A New Feast Day for the Church

Cardinal John Henry Newman, the great Catholic convert of the 19th century, was just beatified by Pope Benedict XVI Sept. 19, and already the Church is celebrating his feast day — tomorrow.

Unlike most saints’ feast days, Blessed John Henry Newman’s does not fall on the anniversary of his death (entry into eternal life) but his conversion to the Catholic faith.

“It catches us a little by surprise because he was just beatified,” said Father Juan Velez, co-author with Mike Aquilina of a new book about Newman, Take Five: Meditations with John Henry Newman (OSV). “By next year, I hope more people will celebrate his feast day.”

In particular, Father Velez, who has worked at several university chaplaincies over the course of his 12 years as a priest, hopes that Newman centers at secular colleges and universities will celebrate the Oct. 9 feast day.

“He has so much to offer students,” said the priest, who is a member of the Personal Prelature of Opus Dei. Father Velez noted that Pope Benedict, during the prayer vigil he held in Hyde Park the night before the beatification — a vigil attended largely by young people — quoted from Newman’s Meditations on Christian Doctrine: “God has created me to do him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another.”

“Young people need to hear that and discern what it is,” Father Velez commented.

He suggested that discussions of some of Blessed John Henry’s sermons, his Meditations and Devotions and his book The Idea of a University could bear much fruit at Newman Centers.

The Catholic Center at Harvard seems to be ahead of the game. International Newman scholar Father Ian Ker gave an address there last week.

At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the Newman Center plans to hold the Mass of Blessed John Henry Newman tonight at midnight, followed by Eucharistic exposition and adoration for the entire day until the following midnight hour, according to Father Robert Matya, chaplain. There also will be two other Masses offered tomorrow.

At Fordham University in New York, a conference on the life and works of Blessed John Henry Newman on Saturday, Oct. 23, will feature Jesuit Father Joseph Koterski, Fordham philosophy professor, and Father George Rutler, himself a convert from the Anglican Church. Father Rutler recently erected the first American shrine to Blessed John Henry Newman at his parish, the Church of Our Saviour in Manhattan.

Cosponsoring the conference with Fordham is The Spiritual Family The Work, a religious community of priests, nuns and brothers founded by Belgian Julia Verhaeghe in 1938.

The community runs the International Centre of Newman Friends, including four Newman libraries.

According to a press release about the conference, Mother Julia Verhaeghe “had a special affinity” for Newman, whom she referred to as a “brother of my soul.” The conference coincides with the centennial of Mother Julia’s birth, which will be commemorated during the day’s events. For more information, email [email protected].

As for Father Velez, who will publish a biography of Newman next year with St. Benedict Press, he will offer Mass tomorrow with the new texts for Blessed John Henry’s feast day. One of those prayers reads: “O God, who bestowed on the Priest Blessed John Henry Newman the grace to follow your kindly light and find peace in your Church, graciously grant that, through his intercession and example, we may be led out of shadows and images into the fullness of your truth.”