Born into an Anglican family, Newman spent his early working life at Oriel College in Oxford as a teacher, a researcher and as an Anglican priest.
A crisis in his spiritual life led Newman to give up the splendour of Oxford and Oriel, and move to the tiny community of Littlemore outside the city.
A brave decision Newman studied the works of the early writers on Christianity and began to feel more and more uncomfortable with the teaching of the Church of England At this time Catholics suffered much discrimination in public life and were still viewed by many as dangerous dissidents In following his conscience, Newman knew he would lose the whole context of his professional life in Oxford Has your conscience ever led you to make a really difficult decision? Below is a picture of the library at Littlemore.
A time of trial As Newman came closer to becoming a Catholic, he realised that his views on a number of issues had changed and he could not continue to belong to the Anglican Church. His conversion to Catholicism led to the loss of friends, arguments with his family and eventually a major public row with Charles Kingsley, an Anglican priest, author and Cambridge professor. Kingsley was fiercely anti Catholic and called Newman a liar who did not care much for truth. Newman was deeply hurt. After a series of public papers refuting Kingsley’s argument, Newman wrote the Apologia pro Vita Sua, his autobiography, in which he set out how he followed conscience informed by logic and this led him to become a Roman Catholic. How do you go about making difficult decisions? Who do you talk it through with? Do you use prayer to help you?
The Apologia was an immediate success and a number of people began to follow Newman into the Catholic faith, convinced by his powerful writing to explore Catholicism.
Finding a mission Newman believed that God had a plan for every human being. His task was to build the Birmingham Oratory and its community of priests. In a famous prayer he wrote: God has created me to do him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. What ‘definite service ‘ could you contribute to the world?
Study, prayer and work – the components of a holy life Newman wanted to educate Catholic people about their faith, to encourage them to question and explore their ideas about God. He also thought that faith must be lived and he worked tirelessly with the poorest people in Birmingham as well as engaging in the work of analysing doctrine and contributing to the understanding of the teaching of the Catholic Church. His study at the Oratory can still be seen. mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk
Gradual acceptance as a leading Catholic thinker Newman had many friends, many of them women, to whom he wrote long letters encouraging them in their faith His writings on the purpose of a university influenced universities around the world As a convert to Catholicism, he often questioned some of the Church’s attitudes and brought fresh light on old ideas. Newman’s writing on Catholic ideas were deeply influential in shaping the Catholic Church as it gained new acceptance in England. He made enemies within the Church, however, who sought to criticise him. Finally a new Pope saw his worth and created him a Cardinal. For a priest to become a Cardinal without having been a Bishop was almost unheard of. Newman described it as ‘the cloud lifting forever’.
Love of God and of fellow human beings Newman’s coat of arms, chosen when he became a Cardinal, reflects his sincere belief that it is through prayer, worship and communication that human beings can get close to God, to Christ and to each other. Many people have tried to interpret the full meaning of his coat of arms with the three hearts representing this many layered communication between God, Christ and the individual. What would your interpretation of this be? How would you design your own coat of arms to reflect your deepest beliefs?
Canonisation When Pope Benedict XVI visits the UK in September, he will beatify Newman. This is the first step to canonisation as a saint. Newman will become known as Blessed John Henry Newman. At a special Mass to be held in Coventry on 19 th September the Pope will announce the beatification. Can you write either a prayer or a song to celebrate this event?
The Oratory in Birmingham Many people recently felt that Newman’s remains should be moved to the Oratory which he founded in Birmingham.
Newman much preferred a quiet grave near his friends. He even asked that he should be buried somewhere where he might be forgotten. When his grave was opened, nothing remained. He had his wish that his soul returned to God and his body to the earth.
The saintly virtues Prudence Fortitude Temperance Justice Faith Hope Charity Humility Above all, in Newman we find deep faith, great love for the poor and those in need of help, and a passionate wish to know and serve God. Newman is a great example of Catholic fidelity and a worthy saint.
John Henry Newman born 21 February 1801 in London 1808 He experienced religious conversion as a child and became deeply interested in God and the Bible 1817 Admitted to Oxford University 1822 Newman became a Fellow of Oriel College and lecturer at Oxford University 1828 He was ordained as an Anglican priest 1833 He went with a friend on a tour of Italy and suffered a severe illness On his return home as an act of thanksgiving for his recovery, he began the Oxford movement to revive the Church of England Key dates in Newman’s Life
1839 during his studies Newman began to think that the Catholic Church was the true and original Church He left Oxford to live, study and pray in community at Littlemore 1845 He decided to become a Catholic, a move that was met with great disapproval 1848 Newman moved to Birmingham to found the Oratory 1851 He was sent to Ireland to found a Catholic University returning to Birmingham after several years 1864 Having been accused of dishonesty in his faith, he wrote his autobiography, Apologia pro Vita Sua 1879 Pope Leo XIII made Newman a Cardinal 1890 Newman died on 11 August
Acknowledgements The Catholic Education Service is grateful to the following for help in producing this Power Point: St Mary’s University Church, Oxford mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk The National Portrait Gallery Oriel College, Oxford The Warden and Fellows of Keble College, Oxford The Work, Littlemore, Oxford