Blessed John Henry Newman may be canonised as early as next year after a second miracle was approved.
Cardinal John Henry Newman (21 February 1801 – 11 August 1890) will be proclaimed a Saint soon, becoming Britain’s first new saint since St. John Ogilvie was canonized by Pope St. Paul VI in 1976. The last English saints were the 40 Martyrs of the Reformation who were canonized in 1970.
Newman was born in 1801. While a tutor at Oriel College, Oxford, he was ordained in 1825 as a Church of England priest. In December 1832, Newman went on a tour of Southern Europe on board the mail steamship Hermes, which included a visit to Gibraltar. In April, Newman visited Sicily and fell dangerously ill with gastric or typhoid fever at Leonforte. He recovered, but with a strong conviction that God had a special mission for him in England. Newman saw this as his “third providential illness”. In June 1833 he finally left Palermo for home.
As an Oxford academic, his theological research and his own personal struggles with his beliefs, had deeply challenged him. They led him increasingly towards the ‘High-Church’ tradition of Anglicanism. In 1833, the Oxford Movement was founded, gathering those who, like Newman, argued for the reinstatement of some of the older Christian traditions of faith into the Anglican liturgy and theology, which the Reformation had firmly rejected. This journey, deepening his understanding of the origins of Christianity and the absolute nature of Revelation, brought Newman to a juncture where he could no longer ignore the rightful, perennial, claims of Catholicism, including the indefectibility of the Church and her infallibility in Faith and Morals.
John Henry converted to Catholicism and was received into full communion with the Catholic Church on 9th October 1845 by Dominic Barberi, an Italian Passionist, at The College in Littlemore, Oxford. This resulted in high personal cost to Newman, who was rejected by family and friends, seeing his change of allegiances essentially as an act of betrayal.
In February 1846, Newman left Oxford for Oscott, where Nicholas Wiseman, then Vicar Apostolic of the Midland district, resided. In October he went to Rome, where he was ordained Priest by Cardinal Giacomo Filippo Fransoni and awarded the degree of Doctor of Divinity by Pope Pius IX. Newman became an Oratorian in Rome and returned to England in 1847 with Pope Pius IX’s formal approval to establish an English Oratory. He resided first at Maryvale (near Old Oscott, now the site of Maryvale Institute, a college of Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education); later at St Wilfrid’s College, Cheadle, and afterwards at St Anne’s, Alcester Street, Birmingham. Finally he settled at Edgbaston, where spacious premises were built for his new community, and where (except for four years in Ireland) he lived a secluded life for nearly forty years. Before the house at Edgbaston was occupied, Newman established the London Oratory, with Father Frederick William Faber (the noted English hymn writer and theologian, who similarly converted from Anglicanism to the Catholicism and became an Oratorian Priest) as its superior.
Newman was esteemed as a poet and renowned internationally for his copious philosophical, theological writings, such as his autobiography Apologia Pro Vita Sua (1865–1866), the Grammar of Assent (1870), and the poem The Dream of Gerontius (1865, set to music in 1900 by Edward Elgar), “Lead, Kindly Light” and “Praise to the Holiest in the Height“.
In 1879, he was created a cardinal by Pope Leo XIII in recognition of his services to the cause of the Catholic Church in England. He was instrumental in the founding of the Catholic University of Ireland which evolved into University College Dublin, today the largest university in Ireland.
When Newman died at the age of 89, more than 15,000 people lined the streets for his funeral. The cause for sainthood was opened in 1958 and he was declared Venerable by Pope St. John Paul II in 1991 after his life of ‘heroic virtue’ was recognised.
The first miracle attributed to Newman relates to the case of a Boston deacon whom Newman is said to have saved from paralysis. Cardinal Newman was beatified at Cofton Park, Birmingham, by Pope Benedict XVI during his historic State visit to Britain, 16 to 19 September 2010 —the first by a Pope.
More recently, the Archdiocese of Chicago investigated the inexplicable healing of a woman who prayed for Newman’s intercession after suffering with a “life-threatening pregnancy”. Doctors who treated her reported that they had no scientific explanation whatsoever for her sudden, totally unexpected, recovery. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints subsequently examined the case and concluded the healing to be miraculous. It was approved by Pope Francis, signalling that Blessed John Henry’s canonization will follow soon.
Newman’s legacy continues to illumine us on the ecumenical path towards healing the divisions in Christianity. When he became a Cardinal, he adopted the motto, attributed to St. Francis de Sales, Cor ad cor loquitur (“Heart speaks to heart”). This a fitting summary of Blessed John Henry Newman’s entire life. It is the secret of Blessed Newman: his heart longed for God and he found Him, in Eucharistic fulfilment.