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St. John Henry Newman

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Feastday: October 9
Patron Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham
Birth: February 21, 1801
Death: August 11, 1890
Beatified By: September 19th 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI
Canonized By: October 13th, 2019 in St. Peter's Square, Vatican City by Pope Francis
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St. John Henry Newman (1801-1890) was an English theologian and a leader of the Oxford Movement. The Oxford Movement encouraged the Church of England (Anglican Church) to restore many Catholic doctrines and liturgical practices that were abandoned during the English Protestant Reformation. Newman, an Anglican, converted to the Catholic faith at age 44, and subsequently became a priest and a cardinal. He is renown for his work as a religious leader and a rector of the Catholic University of Ireland. Newman was declared blessed in 2010 and will be canonized by Pope Francis on October 13, 2019.

John Henry Newman was born on February 21, 1801, in London. He was the eldest of six children, with two brothers and three sisters. His father was John Newman, a banker, and his mother was Jemmia (nee Fourdrinier), of Huguenot (French Protestant) ancestry.

John Newman experienced a conversion of the heart at the age of 15. He later said about the experience, that it was "more certain than that I have hands or feet." By 1816, Newman became a staunch Calvinist, opposed to Roman Catholicism and the Pope.

Newman went on to study at Trinity College in Oxford, and performed poorly, possibly because of anxiety. Still, he managed to graduate and became a fellow at Oriel College, Oxford.

In 1824, Newman became an Anglican deacon at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford. He became a priest in 1825. Newman spent his time writing, teaching, and became vice-principal of St. Alban Hall at Merton College for one year. He became vicar of St. Mary's University Church in 1828.

In 1828, Newman encountered a series of personal troubles that accelerated his departure from the Evangelical Anglican tradition. Newman had already become skeptical of the Evangelical emphasis on personal feelings and "sola fide," the idea that faith alone leads to salvation. Newman felt the doctrine introduced a dangerous form of individualism to Christianity which would lead to subjectivism and skepticism. Conversely, Newman was attracted by the Catholic idea of revealed truth and the magisterium, the teaching office, of the Church.

Newman's sister, Mary died at the age of 18 in 1828. Her passing led him to start reading about the Church fathers, a decision that would prove influential in his eventual conversion to Catholicism.

Just over a year later, Newman, the secretary of his Church Missionary Society, used his post to distribute an anonymous circular. The letter proposed purging nonconformists from the Society, that is, those who did not wish to conform to the rules and traditions of the Church of England. Due to the nature of the circular, he was dismissed as secretary in March 1830. He soon retreated further from the Evangelical tradition by leaving the Bible Society. By 1832, a conflict with a colleague led to his resignation as a tutor at Oxford.

In December of 1832, Newman joined his friend, the Anglican priest, Hurrell Froude, for a tour of Southern Europe. The pair traveled by ship around the Mediterranean from Gibraltar to the Ionian Islands. While visiting Rome, Newman met Nicholas Wiseman a Catholic priest whose work would influence the Oxford Movement.

Newman returned to England in July of 1833. Days after his return, the noted theologian John Keble preached his now-famous sermon, "National Apostasy." The sermon was later regarded by Newman as the beginning of the Oxford Movement.

Newman responded to the sermon and the inspiration it provided by creating the "Tracts for the Times," a series of 90 theological works of widely varying length. Some tracts were only a few pages while other publications were book-length. The tracts were sold for pennies so as to ensure a wide distribution. About a dozen authors contributed to the work, with Newman being the primary contributor. Keble and others also contributed work. The authors and their supporters became known as Tractarians.

In 1839, Newman read an article by Nicholas Wiseman called "The Anglican Claim," which quoted St. Augustine of Hippo. St. Augustine's words, he said, "struck me with a power which I never felt from any words before." This was the final inspiration Newman needed to depart the Anglican tradition for the Catholic, although it would still be six years before he would actually convert to the Catholic faith.

In 1842, Newman retreated to live in monastic conditions in a group of cottages in Littermore, Oxfordshire. He was joined by several followers. In early 1843, Newman published an anonymous advertisement in the "Oxford Conservative Journal" in which he retracted his previous criticisms of Roman Catholicism.

Finally, in 1845, Newman was accepted into the Roman Catholic Church. His conversion was difficult for many who knew him. Many of Newman's friends and family deserted him, and the members of the Oxford Movement became divided. While the Oxford Movement was not Evangelical, it was still Anglican and remained popular long after his departure and subsequent association with the Catholic Church.

A year later, in February 1846, Newman traveled to Rome where he was ordained a priest in the Catholic Church and was awarded the degree of Doctor of Divinity by Pope Pius IX. He returned to England in late 1847.

Anti-Catholicism in England became popular once again as Pope Pius IX restored the Church there by issuing the Papal bull "Universalis Ecclesiae" and creating new Episcopal sees. The now-Cardinal Nicholas Wisemann was appointed as the first Archbishop of Westminster. On October 7 or 1850, Pope Pius announced the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in England. The public response was sometimes hostile, with Catholic priests being attacked in the streets and churches vandalized.

Newman's response to the attacks was to encourage Catholic laity to organize and speak up in their own defense and in defense of the Church. He also wrote and delivered a series of nine public lectures on Protestantism and Catholicism. The lectures were then compiled into a book. The lectures galvanized Catholics, but also inflamed Protestants, some of who criticized Newman in their various works.

In 1854, at the request of the bishops of Ireland, Newman traveled to Dublin and became rector of the newly-established Catholic University of Ireland.

By the 1860s, Newman started to write autobiographical works and letters to explain and justify his theological convictions and life to others. He also engaged in a war of written words with opponents. His ideas were summarized in the line, "Here are but two alternatives, the way to Rome, and the way to Atheism."

By 1870, Newman was a well-respected theologian in the Church, and used his influence to express uneasiness with some of the interpretations of the doctrine of Papal Infallibility, which was being explained to promote a better understanding. However, his concerns were eased when it was clear that the doctrine only applied under a strict criterion.

In 1878, the new Pope, Leo XIII made Newman a cardinal, despite the fact he had not served as a bishop or in Rome. Newman accepted under two conditions, the first that he not be made a bishop, and the second, that he be allowed to remain in Birmingham where he now lived. Pope Leo accepted the former but assigned Newman to the Deaconry of San Giorgio al Velabro. Newman was made cardinal on May 12, 1879. As Cardinal, Newman's motto was "Heart speaks to heart."

Now Cardinal Newman's health began to fail in 1886, and he returned to Birmingham where he would spend the last years of his life. He celebrated his final Mass on Christmas Day in 1889, and on August 11, 1890, he died of pneumonia in Birmingham. He was buried eight days later.

Newman's theological contributions were tremendous, especially for Catholics and Anglicans who sought to become Catholics in England. In honor of his influence, several Newman Societies have been established at colleges in England and the United States, where young Catholics can meet and engage with their faith while at school.

In 1991, Pope John Paul II declared Newman venerable, following an examination of his life by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. In 2001, a miracle attributed to Newman was reported by a man studying for the diaconate in Boston, Massachusetts. The man reported he had been cured from paralysis after asking for Newman's intercession. The miracle was investigated and confirmed, after which Pope Benedict beatified Newman on September 19, 2010.

A second miracle attributed to Newman was confirmed in November 2018. A pregnant American woman suffered from a life-threatening condition, but miraculously survived.

Pope Francis canonized Saint John Henry Newman on October 13, 2019.

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Deacon Keith Fournier Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you. Help Now >

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