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First U.S. male saint was in Norwalk

Cary Ashby • Nov 24, 2019 at 2:00 PM

Did you know the first male saint in the United States spent time in Norwalk?

St. John Neumann also is considered “a founder of Catholic education” in America, according to the saints and angels portion of Catholic Online. Born in 1811 in what is now the Czech Republic, Neumann was appointed the bishop of Philadelphia in 1852.

Neumann spent from July through November 1841 as the assistant pastor at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church in Norwalk, church historian and member Jack Schaffer said. 

St. Alphonsus is located on Settlement Road off Ohio 61. The church campus includes a log house, where Neumann once visited while he was in Norwalk. It was relocated to 1322 Settlement Road.

“He really just came to do a retreat,” Schaffer said. “He did a lot of peacemaking.”

St. Alphonsus is the first Catholic church in Northwest Ohio, said the Rev. Ron Schock, who called the parish the “cradle of Catholicism” in the area.

With some church in-fighting started in March 1841, Neumann “ended up bring the parish back together,” Schaffer said. The church historian also said the future saint was known for walking and wouldn’t think anything of going 20 miles by foot to visit someone.

“He had a great love for the poor,” Schock added.

Neumann died in Philadelphia in 1860 at the age of 48.

He was canonized in 1977, but not without plenty of disagreements. Schaffer said committee members considered Neumann “too ordinary” for sainthood, but he had done extraordinary things during his lifetime.

One committee member stopped to get his hair cut before voting on Neumann’s canonization. Schaffer said the barber realized the man, who planned to vote against sainthood, wasn’t moving and actually had died, so his fate may have had the biggest influence on Neumann being recognized as a saint.

“He was on his way to vote ‘no’ … and here he died in the barber’s chair,” the historian added. 

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