John Henry Newman was one of the most influential converts to Catholicism, a rarity in 19th century England. He was canonized just a few months ago and has become a pretty popular patron for many people.
Devout Young Man & Clergyman
John Henry Newman was born in 1801 in London to a devout Anglican family. He read the Bible often and in his writing explains his “first conversion” to the faith at age 15. As a young man, evangelicals in England, like John Wesley, greatly influenced him and he ended up converting to evangelicalism, himself.
Later, he attended Trinity College at Oxford and pursued his desire to become a clergyman and live a celibate life. Then he pursued ordination in the Anglican church (the only kind allowed at the time), which he received in 1825. He was a great preacher, a teacher of students at a local college, and a rigorous academician.
His Second Conversion
When he took ill on a trip to Italy in 1833, he experienced a sort of “second conversion”, convinced he had great work to do in England in reforming the Anglican church. He and a few friends began the “Oxford Movement” to try and reform the church by handing out pamphlets and tracts, preaching, and giving public lectures.
In one of these tracts, Newman showed a clear and growing sensitivity to Catholic teaching, which upset many at Oxford, including the bishop, who forced the “Oxford Movement” to end. Newman left Oxford after that.
Closer to Catholicism
He began to life a semi-monastic life and continued to study the Catholic Church. After extensive research and study, he became Catholic in 1845. He lost most of his friends and was no longer an Oxford fellow, but he took it all in his stride and considered it the best way to surrender to God.
He was eventually ordained in the Catholic Church in 1847 and while in Rome, he discovered St. Philip Neri‘s oratory. He came back to England and established the first English-speaking oratory. He also became rector of University College Dublin, where he proved to be a strong leader, manager, spiritual adviser, and academic. In 1858, he resigned as rector of the university and came back to Birmingham (where the oratory was) to focus his work on that project.
Cardinal John Henry Newman
During the rest of his life, he dealt with scandals and accusations, wrote his autobiography (a 500 page work he sometimes worked on for 16 hours at a time!), and helped speak for the Catholics of England. He was named a cardinal in 1879, but was allowed to remain at the oratory in Birmingham, where he lived until his death in 1890. He was canonized on October 13, 2019. Read more about his life and about the oratories on his canonization website.
Why a University?
St. John Henry Newman was a 19th century English convert to Catholicism. He became a priest after converting and was an influential writer, preacher, and theologian. He joined the Congregation of the Oratory founded by St. Philip Neri in Rome, and in England founded Oratories in both Birmingham and London. A few years after his death, a “Newman Club” was founded for Catholic students at the University of Pennsylvania and now there are many Newman Centers at public and private universities in the US.
Who would be friends with St. John Henry Newman?
- Life-Long Learners
- University Students
- Avid Readers
- Those seeking justice
- Those falsely accused
“I sought to hear the voice of God and climbed the topmost steeple, but God declared: ‘Go down again – I dwell among the people.'”St. John Henry Newman