John Henry Newman Is a Saint for the Homemaker

My friendship with St. John Henry Newman only deepened as I left academia to pursue holiness as a wife, mother and homemaker.

John Everett Millais, “John Henry Newman,” 1881
John Everett Millais, “John Henry Newman,” 1881 (photo: Public Domain)

I have loved St. John Henry Newman for years. I first learned about him in college, back when he was known as Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman, and during my senior year I ended up taking a seminar on the life and works of this towering intellect. I cultivated an even stronger devotion to him during my graduate studies in England, when I spent a day wandering through Oxford, exploring the city he knew so well and praying at the church where he once preached. 

Growing close to a saint famed for his intellectual pursuits while a student of Catholic theology is fairly unremarkable. But what has surprised me is that my friendship with this saint only deepened after I left behind the hallowed halls of academia and moved firmly into the world of the practical as a wife, mother and homemaker.

I had presumed that as my role and duties shifted, I would feel a gulf widen between myself and the holy men and women who had spent their days in libraries and chapels, not explaining to their toddlers that we can’t make farm animal noises during Mass. I have formed affinities for sainted mothers like Sts. Zelie and Gianna, Margaret of Scotland and, of course, Our Lady, and have looked often to their examples. But my old Anglican-turned-Catholic friend stayed with me. So what, besides our shared vocation as two beloved creations of God seeking heaven, connected me still to the unmarried and childless university rector and clergyman?

More important than his many intellectual accomplishments, St. John Henry Newman understood people’s souls. He founded the Birmingham Oratory, establishing a community modeled after the fellowship and cheerful witness of St. Philip Neri. When he became a cardinal, he chose for his motto the phrase, Cor ad cor loquitur, which translates to “Heart speaks unto heart.” He penned treatises, delivered lectures and wrote a body of work that has rightfully earned him a place as greatest apologetics of the modern era. But he never lost sight of his flock even as he navigated arcane theological ideas. J.C. Sharp, a professor at St. Andrews and contemporary of Newman, wrote in 1866: 

He laid his finger how gently, yet how powerfully, on some inner place in the hearer's heart, and told him things about himself he had never known till then. Subtlest truths, which it would have taken philosophers pages of circumlocution and big words to state, were dropt out by the way in a sentence or two of the most transparent Saxon.

I’m no Oxford Don, and I have founded precisely zero oratories to date, but I am a mother, entrusted with souls to nurture and tasked with creating a home that will help my little ones along their own path to sainthood. The family home is intended to be a foretaste of our heavenly home, to provide a small glimpse of eternity to all who enter it. When my children go out into the world, my prayer is that this home their father and I built for them will help them maintain their focus on reaching that other, final home.

St. John Henry Newman may have looked more natural in the classrooms, chapels and libraries where I first encountered him. However, I feel sure that we would have far more to chat about these days, and that I can glean far more from his wisdom as a young mother surrounded by toddlers and story time than I did as a wide-eyed undergraduate immersed in his theological writings. The home I create likely has more crayons and stuffed animals than Newman’s oratories, but I must look no less toward heaven in its formation, and I do not think many saints would understand this tremendous, and thrilling, task more than he.

Likewise, my duty as my children’s first teacher and catechist is to introduce them to our faith and cultivate in them a love for God and his Church. My audience is smaller and younger than Newman’s, but they are in no less need of learning to seek the true and beautiful, and they are no less worthy of a teacher that speaks to their innocent hearts, and I thank God for having this man’s holy example. 

St. John Henry Newman, pray for us!