Saint of the Day – Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890) NEARLY A SAINT – Just 4 days to go – Priest, Cardinal, Theologian, Philosopher, Prolific Preacher, Writer and Poet of great beauty, Apostle of Prayer and Charity, Founder of the Catholic University in Ireland and a Catholic school in England – “A Mind Alive” – born on 21 February 1801 at London, England and died on 11 August 1890 at Edgbaston, Birmingham, West Midlands, England of pneumonia.
Bl John Henry converted to Catholicism from Anglicanism in October 1845. In early life, he was a major figure in the Oxford Movement. Eventually his studies in the history of the Church Fathers, persuaded him to become a Catholic.
Canonisation will make Newman the first English person who has lived since the 17th century officially recognised as a saint by the Catholic Church. In 1991, Newman was proclaimed “Venerable” by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints – the first stage in the canonisation process. He was Beatified on 19 September 2010 at an open air Mass in Birmingham by Pope Benedict XVI.
On 1 July 2019, Pope Francis announced at the Consistory of Cardinals his intention to Canonise Newman on 13 October 2019.
Born in London, England, he studied at Oxford’s Trinity College, was a tutor at Oriel College and for 17 years was vicar of the university church, St Mary the Virgin. He eventually published eight volumes of Parochial and Plain Sermons as well as two novels. His poem, “Dream of Gerontius,” was set to music by Sir Edward Elgar but many of his other poems have become standard hymns within the Catholic and other Christian denominations.
After 1833, Newman was a prominent member of the Oxford Movement, which emphasised the Church’s debt to the Church Fathers and challenged any tendency to consider truth as completely subjective.
Historical research made Newman suspect that the Roman Catholic Church was in closest continuity with the Church that Jesus established. In 1845, he was received into full communion as a Catholic. Two years later he was ordained a Catholic priest in Rome and joined the Congregation of the Oratory, founded three centuries earlier by Saint Philip Neri. Returning to England, Newman founded Oratory houses in Birmingham and London and for seven years as the Founder, served as rector of the Catholic University of Ireland.
Before Newman, Catholic theology tended to ignore history, preferring instead to draw deductions from first principles—much as plane geometry does. After Newman, the lived experience of believers was recognised as a key part of theological reflection.
Newman eventually wrote 40 books and 21,000 letters that survive. Most famous are his book-length Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine, Apologia Pro Vita Sua—his spiritual autobiography up to 1864—and Essay on the Grammar of Assent. He accepted Vatican I’s teaching on papal infallibility while noting its limits, which many people who favoured that definition were reluctant to do.
When Newman was named a cardinal in 1879, he took as his motto “Cor ad cor loquitur”—“Heart speaks to heart.” He was buried in Rednal 11 years later. After his grave was exhumed in 2008, a new tomb was prepared at the Oratory church in Birmingham.
Three years after Newman died, a Newman Club for Catholic students began at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. In time, his name was linked to ministry centres at many public and private colleges and universities in the United States.
Pope Benedict XVI beatified Newman on 19 September 2010, at Crofton Park. Pope Benedict noted Newman’s emphasis on the vital place of revealed religion in civilised society but also praised his pastoral zeal for the sick, the poor, the bereaved and those in prison.