PITTSBURGH — When Deacon Jack Sullivan gives the homily during a Mass at the start of a conference on Cardinal John Henry Newman in Pittsburgh in early August, his relationship to the man who will be beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in England this September can be explained in one word: miraculous.
Sullivan experienced severe spinal pain in 2000 caused by a condition that could have led him to become paralyzed. Before undergoing surgery to alleviate the pain, however, he watched an EWTN program on Cardinal Newman. At the end of the program, the producers asked viewers to contact the postulator for the cause of the cardinal’s beatification if they received any divine favors after praying to him.
“With all my heart, I prayed: ‘Please, Cardinal Newman, help me to walk so that I can return to classes and be ordained,’” Sullivan said.
Sullivan, who is from St. Thecla Parish in Pembroke, Mass., was in the middle of the diaconate formation program for the Archdiocese of Boston, which he couldn’t finish if he couldn’t walk.
The next morning he woke up with no pain. The surgery was canceled, and he was able to complete his third year in the formation program.
But about a year later, the debilitating pain returned. He had surgery this time, and his recovery was estimated to be between four to six months, which would have not allowed him to complete his formation program. But while recovering in the hospital, he implored Cardinal Newman’s intercession again. He said he felt tremendous heat, a strong tingling sensation throughout his body, and a great sense of peace and joy. More importantly, the crippling pain disappeared.
“Recovery took place in a moment,” he said, adding that he was able to complete his formation to become a deacon.
Last year, after years of assessing the recovery, the Vatican announced that Sullivan had experienced a healing based on Cardinal Newman’s intercession, which paved the way for the cardinal’s beatification on Sept. 19, which will be presided at by the Pope.
Sullivan’s homily at the start of the Aug. 5-7 conference in Pittsburgh, sponsored by the Newman Association of America, will center on his healing and how perseverance in faith in the midst of pain and suffering is necessary in order to grow spiritually, he said.
‘Unfailing Search for Truth’
Cardinal Newman’s life was filled with suffering. He was born in London in 1801 and was raised as an Anglican. He was educated at Oxford and was ordained as an Anglican clergyman. However, he later organized what came to be known as the “Oxford Movement,” which sought to bring the Anglican Church back to its Catholic roots. After much prayer and study, Newman was received into the Catholic Church in 1845. Friends and family either broke off relations with him or kept him at arm’s length after his conversion.
“Such conversions are not a matter of much significance now, but for people to get a grip on this, it would be like Billy Graham becoming a Muslim,” said Damon McGraw, executive research fellow at the National Institute for Newman Studies in Pittsburgh.
McGraw added that what’s significant about Cardinal Newman is “his unfailing search for truth.” He said that Newman swam against the tide of culture and sought God and truth even when institutions and authority figures failed him.
“He continued to have faith that if he followed the light that was available to him that more light would be revealed,” McGraw said.
Cardinal Newman’s life and writings will be brought to light during the Newman Association of America-sponsored conference, which is being hosted by the National Institute for Newman Studies. More than 25 speakers will talk at the conference, which is titled “A Reflection on the Life, Work and Spirituality of John Henry Newman in Celebration of His Beatification.” Keynote addresses will be given by Father Ian Ker of Oxford University, Terrence Merrigan of the Catholic University of Leuven, and Cyril O’Regan of the University of Notre Dame.
According to the website of the National Institute of Newman Studies, the founders “envisioned a center where scholars could study Newman using the most extensive collection of Newman materials in North America, exchanging thoughts, ideas and discoveries about the nature and relevance of Newman’s ideas in today’s world. With the assistance of many generous and helpful friends in Pittsburgh and throughout the world, they saw their idea grow into the National Institute for Newman Studies. The first Newman Scholar was welcomed to rented facilities in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh in August 2003.”
Father Drew Morgan, director of the institute, said the conference will be a celebration of the recognition that Cardinal Newman has achieved in the universal Church because of his beatification, but it will also be a way for people to discover him and pray to him for intercession.
“We still need another miracle,” Father Morgan said, referring to the fact that the next step in the canonization process for sainthood requires proof of a second miracle. “Miracles won’t come because people just study his life or acknowledge the relevance of his ideas for the contemporary Church. Miracles will happen when people develop a devotion to Cardinal Newman.”
A Man of Relationships
One of the speakers at the conference, Robert Christie, a professor of religion and philosophy at DeVry University in North Brunswick, N.J., said one way to get to know Cardinal Newman is to understand his relationships. In studying the cardinal’s non-theological writings, Christie found an interesting pattern in his letters to friends and family members: There was an emphasis on his affection for them.
“In theology one can easily get lost in abstractions,” Christie said. “But one of the beauties of being exposed to Newman is that Newman actually starts from the experience of deep interpersonal relationships that had a profound affect on him, and from those relationships he drew his insights into theology and, most particularly, to bring that full circle, that is what led him to understand very deep theology.”
His Latin motto when he became a cardinal, for instance, was Cor ad cor loquitur — “Heart speaks to heart.”
Christie continued: “What’s so beautiful about that is that it captures not only what Newman was trying to say throughout his life, but also how he lived. He lived in experience. He lived in relationship, and he saw how relationship was the key to understanding God and our relationship to God. He was every bit a man of the heart as he was a man of the head, and I think that is something for all intellectuals to reflect upon.”
Carlos Briceño writes from Naperville, Illinois.