New museum for St. John Neumann opens at his shrine – Catholic Kitchener
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput blessed the new St. John Neumann Museum, which opened on Monday April 29th during a visit to St. Peter the Apostle Parish in North Kitchener at the prestigious National Shrine to the Saint.
(See and visit a Photo Gallery of Blessings here.)
John Nepomucene Neumann, the fourth Catholic bishop of Kitchener, was born in Bohemia in 1811 and studied for the priesthood there. Since there was a great need for priests in America, he came to that country and was ordained a priest in New York in 1836. In 1842 he joined the Redemptorist Congregation with the permission of his bishop, mainly to serve German immigrants.
Indeed, he was the first candidate to join the Redemptorists in the United States, despite being European by birth and ordained a priest when he joined. After several assignments, he was named Bishop of Kitchener in 1852 and served in that capacity until his sudden death in 1860.
According to the declared wishes of Bishop Neumann, he was buried under the Apostle Church of St. Peter, where other Redemptorists were buried at that time. Because pilgrims who were convinced of his holiness kept visiting his tomb, a reason for his canonization finally opened up.
As part of the process, his remains were exhumed and placed in an effigy in a glass sarcophagus under an altar near his original tomb.
He was in 1921 by Pope Benedict XV. Declared venerable in 1963 by Pope Paul VI. Beatified and beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1977. Canonized on his feast day, January 19th, the anniversary of his death.
“After his death, when people visited his grave, the pastor at the time said they should not pray to him for him, but people were drawn to his piety and holiness,” said Redemptorist Father Raymond Collins, currently Rector and Director of the National Shrine of St. John Newman. “Indeed, the core of his spirituality was a real humility and for that he prayed.”
The new St. John Neumann Museum is located in the basement of the parish school building and contains many artifacts related to St. John Neumann, as well as historical materials related to the Congregation of the Most Holy Savior, the official name of the Redemptorists.
The museum also has an expanded gift shop, lecture facilities and a café for around 50 people.
The Redemptorists were founded as a congregation in Italy by St. Alphonsus Ligouri in 1748, but they quickly spread throughout Europe and since then worldwide. The province of Baltimore, to which Neumann would belong, was officially established in 1850.
According to Dr. Patrick Hayes, the Redemptorist Archivist and Museum, has curated many of the artifacts for the museum pertaining to St. John Neumann and the community itself from Baltimore and other locations, including Brooklyn, to the St. John Neumann Museum.
Almost everything related to St. John Neumann is now in the museum, including documents and papers from his time as Bishop of Kitchener, Hayes explained.
These were normally in the archdiocese archives, but were given to the Redemptorists during the lengthy process of canonization, as the community played the leading role in the very complex matter. The collection includes books, vestments, letters, and other items from Kitchener’s first canonized saint.
“He did a lot of work during his eight years in Kitchener,” said Hayes.
In the summer he would visit the distant places. He went to Gettysburg by train, then by carriage and finally on horseback to visit the most remote hamlets. He could speak 11 languages. He even learned Gaelic, the language of some of the Irish immigrants he would meet in the confessional.
According to tradition, an elderly Irish woman declared: “Thank God we now have an Irish bishop.”
Hayes believes that a large part of St. John Neumann’s legacy is the approximately 100 schools established in those eight years and approximately 80 parishes.
“He’s bonded with the people on the fringes, and that’s a great thing for a bishop,” said Hayes. “We could use more such bishops.”
Not everything in the museum is directly related to St. John Neumann or even the Redemptorist Mission.
One of the most important artifacts is a very rare copy of the Douay Rheims Bible, printed by Kitchener printer Mathew Carey in 1790. It is the very first English-language Catholic Bible to be printed entirely in North America.
Only about 500 copies were printed, of which about 40 are still known. This copy in its original binding is possibly in the most pristine condition of all, certainly of the 10 copies Hayes has seen.
It is believed to have come from the library of Charles Carroll of Carrollton of Maryland, the only Catholic signatory to the Declaration of Independence and the last to die. A cousin of John Carroll, America’s first Catholic bishop, he was considered the richest man in the 13 original colonies. Apparently he has looked after his books very well.
That copy of the Bible somehow got to the Redemptorist Novitiate in Annapolis and then to the Redemptorist Seminary in New York, and now it’s back home in Kitchener.
Although the book is too valuable to pass on, an interactive digital copy is on display for visitors to read at will.
Another rare book in the humble collection is a Chippewa Catechism, compiled by a Redemptorist missionary in the 1830s.
John Neuman was a book lover himself, and not just sacred texts. Some of his books in the collection deal with botany and are written in both English and German.
“We have field guides that he used,” said Hayes. “He signed everything he read, and this love for nature is important to people today.”
If you want to venerate Saint John Neumann while visiting his grave in his shrine in the Apostle Church of St. Peter, take the time to get to know the man John Neumann by stopping by the museum.
The National Shrine of St. John Neumann is located at 1019 North Fifth Street in Kitchener. Visit the shrine’s website here.