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Thousands worth of damage in vandalism at National Shrine of St. John Neumann in Philadelphia

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A damaged stained-glass window is seen at the National Shrine of St. John Neumann in Philadelphia Feb. 20, 2024. The damaged interior panels at the bottom of the window were removed and cardboard taped over the gaps. Three windows at the shrine were broken in a vandalism attack early Feb. 19 which is under investigation. (OSV News photo/Francis X. Morton)

PHILADELPHIA  — The shrine of a beloved Philadelphia saint sustained thousands of dollars’ worth of damage in an apparent act of vandalism.

Panels of three stained-glass windows were shattered at the National Shrine of St. John Neumann in Philadelphia in the early morning hours of Feb. 19.

The windows depicting scenes from the saint’s life are located in the lower church of the shrine, which is housed at St. Peter the Apostle Church. The saint’s remains — covered by a wax mask and vestments, and encased in glass beneath the altar of the lower church — were unaffected by the attack.

Staff at the shrine “discovered that someone had thrown a brick and stones” through the three windows, said Kenneth A. Gavin, chief communications officer of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, in an emailed statement to OSV News.

“This incident was reported to the Philadelphia Police Department that day,” said Gavin. “The Shrine’s security camera showed one of the rocks going through the window at 5:33 a.m. Monday (Feb. 19) and landing in the choir section of the Shrine.”

Gavin said that “police detectives are currently reviewing security camera footage as part of an ongoing investigation,” adding that the “preliminary damage estimate to the windows is approximately $20,000.”

Images provided to OSV News Feb. 20 by a regular Mass attendee at the shrine show softball-sized holes in the exterior glass panels protecting the stained glass. The damaged interior panels were removed, with cardboard taped over the gaps.

One window shows the saint looking up from his desk, under the words “Visions missionary, vocation to save faith of Immigrants to America.”

A second window shows the saint kneeling in obedience to his bishop; above him are the words “First to join the Redemptorist Fathers in America.”

The third window, which lost multiple panes to the attack, depicts St. John Neumann with fellow Redemptorist and 19th-century contemporary Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos. Above the pair is a quote from Seelos: “Father Neumann was to me in every respect a father whom I can never forget.”

Similarly damaged in the early hours of Feb. 19 were Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, located some 2.2 miles south of the shrine; the InterAct Theater, a mile west of Mother Bethel; and a law firm building half a mile from the theater in the city’s downtown district.

Police have not yet advised if the incidents are related.

Born in 1811 in what is now the Czech Republic, John Nepomucene Neumann distinguished himself at an early age with his gift for learning and his zealous faith. As a seminarian, he discerned a call to minister to the immigrants of the U.S. Arriving in 1836, he was quickly ordained and set about missioning in his vast pastoral assignment, which extended from Lake Ontario to Pennsylvania.

In 1842, he joined the Redemptorist order as its first U.S. vocation, and gained U.S. citizenship in 1848. Appointed bishop of Philadelphia in 1852, he labored tirelessly on behalf of the impoverished immigrant communities, adopting their austere lifestyle, learning their languages and establishing the nation’s first parochial school system for their children. Bishop Neumann also established Forty Hours devotion in the U.S.

He died of a sudden heart attack (sometimes reported as a stroke) in 1860 and was canonized by St. Paul VI in 1977.