Fr. George Neumann returned recently to his homeland to hike in the Alps with his brother.

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Fr. George Neumann returned recently to his homeland to hike in the Alps with his brother.

September 5, 2011
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

A priest is an ambassador of Christ and his role is to care for God's people, teach the Good News and plant the Church in the hearts of people.

That's how Pallottine Father George Neumann defines his priesthood, a vocation to which he has dedicated half a century.

"We are ambassadors of Christ who work for reconciliation," the 76-year-old priest said in a recent interview. "My function (as a priest) is to act in the name of Jesus."

Over the past 50 years, Neumann has served as a Catholic high school teacher and chaplain and pastor of St. Boniface and Good Shepherd parishes in Edmonton.

Two years ago he returned as pastor of St. Boniface, Edmonton's German parish, where he had earlier served for more than a decade.

On June 26 parishioners celebrated Neumann's 50th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood with a Mass at St. Boniface Church followed by a reception for 200 at St. Maria Goretti Hall.

The day after the celebration, Neumann flew back to Germany for a few weeks to visit family, friends and seminary classmates. He even spent time hiking in the Bavarian Alps with one of his brothers.

In the interview, Neumann said the most important aspect of the priesthood for him is ministry - "celebrating the sacraments with the people."

He is happy when he sees lay people loyal and faithful to the Church. He is sad when Catholic parents tell him their children are not going to Church anymore.

Fr. George Neumann

Fr. George Neumann

"That's not only difficult for parents; it's difficult for teachers and for pastors to see how they have drifted away," he says. "There is not a simple remedy but I think we have to find ways to present the message of Christ in a way that appeals to young people.

JESUS LOVES THEM

"We must let the youngsters know that Jesus speaks also to them and that he wants to show them the way."

Change, Neumann says, is a key word in his priesthood. A year after his ordination, the Church underwent significant change with the advent of the Second Vatican Council.

"The liturgy changed and our understanding of Church changed," he recalls. "There was a great emphasis on political and social responsibility, social justice issues and ecumenism."

The priest said he witnessed an "explosion of ministries" over the years as lay people began to take their rightful place in the Church.

He embraced the changes and got involved in making the changes happen. He even took courses and programs designed to help him understand and implement the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

"I tried to be open to different things."

Neumann was born in Silesia, Germany, in 1934, one of nine children. His father was a craftsman and his mother a housewife.

Neumann met the Pallottine Fathers in his parish and was impressed with them. The missionaries helped in the parish and ran two schools in the village, which was 90 per cent Catholic. When he was 12, Neumann began three years at a Pallottine boarding school. It was there he realized he wanted to be a priest.

"I didn't have any particular revelation; nothing of that kind. I just thought I might like it," he says.

In 1955, after completing high school in a public school, Neumann, then 20, joined the Pallottines. One thing that attracted him to the community was its universal character.

"They worked in different countries of the world."

The Pallottines are a society of priests and brothers working in 44 countries actively promoting the pastoral ministry of the Church. The charism of the community is to help all to find and live their apostolic vocation in life.

St. Vincent Pallotti, the society's founder, believed that all are called to revive faith, rekindle charity and be apostles. The Pallottines assist people in living these virtues.

Neumann didn't know where he would be sent after ordination. But when his younger brother asked him where he would go if he had a choice, he immediately responded "Canada." Five months later, the rector of the seminary asked him if he would be willing to go to Canada.

Neumann was ordained a priest in 1961 in Germany and was sent to Canada the following year. The Pallottines had been invited by Edmonton Archbishop John Hugh MacDonald to teach in high schools and provide pastoral services to German immigrants.

From 1962 to 1966 Neumann studied education at the University of Alberta. In 1967, Canada's centennial year, he became a Canadian citizen.

"It was my centennial project."

He taught social studies at St. Mary's High School for 10 years and then spent several years in Calgary as chaplain at Bishop Grandin High School.

STUDIED IN CHICAGO

He spent several years in the United States doing catechetical and pastoral studies at Loyola University in Chicago and studying religious formation at St. Louis University.

He returned to Edmonton in 1984 and did vocation work for his community until 1990, the year in which he was appointed pastor of St. Boniface Parish. He stayed for 11 years.

From 2001 to 2009 Neumann served as pastor of Good Shepherd Parish, where he devoted much of his attention to visiting the parish's eight Catholic schools.

In 2009, fearing that the priestless St. Boniface Parish would close, he decided to return there as pastor. He celebrates Mass at St. Boniface on Sundays and on special occasions.

When he is not at the church, Neumann can be found visiting homebound parishioners, bringing Communion to a dying person in hospital or performing his duties as head of the Edmonton East Deanery.

He walks every day and whenever he can get away, he goes hiking in the mountains. In the winter, he goes cross-country skiing.