John Neumann, Pioneer Saint
Diary of a young seminarian
John kept a diary during his years in the seminary. From these personal musings we get glimpses of a young man of tender conscience. In one entry he wrote of feeling sorry for having laughed at a joke made at the expense of a teacher. From other excerpts we learn that he regretted a criticism he voiced of seminary authorities, had trouble getting out of bed in the morning, and was ashamed of his irrational determination to win at chess.
John recounts in detail two incidents of lying or excusing himself. In the first, he was returning to his room with some plums he had bought. The seminary president ran into him and asked if he planned to eat them all himself. John was confused and stammered that he intended to share them. In reality he had planned to eat them himself. In another incident, John’s mind went blank while he was giving one of his first sermons. In his consequent embarrassment, he explained three times to his peers that he’d had the Latin text down pat; he just couldn’t quite call up the German. That night he confessed in his diary that he had not remembered the Latin text any better than the German.
When John graduated from the seminary, he was frustrated to learn that no new priests were to be ordained in his diocese for months to come. He had long entertained the thought of becoming a missionary to North America. After some hasty preparations he bought a passage on a ship bound for New York, hoping the bishop of the diocese would receive and ordain him. He had moments of panic at the thought of making the crossing alone under such uncertain conditions, but he wrote with forced cheer in his diary, "Why this fear, as if there were no God?"
During the forty-day voyage John kept mostly to himself, as much out of shyness as a desire to read and pray. His fellow passengers thought him odd and aloof and made him an object of their contempt. He wrote in his diary (in Latin, so prying eyes would not understand) that he bore their insults patiently, "though with some violence to my feelings." To add to this isolation, the ship was crowded, John was seasick, and his hat was stolen. In spite of all this, he was a happy young man as he stepped ashore in the New World on June 9, 1836.
With his clothes and shoes in tatters and only a dollar to his name, he hurried through the driving rain in search of a Catholic church.