It has been more than 150 years since St. John Neumann – then the 4th bishop of Philadelphia – crossed the Delaware River by launch for a pastoral visit to St. Peter Parish in Riverside, N.J.
On Oct. 30, appropriately enough, just two days before the Feast of All Saints, an ornate wooden reliquary housing vestments and objects St. John Neumann used in his life, and a first-class relic – a piece of the saint’s vertebra – crossed the river once more and was borne to St. Peter Church, a worship site of Jesus, the Good Shepherd Parish, Riverside.
There, a solemn, seven-hour diocesan visitation among the faithful unfolded. The day opened with the weekly Spanish Mass and included a presentation on the life and spirituality of St. John Neumann and a prayer service during which participants had the opportunity to venerate the relics.
The closing Mass was celebrated by Trenton's Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M. who, in his homily, encouraged the faithful to follow St. John Neumann’s example of honoring God by sharing the faith at every opportunity.
The visitation of the reliquary to the church, said to be the only one in the diocese established and visited by the saint, was but one stop on a year-long “Neumann year” tour of the relics by his religious order, the Redemptorists, marking the 200th anniversary of his birth.
And though, as Redemptorist Father James Gilmour who spoke throughout the day, phrased it, St. John Neumann was not there among the faithful as he had been on that first visitation, “to hear Confession or give Holy Communion,” still, his strong, sacred and saintly presence sanctified the day and heartened those who came from around the area, Pennsylvania and coastal counties of the diocese.
The day began with Spanish Mass as an homage to the saint’s abiding mission to immigrants, said Father Gilmour who noted that he, himself wasn’t “here today because I speak English. I’m here because I speak Spanish.”
In his Spanish homily, Father Gilmour, who served in the mission fields of Latin America, encouraged the Latino community to “walk in the way” and the light of St. John Neumann.
Father Gilmour spoke of how the saint made his own “Camino” as he discerned how to be a mission priest in America and carried the word of God on horseback and by carriage. After the Mass, Father Gilmour said he considered this “another pastoral visit” which presented the faithful with the opportunity to experience the saint who had reached out to the struggling immigrant Catholics of his day in a manner that resonates well today.”
And resonate well it did with faithful such as Rose Thomas of Jesus, the Good Shepherd Parish and her mother, Rose Baker, of Resurrection Parish, Delran, who came not only to venerate his relics, but to pray for his intercession on behalf of Catholic education.
Noting that St. John Neumann had laid a firm foundation for Catholic education in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, Rose Thomas said, “He founded this parish and I went to school here and my sons went to Holy Cross (high school in Delran).
“I’m a firm believer in Catholic education and I came here to pray that Catholic schools find new strength.”
Jean and Edward Klements of St. Peter Parish, Point Pleasant Beach, who have a long devotion to St. John Neumann, said they had come because he is “so special in our family. We have prayed to him in times of sickness. There have been many miracles. We have visited the shrine many times and we thought we would like to be here today.
“It was very special to be here with the relics. We had never seen the reliquary before. It was a very beautiful day.”
Father Edward Blanchett, pastor of Jesus the Good Shepherd Parish, said the visitation was “just so appropriate the weekend before All Saints Day. It was a wonderful way to tie the past and the present together. He had visited us in the past and now he has visited us again.”
Printed with permission from the Trenton Monitor, newspaper for the Diocese of Trenton, N.J.