann – A Priest on the American Mission
He was ordained by Bishop Dubois in his Cathedral dedicated to St. Patrick. He received the Subdiaconate on June 19th, the Diaconate on the Feast of St. John the Baptist, June 24th, and the Priesthood the day following. Thus on June 25th, 1836 fruition succeeded long deferred hopes and John Nepomucene Neumann was a Priest of the Most High. If only his father and mother had been there, it would have been for him paradise on earth. But their absence only intensified the ardour with which he prayed for them and for all at home. On the 26th he sang his First Mass in the church of St. Nicholas. The thirty children whom he had instructed received their First Communion at this Mass, and thus he himself prepared for them the Divine Banquet.
“It was then,” to use the words of Archbishop Corrigan, “that the prudence, modesty, zeal and the universality of the virtues, with which he was adorned, became apparent. By word and example he led the faithful to salutary practices, and by his kind manner he made wayward boys docile, drew them away from danger and trained them to piety.”
He is appointed to the district of Niagara Falls – But his Grace tells us that his was a zeal not to be circumscribed within the narrow limits of St. Nicholas, and, therefore, although so young he was entrusted with the cultivation of a most extensive field near the Falls of Niagara. The Catholics were numerous but scattered here and there over the whole district ."Who will tell us,” his Grace asks, “of the labours that wearied him, the perspiration that exhausted him, the difficulties that pressed upon him, and the souls that he won to God?”
This district is now in the diocese of Buffalo, and the late Right Rev Dr. Ryan tells us that when the Saint arrived, “there were no parochial dwellings, nor indeed any suitable place to take that repose, which was so much needed after his frequent, long and fatiguing journeys to the various stations. They were in dire need of Spiritual succour and long distances from one another.” Taking Williamsville as centre, he visited the following stations: North Bush five miles distant, Lancaster and Transit six, Batavia forty, Sheldon twenty and Niagara Falls fifty. These were the principal, but there were other lesser stations. “He took,” says his Lordship, “but little rest, his food was scantly and he often partook of it hurriedly in some poor and even squalid cabin. He was ever ready for work. A difficult road, bad weather, the darkness of night , these he would never allow to stand in his way when there was a question of helping souls in need.”
His journeys were made for the most part on foot, and he carried on his back the things which were absolutely necessary for the celebration of the Divine Mysteries. When a brother priest would beg him to spare himself and use a horse, he would playfully answer that he was a strong Bohemian boy. But the most robust constitution may be overtaxed, and so it was with the Saint. One day when utterly exhausted and with feet al blistered from his journey, he laid himself down under a tree unable to go any further. Soon he was surrounded by a roving company who were in search of booty. The position of the poor father was not a pleasant one. As soon, however, as these men of the woods recognised that he was a “black robe,” far from doing him harm, they laid him gently on a buffalo skin and thus carried him to his destination.
The limits of this brief sketch will not allow of the narration of the many dangers to which his life was exposed when overtaken by storms, or missing his way in the dead of night, or walking fasting long distances from one church to another to say Mass on Sundays, or visiting the sick all day without taking a morsel of food. Rather let us look into his mind and heart and see what is passing there; for all the beauty of those dear to God is from within. His prayer for his people, which happily has reached us, gives us a look into his soul. We gladly give the greater part of it to the reader:
“My Jesus, I a poor ignorant young man have become a shepherd in Thy sheepfold. Lord, regard not my sins! Give me; I beseech Thee, an ever increasing love for those whom Thou hast redeemed, that I may labour for their salvation in wisdom, patience and holiness. Grant that not one of those confided to my care may be lost through my fault. O Jesus, help me to sanctify my children. O holy Mother of my Lord and God, pray for me and my flock. Holy Guardian Angels of my dear children, teach me how to act towards them, so that I may instil into their hearts principles of pure faith and the love of God. Lord, teach me how to live for my people that they all may be saved, that they may love Thee and praise Thee in eternity, and that they may love my dear mother Mary.”
For four years the Saint laboured unceasingly in this immense district. He erected churches in four districts, and near to them schools. At first he taught the children himself; but later on he was aided by his brother Wenceslaus, who left his home in order to share with Father Neumann his labours and privations. We learn the poor conditions of both Pastor and people from letters written to Rev. Father Dichtl. “Only a poor Priest,” he writes, “or one who is content to endure the hardships of poverty can labour here with fruit. His duties call him far and near ...He leads what may be termed a wandering life ... There is no pleasure.... except that found in the care of souls. If he seeks comforts, honours or riches, his search will be in vain; he will lose both patience and courage and his usefulness will come to an end.” Again he wrote: “The Catholic population is continually increasing, not that conversions swell our numbers, but because immigration goes on rapidly...Conversions however are by no means rare.” Referring to the condition of the people he said: “Many of our Catholics are in extreme poverty. They live in miserable shanties, some of which have not even the luxury of a window. As a general rule chairs and bedsteads are unknown. I have seen the dying stretched on a bundle of straw or moss. To hear their confessions and prepare them for the Sacraments I have to seat myself by their side on the ground. When a Priest enters an Irishman’s shanty, the whole family, young and old make the Sign of the Cross and salutes him with Welcome Father! How consoling such a salutation from faithful hearts.”
Side by side with the consolations of his sacred ministry we find trials. God kept purifying his soul by desolation. But it was now the desolation of one who was most intimately united to God. He plaintively complains: “Jesus, my delight has fled alas; I seek for Him in vain! I have lost my Beloved. He harkens not to my sighs. He hears not my voice. My eyes are blinded by my tears; my voice has grown weak from lamenting; but He is not moved: He does not show Himself to my poor soul. Jesus, Jesus where art Thou?” When a ray of light penetrated the darkness in which his soul was enveloped, then his heart would expand under the sensible touch of Divine grace.
But to return to his work. He was not satisfied with all that he had been striving to do himself. He wrote to Europe to engage friends to come to America to labour for souls, and he did all in his power to induce those, who would remain at home, to begin a College for the American Missions. His efforts were vain, and thus left alone he worked in a superhuman manner till at last his health gave way. A severe attack of fever, which lasted three months, made him very weak, and there was question of transferring him to Rochester. To this the holy man would not consent. “It was easy,” he said, “to get a Priest for Rochester; but very difficult to find one for my district. Indeed,” he added, “if I fail, it will be necessary to find two,” thus innocently giving to himself without intending it, the praise which he so rightly merited.
Few men have less reason to fear avarice than he. Every penny he could spare went to his churches, his schools and to the poor. Not satisfied with this he made a vow of poverty.
But while no human motive could induce him to leave his people, a call from God came to break bonds which bound him so closely to them; the call was to the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. Much as Rev. Father Pax, his confessor, felt his loss, he fully approved of his vocation. Having therefore, duly received the permission of Right Rev. Dr. Hughes, his Bishop, he left his Mission on the 13th October, 1840, and immediately entered the Redemptorists’ Noviciate. His brother Wenceslaus followed his example, and entered, as a brother, a month later.
St John Nepomucene Neumann a Redemptorist
The Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer came into being in 1732 in the midst of a population of poor shepherds and country labourers in the Kingdom of Naples, approved by Pope Benedict XIV on the 25th of February 1749, it was soon after the death of St Alphonsus transplanted beyond the Alps. St Clement Mary Hofbauer was the standard bearer. His first foundation was at Warsaw in Poland, where the fruits of his labours were truly marvellous. Little by little and for the most under adverse circumstances, the Congregation spread into Austria and Germany. The mind of St Clement was steadily fixed on America, and at one time it seemed certain that he himself would be the first Redemptorist to cross the Atlantic. The first beginning of the work, however, was reserved to his successor, theVenerable Joseph Passerat. In his office of Vicar General of the Transalpine Houses he sent three Fathers and three Brothers to the United States in 1832. They reached New York on the eve of Corpus Christi, and the next most blessed day the Fathers said Mass for the first time in the New World. They had come to labour among the German population, which was then even more destitute of spiritual aid than the abandoned souls of the kingdom of Naples for whom St. Alphonsus had first founded the Congregation. They, therefore, did not remain in New York, but moved westward to Cincinnati, whence they penetrated the country northwards as far as Green Bay.
In August two other Fathers arrived from Europe of whom one was Rev. Father Prost. Much good was indeed affected but the difficulties which they encountered were so many and seemingly insurmountable, that some were inclined to abandon the work. Happily a letter from Father Passerat came in goods time to reassure the wavering, and he prophesised to them that as soon as St Alphonsus was canonised the Congregation would take root permanently in the United States. And so it came to pass, for in 1839, the year of the canonisation, the Fathers settled permanently in Pittsburg, Pa. From that time forward their labours were almost unceasing and the fruits surpassed their most sanguine expectations.
Rev. John. N. Neumann a Novice
Rev. Father Prost in his Apostolic journeying met Rev. Father Neumann at Rochester. He was the instrument chosen by God to make the Congregation known to him, and the Vocation for which He had been preparing him. I say God “had been preparing him,” for in the midst of his many labours he found time to cultivate the very virtues which fitted him for a Redemptorist life; humility, simplicity, a charity full of tenderness, a zeal which difficulties only made more ardent, a burning love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and the confidence of a child in the ever Blessed Mother of God. Prayer was his life, and in it he sought grace ever to do God’s Will. He drank deep droughts of the spirit of St. Alphonsus as may be seen in his notes, and in the Rule of Life which he followed. He had made a vow of chastity; he had made a vow of poverty; it only remained that he should make a vow of obedience and this he desired with all the ardour of his heart. He entered the Congregation because he was convinced that he needed the help which it could give him. God called him to the Congregation, because He had chosen him to be one of the foundation stones of the Institute of America. He was the first Priest received in the United States, and few then realised fully the treasures, which God had hidden in his bosom.
A regular noviciate in those days was not possible, but whatever might have been defective in form, was more than compensated by the fervour with which the novice made use of the means at his disposal. He made his noviciate partly at Pittsburg, partly in Baltimore, and partly in succouring those who spiritually speaking were dying of hunger. After fourteen months of probation he made his vows in the church of St. James in Baltimore on January the 16th 1842.He announced the event to his parents saying: “I belong now body and soul to the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. The corporal and spiritual aid mutually given and received, the edification and good example...which one has al round him till death, wonderfully facilitates the life I am now leading, the vocation to which I have been called. I have every reason to hope that death will be more welcome to me in this holy Congregation than it usually is to seculars.” Later on he wrote: “Oh, what a blessing it is to live in the Congregation, especially in America! Here we can really love God. We can labour much for Him and so quietly and unnoticed by the world.”
After his Profession
His work for two years after his Profession differed but little from that to which he had grown accustomed at Niagara Falls. With Baltimore as a centre, the Redemptorists visited Cumberland, Harper’s Ferry, Martinsburg, Strasburg, Kingwood, Frederic, Richmond, York, Columbia, Westminster, and even more distant places. Much of this work of visiting fell to Father Neumann, and in general with a self forgetfulness which only increased with time, he devoted all the strength that remained to him to the constant discharge of the most trying duties of the sacred ministry.
Father Neumann is made Superior
At the nomination of Superiors in 1844 he was sent to Pittsburg to take charge of the community and parish. It was as Superior he built the beautiful church of St. Philomena, which stands there today a monument to toil, his sacrifices, and his piety. This was solemnly blessed and opened in October 1846. He then turned his attention to the housing of his community, and began the erection of a suitable monastery. Before this work was completed his health completely broke down. It was no wonder, for his labours and anxieties were excessive, and he would take no care of himself. On the contrary, he claimed the most difficult work as his by right. For example, he went on all the night sick-calls. He would say to the others: “You need all the rest you can get: I cannot at night, so I might as well go myself.” It was, therefore, necessary to have recourse to the Provincial Superior in order to save him. He was sent an obedience to put himself under medical care, and he submitted with the simplicity of a child. The doctor found his state alarming, and he declared that, if he were to be saved, he must quit Pittsburg and have a long rest. He was then called to Baltimore, where, with much careful nursing, he regained to some extent his strength. The long rest, however, was rudely interrupted by a letter from Europe appointing him Vice-Provincial in America. This was in February 1847. Three years later the great servant of God, Father Joseph Passerat retired from office and was succeeded by Father Smetana, who procured the erection of the houses of the United States into a Province, and, to the great joy of Father Neumann, Father Bernard Hafkenschied was named first Provincial. He, however, remained in Baltimore as Rector of St. Alphonsus’ church and community.
There is not the slightest doubt that Father Neumann was a most perfect Superior. He had learned to rule himself long before he began to rule others. Habitually humble, kind, thoughtful, firm when there was need of firmness, he led his subjects forward more by example than by words. It is equally certain that he discharged all the duties of a vigilant pastor in regard to his people. He instructed them, he warned them against the dangers that surrounded them, and he left nothing undone to draw them nearer and nearer to the sources of grace, which they needed so much, prayer and the frequent use of the Sacraments. Wherever he went, whether in the schools, or in his parochial visits to his people, he seemed to communicate to others that tender love and unbounded confidence in the Blessed Mother of God, which he himself possessed in so high a degree. Over and above all this, he went frequently on Missions, and his success was quite extraordinary.
But, in the designs of God, he was now nearing a time when a trial was to come upon him harder to bear than death itself. It was the evening of St. Joseph’s day in 1852. He entered his room. In the dusk it seemed to him that something glistened on his table. He drew near and found that the glitter came from a ring and Episcopal cross. On enquiring he heard that the Archbishop of Baltimore had been to his room. There was no mistaking the import of these insignia of office. He locked his door, cast himself on his knees and prayed the whole night. He wrestled with God; but as far as escaping the burden of the Episcopate was concerned, his wrestling was vain. In the course of the morning Archbishop Kenrick presented to Father Neumann the Bulls of his appointment, together with the formal command of the Holy Father obliging him to accept the See of Philadelphia. He had hoped that the efforts of the Procurator General in Rome might have saved him; but it was not to have been so. Four Cardinals of the Propaganda used their influence to deliver him from the danger that threatened him, but the majority voted for him. Monsignor Barnabo, the Secretary of the Congregation, was told by his Holiness: “I bear the Redemptorist Fathers in my heart. They have in this matter acted as God would have them to act. I am confident that He will not refuse me light to discern what the good of the Church in general and of the Congregation in particular demands of me. Therefore I sanction the choice of the Cardinals, and I command Father Neumann under formal obedience (sub obedientia formali) to accept the diocese of Philadelphia, without further appeal.” Rome has spoken, the cause is finished: the will of the Pope was for Father Neumann the Will of God, and the humble religious accepted his cross. But with all his resignation there was upon him a fear so great, that he said to one of his confreres on the eve of his Consecration: “If our Lord gave me choice either to die or accept this dignity, I should prefer to lay down my life tomorrow rather than be consecrated Bishop; for my salvation would be more secure at the judgement seat of God in my present state, than it will be if I appear burdened with the responsibility of a Bishopric.”
The Saint as Bishop of Philadelphia
The Most Rev. Dr. Kenrick chose the 28th of March for the Consecration of the Bishop-elect and his Grace to be the consecrating Prelate. The reader will remember that the Saint was born and baptized on Good Friday, March 28, 1811, and now Divine Providence chose the same day of the same month in 1852, for the conferring on him the greatest grace and the highest dignity. It was moreover Passion Sunday, and we can have little doubt that these coincidences together with the feeling of responsibility, which pressed so heavily upon him, led him to take as motto the words: “Passio Christi, Conforta me!” “Passion of Christ, Strengthen me!” and as arms the simple Cross of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer.
No one regretted more than the Provincial, Father Bernard Hafkenschied, the loss of Father Neumann; but he was determined that nothing should be undone on the part of the Fathers of the Province and of the Catholic people of Baltimore to show their affectionate veneration for the Saint. He secured for him all the prayers he could both in the community and parishes. The Bishop-elect hid himself as much as possible in retreat from which he emerged only on the morning of Passion Sunday. Hours before the time announced for the Consecration, the church of St. Alphonsus was densely crowded, that part alone excepted which was reserved for those who were to form the procession. This was fittingly headed by the school children, then followed the various Catholic societies of the city, and last of all came the clergy and his Grace, the Archbishop. The interest taken by the people in this most solemn ceremony was very great, but the climax was reached when the new Bishop made the round of the church blessing every one, while some twenty Redemptorist students chanted the “Te Deum.” It may be said with truth that the whole Congregation melted into tears.
Then followed affectionate addresses from the people of Baltimore and from a deputation from Pittsburg. To words were added a gold chalice, ring, pectoral cross and chain and other Episcopal insignia. The offering of the Pittsburg deputation was a Monstrance, than which nothing could have been more appropriate for one who was to introduce the “Quarant ore” into his diocese. In the evening his Lordship preached, and in his sermon he declared that what he desired most to bequeath to the good people of St. Alphonsus as his parting gift was a child-like devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. His last visit which was made on Monday, was, as we should have imagined, made to his dear school children. On Tuesday he started for his diocese. Instead of dwelling on the wrench which the parting gave to his heart, or the weight of responsibility which was now actually upon him, we will at this stage of his career pause to consider a marked trait in his life, which up to now has scarcely been touched upon.
Few priests perhaps had realised more fully than he the words of our Blessed Lord: “Suffer little ones to come to me and forbid them not” (Mark X 10-14). His first work in America was the instruction of children. Children were the communicants of his First Mass in the old church of St. Nicholas, New York. In the extensive district assigned to him he devoted a most considerable part of his time to the children. In Williamsville, where he resided habitually, he not only taught the Christian Doctrine, but also became the children’s school-master. In his visits to the different stations, if he remained for a few weeks, he had all the children around him. Many of his scholars learned to read and write in three weeks, as well as to love God and have recourse to the Blessed Virgin Mary. When Divinely called to the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer his zeal grew even more ardent. When Superior he reserved to himself the instruction of the children for whom no one was more gifted, “He excelled,” writes one who knew him in his busy days at Pittsburg, “in catechetical instructions, as he possessed in a high degree the secret of making them pleasing and intelligible to children. The simplicity of his explanations appealed to their understanding, while the piety of his heart communicated itself to theirs. He was, besides, so affable, so gracious, so condescending towards the little ones of his flock that he found at once a way into their innocent hearts, he won their complete confidence. When his well known step was heard in the school-room smiles of welcome lit up every face...Crowds of these little people used to gather round him in the streets. They would shake his hand, pull his coat and ask for a blessing. To prepare them for First Communion was for him a work of predilection. His diligence in this duty was unremitting. He left no means untried to awaken fervour and piety in their young hearts, and to impress upon their minds a full understanding of what they were to receive in Holy Communion.
A Sister of Notre Dame tells us that she had ample opportunities, while in the schools of St. Alphonsus, Baltimore, to study the virtues of and eminent qualities of the Saint. “He was,” she says, “an accomplished Catechist and a great lover of children. His gentleness, meekness and perseverance in communicating religious instruction to the children often astonished me, and the salutary impression which he made upon even the most faulty and troublesome of our little people, was quite remarkable. The young would freely avow to him their faults... His mere glance seemed to contain in it something of the all-seeing attribute of God, so much did he penetrate their souls. They often said to me: “Sister, Father Neumann looked right into my heart.”
After a hard day’s work this lover of the little ones of our Lord would stay up the greater part of the night working at his Catechisms and Bible History, and never rested till these most valuable books were in the hands of children.
We must go back fifty years if we are really to understand how the Holy Ghost guided Father Neumann in this matter. The beautiful Encyclicals of Pius IX were not yet written; no Provincial Synods were held; the experience of the woeful effects of schools without God was still in the future; but all these drawbacks notwithstanding, the Saint at the very outset of his priestly career had formed perfectly his judgement, a judgement on which we add today, namely, that if our people are to be saved, we must have Catholic schools.
His Arrival in Philadelphia – Schools
That all this is in a fitting place here will be readily admitted, when we learn that at The Episcopal Reception Meeting in Philadelphia, the following words were spoken and accepted by all present: “Reverend Sirs, we know the humility and modesty of our new Bishop. He is no friend to worldly pomps or splendour, or public demonstrations, in fact such a reception would annoy him exceedingly. I therefore propose as a fitting demonstration of our cordial welcome to him, to establish a new school, and to explain to him on his arrival that in doing so we sought to give expression to our joy at his appointment as Bishop of Philadelphia.” He was therefore received in a most modest manner, and the reason why was given. The priests and people could not have given him a greater joy: “Oh, how I thank you, Gentlemen,” said his Lordship, “it is just what I wished for.”
The Bishop addressed a Pastoral letter soon after his arrival to the Clergy, Religious and Laity of the diocese. Those who knew him said beforehand that he would be sure to speak of the schools. They were right. Although circumstances did not allow him to dwell at any length on the subject, he wrote: “We avail ourselves of the earliest opportunity to express our approbation of the efforts which have lately been made in Congregations to organise parochial schools. We exhort the pastors and all who have at heart the best interests of youth to spare no efforts to ensure success. Whatever difficulties may at first attend, and even obstruct this most desirable undertaking, will be gradually overcome by mutual goodwill and co-operation.”
He profited by his first sermon after his installation to declare that “our Catholic youth can be saved only by Catholic schools.” In the notes taken by a priest who was present we read: “He (the Bishop) openly declared his firm resolution, with God’s help, to begin and carry out that work of vital importance, the establishment of Catholic schools. Persuasively and emphatically he exhorted parents to give to their children Catholic training, to ensure their attendance at Mass and other services of religion, to educate them at home, by word and example; but above all to send them to schools in which they would be taught under the eye of the Church.”
In less than a month he had framed a plan by which he hoped to give to every parish its own school. On the 28th of April he called together the Pastors of the various Congregations, and several prominent members of the laity. This was the beginning of what was henceforth to be known as the “Committee for the Education of Youth.” His Lordship was the President, and indeed the very heart and soul of the society. In his first address he laid it down as his deep rooted conviction that for Catholic children catholic schools are an absolute necessity in order to educate them in faith, form them into good and useful members of the Church and of society, and to secure their eternal salvation. In this great work by far the greater part of his flock cooperated in a most praiseworthy manner, but as in all good works the devil did not fail to create difficulties. On these, however, we need not dwell, for his Lordship’s spirit of prayer, his unconquerable patience, and the promptness with which he profited by favourable circumstances overcame all. The author of “Lives of the Deceased Bishops of the Catholic Church in the United States” has written: “The parochial schools of the whole diocese of Philadelphia, and especially of the city itself, increased wonderfully in numbers, in attendance, and in efficiency during his administration, and becoming the crowning glory of his work. The Boy’s schools he confided to the Christian Brothers, those of the Girls to the Sisters of St. Joseph, the Sisters of Charity, the Sisters of Notre Dame and other Orders. There were two parochial schools in Philadelphia when he arrived there in 1852; at the time of his death in 1860 he had increased the number to nearly one hundred.” His success called for the following remark from a non- Catholic paper: “We regret to see that the most esteemed denomination in our city has withdrawn its confidence from the public schools. Serious defects must exist in our school system: authorities should therefore, investigate and improve the conditions of said schools.” Yes, serious indeed must have been the defects, since they were Godless. The Bishop himself was able to say a few months before his death: “Almighty God has so wonderfully blessed the work of Catholic Education that nearly every church in my diocese has now its own school.” From all this we see with what truth the Bishop of Cleveland could write to his Holiness, Leo XIII, that the Saint may be considered the founder of Catholic Schools in Philadelphia.
But we should underrate his zeal, were we to think that it was confined within the limits of primary schools; it extended to all classes of schools. Nor was he one who sat at his desk and simply drew up rules. No, his face and his voice were familiar in every school and diocese. It was these visits which created a holy emulation amongst the teachers, knowing as they did, the pure joy which his Lordship tasted in seeing the progress of the children. His elevation to dignity made no change in his sweet and condescending manner; and his extensive knowledge filled all with respect for him.
There were, it must be admitted, in his diocese some schools which had a particular attraction for him; these were the schools for orphans. Of his visits to these a nun writes: “When Bishop Neumann visited an orphan asylum, he appeared the very counterpart of Our Lord, the Friend of Children. He went amongst them like a tender, loving father....The little ones would gather round him, and listen attentively while he told them of God’s love for them, or explained the different parts of a flower, or some other wonders of nature suited to their young minds. He knew how to use plain and simple language, such as would chain the attention even of the most frolicsome. He led them, as far as their capacity permitted, from the meditation of created things up to the contemplation of God Himself. Their multiplied questions never annoyed him.” The good nun does not forget to add that he never came with empty pockets.
No one who has followed this sketch with attention will wonder that, even as Bishop, he ever strove to reserve to himself that which was hardest for nature in the sacred ministry. If there was an obstinate culprit in prison, he would undertake his conversion; he was willing that he the most difficult cases with reference to the Sacrament of Penance should be sent to him; he visited every Catholic in hospital, and he reserved to himself the night sick-calls. If in the latter he found a mother to whom the thought of leaving an orphan child rendered death particularly painful, he at once assured her that he would take her place. This will explain how one day he appeared at the orphanage with a child of three years old, for whom he sought admittance. His kindness had so won the little creature’s heart, that she ever after called him father. We must, however, confess that beautiful is the design of that the Postulator of the Cause had painted of Bishop Neumann in a school distributing prizes to children.
His Care of Ecclesiastical Students
The author whom we cited above writes: “Bishop Neumann chiefly distinguished his administration by continuing and increasing the work of his predecessor.” Now this is particularly true of his seminary. He found in it forty students; but with an ever increasing population these could never supply the wants of his diocese. He had been able to get some help from Germany; but he needed much more. Hence he never lost an opportunity of impressing on his clergy the necessity of devoting special attention to boys who manifested a vocation to the priesthood. He exhorted them to instruct these boys how to lead a pious life, and, if they were satisfied with their conduct, to present them as candidates. He sent numbers of boys to a college in Maryland to be educated at his expense. But he wanted something more than this. When, therefore, he had thoroughly matured his plans he opened a Preparatory College, a gateway to the seminary of the Diocese. He wrote on this occasion an admirable Pastoral Letter, from which I cull but a few passages. “The time,” his Lordship writes, “which a seminarian spends at college gives him sufficient opportunity to ascend from virtue to virtue, until he reaches the perfection required by the Church for her priests. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, meditation in common, prayers daily recited by all, good example of fellow students, frequent Holy Communion, and the dwelling under the same roof with our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, impose upon him the happy necessity of not only avoiding sin, but also aid to prepare his heart for every virtue.” Having referred to the temporal help needed, and the confidence which he reposed in his flock to obtain it, he concluded: “Yet, brethren, not gifts alone laid on the altar will secure us good priests, but humble prayer with fasting is necessary. Particularly during the Ember-days should the faithful not omit to pray, to receive Holy Communion, and to practice works of self-denial in order that the Pastor of our souls may send worthy labourers into His vineyard, and that we may enter undefiled into the possession of the inheritance reserved for us in heaven.”
The Seminary itself had under this learned and holy Bishop attained a very high reputation, and Blessed Pius IX bestowed upon it the privilege of conferring the Doctorate. When at home he visited this establishment every day, and as the time of ordination drew near he redoubled his solicitude. He used to give lectures on Pastoral Theology, and on these occasions, he gave to the students most useful hints on the study of Moral Theology, Canon Law, and Church History.
His Care for Religious
A perfect religious himself and loving his vocation most tenderly, he appreciated at its full value the same grace in others. Hence, he devoted himself to the sanctification of all religious under his jurisdiction. He impressed upon them the necessity of observing faithfully the Rule; for he held that it was through this observance that the blessing of God was to descend on the religious themselves and on their works. He begged them to make known to him all, even their temporal wants. He helped them as much as he was able, and in their seemingly insurmountable difficulties he inspired them with something of his own great confidence in God, in the Blessed Virgin and in St. Joseph, which won so much for him from an over bountiful Providence. It is not possible to enter into details, as to his paternal relations with the various orders, nor as to his manner of cultivating vocations to religion, even when there was question of his own students: but a word must be said of those with whom his heart remained, the Redemptorists. Each one was to him a brother, and it was a delight to him to render them any service in his power. He observed, as far as circumstances allowed, the holy Rule; he went to the Monastery every week for confessions, every month for a day’s retreat, and every year for the spiritual exercises during ten days. In their midst, he would not have any distinction made, indeed, if he were allowed, he would take the last place. A doubt having been raised as to whether he ceased to be a Redemptorist in becoming a Bishop, he never rested till it was cleared up. He himself proposed this doubt to Blessed Pius IX, who, to his great consolation assured him that he was still a Redemptorist.
If such was the care of the Saint for the lambs of his flock, what shall we say of his relations with those who shared the pastoral office with him, the clergy of his diocese? In the depth of his heart he looked upon himself as the last and the least, and his veneration for those whom God honoured with the dignity and enriched with the unspeakable graces of the priesthood, grew with his years. How to help his priests in the sanctification of their own souls, how to cooperate with them in their works of zeal, how to relieve them in their temporal necessities, these were the constant objects of his thoughts, of his prayers, and of his works. He procured for them every year a retreat, and he sometimes gave the exercises himself. He helped them as much as he could in the sacred ministry, and this not only in the city, but even in the most remote districts. When at home he preached nearly always twice on Sundays. He visited all the larger districts every year, and the smaller ones every two years. These visits were often like short Missions. He preached to the people and to the children, and heard confessions. He strove to help them to have missions given to their people, and in these exercises in his own city he took a most active part. A priest was never kept waiting for an answer to a letter. Ordinarily he sent his reply the same day. He was at the disposal of his priests all day long, and if any came from a distance, rooms were prepared for them, and they could make the Bishop’s table their own. He gave them every opportunity of making known their difficulties to him, and he relieved them as far as he was able. Presents which he received often found their way to the most necessitous of his priests. The rules which he made to the government of his diocese show how vigilant a Pastor he was; but he was above all to his priests a true father and friend. He, moreover, by his words and still more by his example turned their minds towards Him, Who is in the highest sense of the word the Friend of Bishop and Priest, our Lord Jesus Christ. He inspired them with some of that confidence in God, which we cannot but consider as the foundation of the undertakings which in five years enabled him to build fifty new churches in his diocese, and continue the work of the magnificent Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul.
Visit of the Bishop to Rome and to his Native Land
Rome! The very name seemed to him a medium of grace. Gladly would he have visited the Eternal City soon after his consecration, had not pressing duties detained him in his diocese. We can, therefore, easily imagine with what delight he received, in October 1854, a formal invitation from Blessed Pius IX to take part in the deliberations on the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This was for him the manifestation of God’s Will. He immediately set about making preparations, and these included his magnificent Pastoral Letter on our Blessed Mother. "Never, Christian brethren,” he wrote, “never can we admit that she was for one moment the slave of the devil.... Purer than heaven’s purest angel, brighter than its brightest seraph, Mary, - after God the Creator, Who made her what she is and gave her all – is the most perfect of beings, the masterpiece of Infinite Wisdom, Almighty Power, and Eternal Love... May the day soon dawn upon the world... when with one mind and heart Christendom will acknowledge and proclaim this her most honourable privilege!”
He left America on the 20th of October, and after a rough passage of seventeen days arrived at Havre. He made no stay in France, but proceeded at once to his destination. It is not easy to represent him to the reader as he was then and during his stay in Rome. Probably amongst the Bishops he was the poorest. He used his Episcopal Insignia only when obliged to do by reason of his office. Ordinarily he wore a very poor habit, with his cross hanging from a much worn cord. He visited all the holy places on foot, and frequently made the pilgrimage of the seven Basilicas fasting. This meant walking for nearly four hours (at least!)
At his first audience with the Holy Father, Blessed Pius IX graciously addressed him: “Bishop Neumann of Philadelphia! Is not obedience better than sacrifice?” He might very well have replied that he had both. His Holiness received him frequently, conversed long with him, and granted him many favours for his diocese. The reunions of the Bishops were full of interest and delight to him. To see Prelates of every degree and from every clime, and to hear them with one voice professing their faith and the faith of their people in the absolute sinlessness of Mary, and then to be present when Pius the Ninth declared to the whole world, as a dogma of faith, that Mary through prevision of the merits of her Divine Son was conceived IMMACULATE, that no breath of sin ever sullied her most pure soul; these were for him a joy beyond description; to be there was paradise.
We cannot dwell longer on the interesting details of this visit, beyond saying that, while he sought to hide himself from the gaze of men and in silence and prayer to drink deep draughts of grace at the holy places and call down blessings on his flock, honours were paid him by Prelates and Cardinals, recognizing in him a man after God’s own heart.
Visit to his native land
He left Rome probably at the end of December, and began his journey to the home of his childhood. He did not, however, seek the most direct way, for we find him at Loreto. In this visit he imitated his Father, St. Alphonsus, and like him celebrated Mass in the Holy House, and spent hours in sweet contemplation. Moving northwards he visited as many favoured Sanctuaries as was possible. At last, he arrived at the Austrian frontier. Dressed very poorly and with nothing to indicate his dignity, an official demanded his passport. As it was written in a language unknown to him (English), he was on the point of dragging him off to an office at a considerable distance. It was high time for the Bishop to assert himself; so he produced his ring and Episcopal cross, and these more than set at rest the mind of the worthy official. This however was little in comparison with a loss which he sustained. He placed in a small box all the spiritual treasures he had collected, relics and other pious objects, but the box was lost or stolen en route. He felt this intensely. He made certain promises to St. Anthony by way of vow, and immediately a young man addressed him as Bishop, although nothing in his exterior indicated ecclesiastical dignity, and presented the missing box. For a moment he was seized with astonishment; then turning to thank the bearer he found that he had disappeared!
As he neared the scenes of his early life, he laid out his plans as to how he might best see his friends while avoiding all demonstration on the part of the people.
Prague was his first halt. Here he met his sister Johanna, now a holy religious. It was like the meeting of St. Scholastica and St. Benedict. Their conversation helped them to enjoy together the sweets of the service of God, and to strengthen their resolution to be more and more all to Him. His friend Father Dichtl introduced him to the pious Emperor Ferdinand, who received him cordially and invited him to his table. This was more than a mere honour, for at desert the Emperor caused to be handed to the Bishop a plate on which was a considerable sum, all in American Gold. This was an Imperial offering for the Cathedral of Philadelphia.
At Budweis, the Episcopal city of is native diocese, he was the guest of its Bishop, Right Rev. Valentine Icrsik. This place was full of memories of his student days. He did not, however, stay long, and quite unexpectedly he announced to the Bishop his intention of leaving after diner. Nothing could induce him to stay longer, and he confessed to his Lordship that he wanted to reach his father’s house without notice under the cover of darkness. For the same reason, viz, that he might escape notice; he refused the Bishop’s carriage which was put at his disposal. He left in a closed sleigh, and congratulated himself on the success of his plan.
It was the 2nd of February, and as now under the protection of the Queen of Heaven he was on the high road to Prachatitz, there would be, he hoped, no demonstrations. Man proposes, but God disposes. A youth named Adalbert Benesch had watched all the movements of the Bishop of Philadelphia, and as soon as he saw the sleigh in readiness he started before it, and gave notice to every family along the road side. The news spread, and the Bishop at intervals found the road lined with people who had come to salute him and ask his blessing. This was not all. At his approach to the village of Nittolitz the church bells rang out their welcome, and the inhabitants headed by the clergy went out to meet him. They conducted him to the church, where he said a few words to them and gave them his blessing. This, however, did not satisfy them. He had to stay overnight, and say Mass for them next morning. And now he had to form a new plan. He would leave on foot in company with a nephew of his, and enter Prachatitz by a road on which no one would have expected to see him. Again it was man proposing, but God disposed, but that next morning the magnificent sleigh of Prince Schwarzenberg drawn by four spirited horses should bear him to his home. There was no escaping, he had to consent. We have no time to dwell on his Lordship’s discomfiture, for the Prince’s horses made short work of the distance from one point, while from Prachatitz the clergy, the town officials, and private citizens in their sleighs had set out to meet him. There were a few words of hearty welcome, and then all fell into line of procession. At the village of old Prachatitz the guards were drawn up in line to salute him with military honours. And here I must let Father Berger speak. “The drums sounded, the musicians united in chorus, and the cheers of the multitude rent the air. After this demonstration the band struck up a lively march, the city bells began to ring, and the procession moved forward. The scene was one of triumph. It was a reception such as might have extended to a conqueror returning with well earned laurels.”
What a change! Eighteen years ago, he left this town friendless, companionless and practically penniless and now in spite of all his efforts to conceal himself he is received as a hero. And hero in very truth he was. To whom save the angels is it given to count his battles and his victories in the cause of God?
Then there was the crowding into the church, the chanting of the Te Deum, and his refusing all invitations however honourable. He would stay with his father and he goes straight to the home of his childhood. The venerable old man was standing at the door, and as his son approached silence fell on that surging mass of men and women who had followed him. A moment, and son and father were linked in a fond embrace, heart beat against heart, and tears of joy burst from their eyes; yea, and from the eyes that witnessed that most touching meeting. The silence was broken by the voice of one who expressed the thoughts of all the friends of the family: Ah! That his mother were here to share this happiness!” “Yea,” said the bishop, “she sees us, she sees us. My good mother is looking down on us: she is rejoicing with us.” It was difficult to save his Lordship from his friends. Everybody would speak to him, and kiss his hand. To save him, as the Bishop confessed afterwards, his old father carried him in his arms upstairs.
He stayed in Prachatitz for six days. These were days of grace for the whole population. The Bishop said Mass for them, preached to them, and received all with a humility and heavenly grace that had become natural to him. He submitted to the public demonstrations of respect and affection, which he could not avoid. They were bearable to him, for he offered all the honour paid him to his Divine Master.
When he had visited the grave of his dear mother, he reconciled his father to his immediate and private departure. Therefore on the 9th of February, long before any of the people were astir, he bade his relatives a last good bye and left the town. After a drive of four hours he reached the favoured sanctuary of Goujau where he said Holy Mass.
I cannot dwell on the details of his journey through Europe; but the reader will turn over in his mind the contrast between this journey and that of 1836. If, however, we look into his heart we shall find that it is more humble, more meek, more charitable, more childlike in its confidence in God, more like, in a word, the Heart of our Blessed Lord.
He left Liverpool on the 10th of March and arrived in New York on the 27th. The same day he started for Philadelphia, and on the anniversary of his consecration he was once more in the midst of his loving and devoted people.
The Daily Life and Virtues of the Saint
This help, however, did not mean rest for the venerable Bishop; for he sought none here below. Like his beloved Father, St. Alphonsus, he made a vow never to lose time, and this will in some way explain the extent of his activity. All his days were full days. He frequently took his short repose at night in a chair, and when he allowed himself the luxury of a bed, he was up before five o’clock. At 5 o’clock he made his meditation. This was followed by a part of his office, Holy Mass and Thanksgiving. At seven, when at home, he either went to the church to hear confessions, or began in his room his official work. His correspondence was very large, and he had, by letter, to decide most intricate cases, and answer most difficult questions. But as during the day he received all who called, priests, religious and the laity, ordinarily he had to write much at night. When on visitation he indeed did his best to answer letters, but then he gave himself during the day entirely to preaching, catechising, hearing confessions and seeing any who wished to speak to him. No one will be surprised that a daily life such as this undermined his strong constitution.
While devoted heart and soul to the interests of his flock, he did not neglect his own sanctification. Indeed so thoroughly had he mastered his passions, and so penetrated was he with the ever abiding presence of God that his works, performed with the purest intention, were in themselves prayers. But he was not content with that. He was ever faithful to the exercises of piety, which he had imposed upon himself over and above the Divine Office which he recited so fervently, and often on his knees. Amongst these we should mention especially his devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Jesus in the Tabernacle was his Counsellor and his friend. To Him he went for light and strength and consolation. He desired to draw all to Him. Hence he had conceived the desire to introduce into his diocese the devotion of the Quarant’ ore, or forty hours’ prayer to Jesus solemnly exposed at the Altar. He hesitated through a fear of irreverence which in those days was not remote. God by a miracle removed his hesitation; for one night when overpowered by sleep as he sat writing at his table, he succumbed. When he awoke he found that the candle had burned down even to the touching of his papers and had set all on fire. Nevertheless the writing remained visible on the charred paper, and the servant of God heard a voice which assured him that, as the writing was preserved in the flames, so could God preserve His Divine Son present in the Blessed Sacrament from profanation. There and then he expedited letters to his clergy announcing the introduction of the Quarant’ ore.
He was not satisfied with daily crowning the blessed Mother of God with his own Rosary (a crown of roses), he did all in his power to induce others to do the same, children, women, men, and even whole families.
His humility, meekness, modesty, self forgetfulness and kindness at once impressed everyone who approached him; but only those who lived with him realised how untiring he was in work, how persevering in the exercise of virtue, and how regardless he was of all except the interests of our Lord Jesus Christ. He impressed not only Catholics, but also non-Catholics, and seemed to communicate to others the light of faith which shone so brightly in his own soul. Trained by God in the school of adversity, and obliged early in life to cast all his care on Him, he acquired himself and communicated to others confidence in His Providence. Indeed this is, as we have already remarked, the explanation of the institutions which grew up in his diocese as if by miracle.
If we could measure his burning love for our Blessed Lord, we should then know he loved his neighbour. Where there was question of saving a soul, he was blind to danger, or rather he saw nothing but the price which that soul cost our Lord. It is, therefore, no wonder that in working for souls, he often forgot to take his food, paid no attention to inclemency of the weather, or to the difficulties to be encountered on the way. It is no wonder that to the eight languages we have already mentioned he added Spanish and Irish, so that knowing so many languages as there were nationalities in his diocese; he was able to benefit each soul in particular. It is, in fine; no wonder that he, who called himself a stout Bohemian boy, should have at the age of forty nine worn out his robust constitution.
“Beati servi ili quos cum venerit dominus invenerit vigalentes.” Luc. XII.37.
Death is a punishment, and as such all fear it. But the death of Jesus Christ, and the graces which it merited have taken away much of this fear. In the case of those who have taken to heart the oft repeated warnings of our Lord to watch, not to sleep, to be ever ready, death inspires scarcely any fear; it is a blessed thing, for, “blessed is that servant whom the Lord when he cometh findeth watching.” And certainly John Nepomucene Neumann was one of those blessed servants to whom death is the gate of eternal life.
We have every reason to believe that he never slept the awful sleep of sin and that he watched in youth, in manhood and in his riper years. There is but little reason to doubt that he even had a presentiment that his prison would be thrown open suddenly when our Lord would call him home. He said as much to a brother at St. Peter’s, while waiting for the Rector. “Brother,” he said, “which would you prefer a sudden death, or one preceded by a long illness?” The Brother answered that he thought the latter would be an excellent preparation for a passage into eternity. “A Christian,” said the Bishop, “and still more a religious, should be prepared for a sudden death, and in that case a sudden death is not without its advantages... however the death which God sends is the best for us.” This was at the very beginning of the year 1860.
On the fifth of January that same year, the Saint was as usual at his post. Meditation, Office, Mass, Thanksgiving, Work, all, as far as appearances went, as usual. But there was a sever suffering which only consummate virtue could hide. Dinner came and the Bishop was in his place. He ate little and hid his abstinence and his sufferings under the interesting anecdotes, which he related. Dinner over, ever faithful to duty, he went out on Episcopal business. Having transacted this business, he was returning to his residence when the Divine Master came. He was seized with apoplexy in the public street, was taken into the hall of a neighbouring house, and there gave up his beautiful soul into the hands of our Blessed Lord. The Price of Pastors came and he was watching, he was ready, he was on the lookout for His coming, he was therefore, blessed. There was grief in every Catholic home in the city, for the Pastor whom they loved as a father was no more, but he was blessed. The little ones in the schools which he had founded and in the orphanages which he had built, cried that they would never see their loving father more, but he is blessed. The strong hearts of his priests and religious and of his fellow-bishops were moved to their very depths – oh what a loss! But he is blessed. “Blessed is that servant whom when the Master cometh findeth WATCHING.”
But his Grace did not fail to remind his hearers that their Pastor, who had so faithfully discharged during life his obligation to preach to them the word of God, preaches more effectively still in his death. For could he have brought home to them better than by his sudden death the oft repeated warnings of Jesus Christ, that we should always be ready? “Watch, for you know not the day, nor the hour.” “Blessed are those servants whom the Lord when He cometh findeth WATCHING.”
The flock having shown to their Pastor every mark of affectionate veneration for six days, his body still incorrupt and flexible was laid to rest in the crypt under the sanctuary of the Redemptorist church of St. Peter. The Archbishop ordained that he whom obedience to the Sovereign Pontiff had drawn from amidst his brethren, should after death be allowed the privilege of resting in peace with them.
His brother, now Br Wenceslaus persevered in the Congregation and died a holy death in New Orleans more than 30 years later.
Lessons to Learn
God was not slow in making known the holiness of his servant by special favours granted through his intercession. This led to the Introduction of the Cause of his Beatification, which was made public by a Decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites dated 15th of December 1896.
He was beatified in 1963 and canonized in 1977 by Pope Paul VI.