The Life of St. John Henry Newman
A timeline of the events that shaped the new saint.
1801 John Henry Newman (JHN) is born Feb. 21 in the City of London. Father: John, a banker; mother: Jemima (née Fourdrinier), descended from Huguenots. JHN is baptized April 9.
1808 May 1, aged 7, JHN enters private school at Ealing.
1816 March 8: JHN’s father’s bank collapses. First conversion: “When I was fifteen a great change of thought took place in me. I fell under the influences of a definite Creed. … I believed that the inward conversion of which I was conscious … would last into the next life, and that I was elected to eternal glory. … I believe that it had some influence on my opinions … in isolating me from the objects which surrounded me, in confirming me in my mistrust of the reality of material phenomena, and making me rest in the thought of two and two only absolute and luminously self-evident beings, myself and my creator” (Apologia Pro Vita Sua). For the first time JHN encounters the Church Fathers who would later play such a decisive part in his reception into the Catholic Church: “I read Joseph Milner’s Church History and was nothing short of enamoured of the long extracts from St. Augustine and the other Fathers which I found there” (Apologia Pro Vita Sua). JHN adopts as his motto: “Holiness rather than peace; growth: the only evidence of life.” The conviction grows he must lead a celibate life.
1817 Dec. 14: JHN enters Trinity College, Oxford.
1818 May 18: JHN elected to be the recipient of a scholarship.
1821 Nov. 1: JHN’s father’s brewery business collapses.
1822 April 12: JHN elected to a fellowship at Oriel College, Oxford.
1824 June 13: JHN ordained as a deacon in the Church of England. He would write the day after his ordination as a deacon in 1824, “I have the responsibility of souls on me to the day of my death” (Autobiographical Writings). Curate at the Anglican parish of St. Clement’s, Oxford; visits the sick, teaches and preaches, in addition to writing and teaching at Oriel College. Sept. 29: His father dies, leaving JHN responsible for his mother, sisters and brothers.
1825 May 29: JHN ordained in the Church of England.
1826 May 1: JHN decides to read Church Fathers systematically.
1828 Feb. 2: JHN is appointed vicar of the St. Mary’s, the Oxford University church. This role included responsibility for the poor parish of Littlemore east of Oxford. He builds a church at Littlemore, catechises the children; playing his violin, he teaches them to sing hymns. His sister Mary dies.
1831 JHN’s mother and sisters move to Oxford.
1832 In December JHN goes on a Mediterranean voyage. JHN has mixed feelings about his first encounter with Roman clergy and with Rome.
1833 April 19, while visiting Sicily, JHN falls seriously ill, possible from typhoid fever. He is near to death for 10 days. In his delirium, those nursing him heard him repeat: “I have a work to do in England.”
June 16: JHN writes Lead, Kindly Light on a ship from Palermo bound for Marseilles.
The Oxford Movement begins. Sept. 9 first Tracts for the Times published as the work of a nameless Presbyter, designed to provoke and educate. JHN was to author approximately one-third of them. Between 1833-41 90 tracts were published; what was called “The Tractarian Movement” had begun. JHN’s The Arians of the Fourth Century published.
1834 First volume of JHN’s Parochial and Plain Sermons published.
1836 April 27: JHN’s sister Jemima marries John Mozley, JHN’s friend and disciple. May 17: JHN’s mother dies. Sept. 27: JHN’s sister Harriett marries Tom Mozley.
1837 Via Media lectures: Anglicanism, he argues, is the correct middle way between two extremes, Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.
1839 First doubts surface concerning the Via Media. From now on JHN tries frantically to retain his faith in Anglicanism.
1841 Jan. 25: Tract Ninety, in which he attempts to read the Anglican 39 Articles in a Catholic light. Tract censured by Oxford University; bishops ask that no further tracts be published. In September JHN retires to Littlemore, where he will reside until 1846; joined by friends, he leads an ascetic, common life.
1843 Summer: Newman is clear: His doubt about the Church of England is greater than his doubt about the Roman Church. Sept. 18: He resigns as vicar of St. Mary’s. Sept. 25: “The Parting of Friends,” Newman’s last sermon at Littlemore. “He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends, He may throw me in among strangers, He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me — still He knows what He is about” (Meditations and Devotions).
1845 Oct. 3: He resigns the Oriel fellowship. Oct. 9: Received by Blessed Dominic Barberi into the Church at Littlemore. Nov. 1: Confirmed by Bishop Nicholas Wiseman. Goes to Rome for short course of studies. Publishes The Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. JHN writes, “on the whole, all parties will agree that, of all existing systems, the present communion with Rome is the nearest approximation in fact to the Church of the Fathers. … And, further, it is the nearest approach, to say the least, to the religious sentiment … of the early Church, nay, to that of the Apostles and Prophets; for all will agree so far as this, that Elijah, Jeremiah, the Baptist and St. Paul … these saintly and heroic men … are more like a Dominican preacher, or a Jesuit missionary, or a Carmelite friar … than to any individuals, or to any classes of men, that can be found in other communions.”
1847 January: Decides to become an Oratorian. May 30: Ordained to the priesthood.
1848 Feb. 1: The first English Oratory is formally inaugurated at Maryvale near Birmingham. JHN’s autobiographical novel Loss & Gain is published.
1849 Feb. 2: JHN opens the Oratory in Birmingham. Discourses to Mixed Congregations published. Opening of London Oratory.
1850 Pope Pius IX confers honorary degree of divinity on Newman. Lectures on Certain Difficulties Felt by Anglicans in Submitting to the Catholic Church. London Oratory becomes autonomous. October: Catholic hierarchy restored in England by Pope Pius IX, provoking strong anti-Catholic feeling.
1851 Lectures On the Present Position of Catholics in England. In the fifth lecture, he denounces the ex-priest Giacinto Achilli and as a consequence is sued for libel. Nov. 5: Achilli trial and legal action begins.
1852 As rector-elect of the proposed Catholic University, he begins in Dublin The Idea of a University: “The University ... has this object and this mission; it contemplates neither moral impression nor mechanical production; it professes to exercise the mind neither in art nor in duty; its function is intellectual culture; here it may leave its scholars, and it has done its work when it has done as much as this. It educates the intellect to reason well in all matters, to reach out towards truth, and to grasp it.” July 13: Preaches “The Second Spring” for first synod since restoration of the church hierarchy in England.
1853 Jan. 31: Achilli trial ends: JHN is fined £100. Legal fees of £12,000 raised by Catholics throughout the world. With funds remaining, JHN builds the University Church in Dublin.
1854 Nov. 3: JHN installed as rector of the new Catholic University in Dublin.
1858 JHN returns to Birmingham from Dublin for good.
1859 March 21: JHN takes over as editor of The Rambler. After his article “On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine” is published, he is asked to resign. May 2: Oratory School at Birmingham founded.
1864 In January Charles Kingsley, a clergyman of the Church of England and a university professor, attacks his truthfulness. April-June: JHN’s gives his answer to Kingsley, his autobiography: Apologia Pro Vita Sua.
1865 The Dream of Gerontius is published.
1866 Newman’s plan to open an Oratory at Oxford is blocked by the bishops.
1870 Vatican Council passes decree on papal infallibility. March 15 The Grammar of Assent is published.
1875 Jan. 14: The Letter to the Duke of Norfolk is published, explaining the doctrine of papal infallibility.
1877 JHN returns to his beloved Oxford for the first time in 34 years to receive the first honorary fellowship of Trinity College.
1878 Death of Pope Pius IX, who is succeeded by Leo XIII.
1879 Jan. 31: Cardinalate is offered to JHN, who is joyful at the papal approval. His motto is: Cor ad cor loquitur (“Heart speaks to heart”). April 16 JHN travels to Rome. July 1 JHN returns from Rome to Birmingham.
1886 JHN’s health begins to fail.
1889 JHN celebrates his last Mass on Christmas Day.
1890 Aug. 10: JHN receives last rites. Aug. 11: JHN dies at the Birmingham Oratory. Aug. 19: 20,000 people line the street as the cortège made its way to the cemetery at Rednall. On his tombstone: Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem (“Out of shadows and phantasms into the truth”).
1900 Edward Elgar composes his setting of The Dream of Gerontius.
1907 St. Pius X condemns modernism in his encyclical Pascendi Gregis (Feeding the Flock). Some of those condemned claim that, in condemning them, the Pope is condemning JHN, as they identify in him aspects of their own “liberalism.”
1908 St. Pius X writes in Newman’s defense:
“Those who were accustomed to abusing his name and deceiving the ignorant should henceforth cease doing so. Would that they should follow Newman the author faithfully by studying his books without, to be sure, being addicted to their own prejudices, and let them not with wicked cunning conjure anything up from them or declare that their own opinions are confirmed in them; but instead let them understand his pure and whole principles, his lessons which they contain” (March 10, 1908: Acta Sanctae Sedis, Vol. 48)
1921-44 Theodor Haecker translates into German The Grammar of Assent. Subsequently, he is received into the Church. He reads extracts from JHN’s works in secret meetings to students, including Hans and Sophie Scholl. Influenced by JHN’s writing on conscience, the Scholls and others will form the White Rose resistance movement opposing the Third Reich. Sophie Scholl gives two volumes of JHN’s sermons to her boyfriend as he heads to the Eastern Front. Reading JHN’s words, he says, is “like tasting drops of precious wine.” Edith Stein also translates JHN’s letters and diaries.
1945 On the centenary of his reception into the Church, Pope Pius XII speaks of JHN as “the pride of Britain and of the universal Church.”
1958 A file on JHN’s beatification is opened.
1991 Jan. 22 St. John Paul II declares JHN “Venerable” and “an ardent disciple of truth.”
2001 Aug. 15: U.S. Deacon Jack Sullivan is healed of a serious spinal disorder after praying for the intercession of JHN.
2010 Sept.19, on a visit to the United Kingdom, Pope Benedict XVI declares JHN “Blessed” and “a man of luminous spirituality.”
2013 May 15: U.S. lawyer Melissa Villalobos prays for the aid of JHN. Her internal bleeding stops and placenta heals instantaneously, so that her unborn daughter is born healthy in December. This second miracle paves the way for JHN to be declared a saint.
2019 Oct. 13 is the canonization of John Henry Newman in Rome by Pope Francis.
“Such are the means which God has provided for the creation of the Saint out of the sinner; He takes him as he is, and uses him against himself: He turns his affections into another channel. … It is the very triumph of His grace, that He enters into the heart of man, and persuades it, and prevails with it, while He changes it” (Purity and Love).
Compiled by K.V. Turley