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Catholics Have Model for Following Conscience in Blessed John Henry Newman

Recent conference focused on English cardinal's holiness and conversion to Catholicism.


| Posted 3/23/12 at 8:55 AM


At a recent conference on Blessed John Henry Newman in Rome, participants were reminded that he is a model of how modern Catholics should carry out God’s will, regardless of the cost.

“He always followed his conscience. His conscience was something sacred for him, and, following the light of conscience, even at the cost of heroic sacrifices in his own life, he came to the fullness of truth,” said Bishop Philip Boyce of Raphoe, Ireland.

Bishop Boyce was the keynote speaker for the one-day March 14 conference entitled “Tokens of Holiness in the Life of Blessed John Henry Newman.” The summit was jointly organized by Rome’s Venerable English College and the International Center for Newman Friends and was held at the college.

The 72-year-old Irish bishop is a renowned Newman scholar. He has published several books on the blessed, who shocked Victorian England with his high-profile conversion from Anglicanism to Catholicism in 1845.

“That cost him a lot of sacrifice because he had come to the peak of fame by his writings and his work in the Anglican Church and was leading others in a spiritual way as well. And so he seemed as if he was going to let them down,” said Bishop Boyce. “Nevertheless, he followed the voice of conscience.”

Over 90 people, mainly students from Rome’s universities, were present at the conference. The crowd also included Cardinal Raymond Burke, prefect of the Apostolic Signatura (the Vatican’s highest court), and Nigel Baker, the U.K. ambassador to the Holy See.

Father Hermann Geissler, the director of the International Center for Newman Friends, recalled that Cardinal Newman would say he had “no tendency to be a saint” and that in heaven he would be happy to merely “black the saint’s shoes, if St. Philip uses blackening in heaven.”

St. Philip Neri was the 16th-century founder of Newman’s order, the Oratorians.

But upon his death in 1890, all the obituaries praised his holiness. The Liverpool Post stated:“Newman could not have written nor spoken as he always wrote and spoke without being what he always was.”

Bishop Boyce noted, however, that it was not until recent years that interest in Newman’s life switched back to his “heroic sanctity.”

“For decades at the beginning of the last century, Newman was considered first and foremost as an academic, an intellectual genius, a brilliant writer, a formidable controversialist,” he said.

“It was only gradually, and that after the middle of the 20th century, that the focus was changed and more attention was paid to the holiness of his life.” This culminated in his beatification by Pope Benedict XVI in Birmingham, England, in September 2010. His followers are now praying for another miracle to pave the way for his canonization.

Last year Blessed John was also named as the patron of the newly established Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, a body within the Catholic Church for Anglican converts who wish to retain an Anglican life of prayer and worship.

Said Bishop Boyce, “He is a wonderful patron for those in the ordinariate because he went through all that struggle, you might say, that path through the desert, and made it easier for others to follow that path and to come out finally in an oasis of peace.”