The three saints who walked among us
PART 1 OF 2
Despite their small size, Catasauqua and North Catasauqua boroughs have had many famous and important visitors and residents.
In the 19th and early-20th centuries, a host of celebrities, ranging from the Emperor of Brazil Horace Greeley and Secretary of War Simon Cameron to Thomas Edison and Louis Comfort Tiffany visited the Crane Iron Works.
Buffalo Bill Cody, a friend of Pennsylvania Hotel proprietor John Geiger, was a frequent visitor and rode in a 1914 Old Home Week parade.
Then there are the distinguished residents: David Thomas, the father of the American Industrial Revolution. Catasauqua-born William Jones, who turned Andrew Carnegie’s Braddock Works into the most productive steel mill in the United States. John Fritz, who lived in Catasauqua for a year in the 1850s to build the Union Foundry and later made Bethlehem Iron into a steel giant and America’s largest producer of armor plate and heavy artillery.
In our own time, Pat Kelly and Larry Miller found pro sports fame.
But saints? Here?
Yes, there were.
First to visit was John Neupomocine Neumann. Neumann, born in Bohemia in 1811, came to the United States as a missionary in 1836. Ordained a priest of the diocese of New York, which then covered that entire state, he was sent to build a church for the Catholic German immigrants around Niagara Falls. His parish stretched from Lake Ontario to the Pennsylvania state line, and he walked and rode constantly to care for his widespread flock; intensive travel to visit the faithful marked his entire life in the United States.
Neumann joined the Redemptorist religious order in 1840 and became its American superior and a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1848. In 1852, the Vatican recognized his effectiveness at ministering to the rising tide of Irish and German Catholic immigrants by making him the fourth Roman Catholic bishop of Philadelphia. Bishop Neumann opened one new church a month in the fast-growing city that was also wracked with often violent anti- Catholicism.
Neumann established Catholic education in the United States, creating the first diocesan school system and opening 200 schools in eight years.
To staff the schools, Neumann supported the foundation of the Sisters of St. Francis of Glen Riddle, brought the School Sisters of Notre Dame from Germany and saved an order of black Haitian nuns in Baltimore from dissolution.
Fluent in six languages, he shepherded the small Italian community in the city in his personal chapel and eventually founded the first Italian parishes in America. He also journeyed into the rural reaches of the state and established 78 new parishes. Among them were the German Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (better known as St. Mary’s) and the Irish St. Lawrence.
Neumann consecrated St. Mary’s first church, a small wood-frame building at Union and Second streets, Sept. 9, 1857. At the time, 19 families made up the congregation, and the visit by a fellow German immigrant who had achieved such a lofty post in their church must have been a cause of much joy. By 1878, they had outgrown the first church building, and a larger brick church was built, but it was not until 1884 that the parish had its own dedicated pastor.
A year after St. Mary’s was founded, Neumann returned to consecrate the second Catholic church in the region, this one for the widely scattered Irish families in what was then still Allen Township as well as in Catasauqua, Siegfrieds, Hokendauqua, Egypt and Whitehall Township. They had been trying to organize a parish since 1850; in the spring of 1856, Neumann instructed them to find a church site.
This was no easy task, wrote former St. Lawrence pastor Father Joseph Morrell: “At the time, no one wanted to sell land in Catasauqua for a Catholic church. On July 19, 1856, Paul Faust and his wife, Amelia, sold to Bishop Neumann one half acre of land for the first Catholic church and burying ground for $450.”
The priests of St. Bernard’s in Easton, who had been ministering to the local Irish Catholics, hired an Easton builder named Patrick McGlone. He built a brick church, 35 feet by 70 feet in a Gothic style with a spire.
It was completed by Christmas 1857, and at the first Masses, a letter from Neumann was read “officially declaring, with the beginning of January 1858, the new church would be designated as the parish church for the new parish of St. Lawrence with Father Brennan as its first pastor.
On May 16, 1858, Bishop Neumann arrived in Catasauqua to formally bless and dedicate the new church and parish. Bishop Neumann also instructed the new pastor that on May 16, he would administer to the parish the Sacrament of Confirmation,” according to stjohnfisherparish.com.
In a day full of solemn religious liturgies, Neumann consecrated the church, presided over a benediction service and confirmed 30 children and adults.
Less than two years later, on Jan. 5, 1860, the 48-year-old bishop collapsed onto a marble house stoop in Philadelphia and died of a heart attack. At his request, he was buried under the main altar of St. Peter the Apostle Church in Philadelphia. Pope Paul VI beatified Neumann during the Second Vatican Council in 1966 and, in 1977, declared him a saint; to date, he is the only canonized American man.
(Editor’s note: See next week’s edition as Capwell Fox details visits to the boroughs by Father Alexis Toth, a major figure in the Orthodox church in the United States, and Bishop Tikhon, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in North America.)