The Church and its universities were given an incredible gift this past July, when Pope Francis announced that Blessed John Henry Newman will be canonized Oct. 13 in Rome.

Besides becoming a powerful intercessor for the body of Christ on earth, we hope that the witness of soon-to-be St. John Henry Newman as a defender of Catholic education will become ever more visible.

At a time when both Catholic education and Western civilization are under fire, Catholic education is — and always has been — a formidable answer to the crisis. In fact, despite popular culture pushing the ludicrous claim that the Church is anti-education, the university system was founded and developed by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, a fact that Cardinal Newman recognized as a source of inspiration in his writing of The Idea of the University.

Cardinal Newman’s monumental work on Catholic higher education began as a series of lectures for the founding of the Catholic University of Ireland in Dublin in 1854. He addresses the tasks that a Catholic university must undertake to be successful both in itself and as an antidote to non-religious education already on the rise during Newman’s time.

The Catholic university’s purpose, Cardinal Newman says, is catechetical — to teach the truths of the faith — and also formative — to train the human person to think and act in a way that effectively builds civilization.

Cardinal Newman writes, “When the Church founds a university, she is not cherishing talent, genius or knowledge for their own sake, but for the sake of her children, with a view to their spiritual welfare and their religious influence and usefulness, with the object of training them to fill their respective posts in life better and of making them more intelligent, capable, active members of society.”

Yet by the same turn, he says, the university also “educates the intellect to reason well in all matters, to reach out towards truth, and to grasp it.” 

“Jerusalem is the fountain-head of religious knowledge, as Athens is of secular,” Cardinal Newman writes, explaining that the study of revealed truth (i.e., theology) and of the human sciences (i.e., the hard sciences, mathematics, philosophy or literature) both have a home on earth and therefore a place in human formation. For in acquiring true knowledge, Cardinal Newman would say, we truly learn to be human.

The Register takes Newman’s ideas about Catholic education seriously, which is one of the reasons we publish our annual Catholic Identity College Guide, which calls attention to the colleges and universities that embody the true role of Catholic education.

Please join me in prayers of gratitude for the Catholic colleges and universities that form our young men and women in the faith and for the professors who instruct them in the pursuit of truth.

In this way may we all become, like Blessed John Henry Newman, saints in the making!