Who was st. John Henry Newman? And What is a Newman Center?
John Henry Newman (1801 – 1890) was an English theologian, scholar and poet, first an Anglican priest and later a Catholic priest and cardinal, who was an important and controversial figure in the religious history of England in the 19th century. He was known nationally by the mid-1830s, and was canonized as a saint in the Catholic Church in 2019.
Originally an evangelical University of Oxford academic and priest in the Church of England, Newman became drawn to the high-church tradition of Anglicanism. He became one of the more notable leaders of the Oxford Movement, an influential and controversial grouping of Anglicans who wished to return to the Church of England many Catholic beliefs and liturgical rituals from before the English Reformation.
In 1845 Newman, joined by some but not all of his followers, officially left the Church of England and his teaching post at Oxford University and was received into the Catholic Church. He was quickly ordained as a priest and continued as an influential religious leader, based in Birmingham. 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 (CUI) in 1854, although he had left Dublin by 1859. CUI in time evolved into University College Dublin.
Newman was also a literary figure: his major writings include the Tracts for the Times (1833–1841), his autobiography Apologia Pro Vita Sua (1865–1866), the Grammar of Assent (1870), and the poem The Dream of Gerontius (1865), which was set to music in 1900 by Edward Elgar. He wrote the popular hymns “Lead, Kindly Light”, “Firmly I believe, and truly” (taken from Gerontius), and “Praise to the Holiest in the Height” (taken from Gerontius).Newman’s beatification was proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI on 19 September 2010 during his visit to the United Kingdom. His canonization was officially approved by Pope Francis on 12 February 2019, and took place on 13 October 2019.
About Newman Centers
Cardinal Newman was driven by his desire and love for the truth. He is still considered one of the greatest prose writers of 19th century England. In one of his works, entitled The Idea of a University, he presents the idea that Catholic students attending public universities should have a place to gather where they would be able to support and encourage one another in their faith. At the time, Catholics were discouraged from and on occasion even forbidden to attend secular universities. Cardinal Newman, a former Oxford professor and fellow of Oriel College, did not want young Catholic college students to be deprived of good educational opportunities but at the same time he was concerned about their faith and spiritual well being.
This concept of a Catholic campus center spread quickly across the Atlantic. The history of Newman Centers in the United States began in Wisconsin. In order to meet their spiritual and intellectual needs, Catholic students at the University of Wisconsin in 1883 formed the Melvin Club. One of the members Timothy Harrington, formed the first Newman Club at the University of Pennsylvania in 1893. Early in the 20th century Pope Pius X stated in an encyclical letter that religious formation must be made available to students in secular institutions of higher learning.
A controversy ensued. Catholic colleges feared that they would eventually lose out entirely to the secular universities if Catholic students were allowed to attend the latter. The only way for Newman Clubs to counter such arguments was to succeed at what they set out to do, and this they did. Their influence and effectiveness in promoting Catholic faith in a secular atmosphere grew steadily, and the National Newman Apostolate was finally mandated by the United States Catholic bishops in 1962.