“To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” St. John NeumannThe Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities was officially founded on July 11, 2004 when communities of Franciscan women in Hastings-on-Hudson, Syracuse and Buffalo, New York joined together in the first union of Franciscan communities in the U.S. Three years later, they were joined by the Sisters of St. Francis of Millvale, Pennsylvania. Because the four independent congregations all stemmed from the same community founded more than 150 years ago in Philadelphia and were under the guidance of St. John Neumann, our congregation is known as the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities.
St. John Neumann was born in Bohemia (an area of western Czech Republic) in 1811. The bishop put an end to his plans to be ordained a priest in 1835 when he canceled all ordinations, due to an overabundance of priests in the country. Because he could speak English, Neumann wrote to bishops in the U.S., where a bishop in New York agreed to ordain him.
There was no overabundance of priests in the U.S.; Father Neumann was one of just 36 priests for 200,000 Catholics. With a parish that spread from Lake Ontario to Pennsylvania and no established parish churches, Father Neumann spent most of his time on the road — traveling throughout the countryside, teaching in taverns and celebrating Mass in villagers’ homes. He learned Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch and Gaelic so that he could hear the confessions of his parishioners. Eventually he settled in an area of western New York that is now part of Tonawanda as the first pastor of St. John the Baptist Church, which became the base for his missionary work.
In 1852, Father Neumann was appointed bishop of Philadelphia, a city with a growing immigrant population. To meet the demand of these residents to have their children taught in the Catholic tradition, Neumann became the first bishop in the U.S. to organize a diocesan school system. He supported the foundation of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia to minister to the communities of non-English speaking Italians, Germans and Irish.
While doing errands in early January 1860, Bishop Neumann collapsed and died at the age of 48. He was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1977.
St. John Neumann is considered the patron saint of education.