British Celebrate Soon-to-Be St. John Henry Newman, ‘Gifted Teacher of the Truth’

Holy convert, to be canonized this October, will become Britain’s first saint since the 1976 canonization of 17th-century Scottish martyr St. John Ogilvie.

John Henry Newman by Sir John Everett Millais
John Henry Newman by Sir John Everett Millais (photo: Public domain)

On hearing news of England’s latest saint-to-be, Bishop Mark Davis of Shrewsbury told the Register, “Amid all the confusion of the early 21st century, Cardinal Newman will be for us a calm witness and gifted teacher of the truth and continuity of Catholic teaching.”

On July 1, Pope Francis decreed that Blessed John Henry Newman would be canonized on Oct. 13 during the 2019 Special Synod of Bishops From the Pan-Amazonian Region.

Blessed John Henry Newman will become Britain’s first saint since the 1976 canonization of 17th-century Scottish martyr St. John Ogilvie. In addition, Cardinal Newman is the first Englishman to be canonized since the 40 Martyrs of the Reformation were named saints by Pope St. Paul VI in 1970.

Speaking to the Register, Bishop Davies said, “It would be hard to underestimate the significance of Newman’s canonization for the Catholic Church in England. Cardinal Newman personifies ‘the Second Spring’ of the English Catholic Church in the profound spiritual and intellectual journey he made amid wintry conditions to embrace the fullness of the Catholic faith and its abundant fruits in personal holiness.”

Bishop Davies sees the canonization coming at “a providential moment for the universal Church, helping us recognize what constitutes true development of doctrine and a right understanding of conscience.”

He added, “In foreseeing the unprecedented challenge of relativism and what Newman called ‘the infidelity to come,’ he stands as a witness to the intellectual faithfulness and striving for personal holiness which are the preconditions for the New Evangelization of Western societies.”


Path to Canonization

The cause for Newman’s sainthood was opened in 1958. He was declared “Venerable” by Pope St. John Paul II in 1991 after his life of “heroic virtue” was recognized. Pope Benedict XVI beatified Newman on his visit to England in 2010. The first miracle attributed to Newman’s intercession was the complete and inexplicable healing of Boston deacon Jack Sullivan from a disabling spinal condition. Now, the second confirmed miracle involves the healing of a pregnant woman, Melissa Villalobos. The Chicago woman prayed for Blessed John Henry’s intercession after a life-threatening diagnosis. Later, doctors were unable to explain her recovery to health.

Speaking to the Register, Father Ian Ker, Newman biographer and scholar, said that he was “delighted that the lady in Chicago watched the same EWTN program that I appeared on as Jack Sullivan [did] — at that stage she wasn’t ill, but she tells me I [Father Ker] got her interested in Newman, which led to her eventually praying to him.” He added, “Little did I think that arduous journey to Birmingham, Alabama, would have such consequences!” Father Ker went on to ask: “Is it the first TV miracle?”


Newman’s Life

John Henry Newman was born in London in 1801. Originally ordained an Anglican clergyman, Newman was part of the Oxford Movement, a movement of High Church members of the Church of England that rejected liberalism and placed a premium on the traditional teachings and liturgy of the Church. This movement, which Newman belonged to until he converted to Catholicism in 1845, eventually developed into Anglo-Catholicism, which emphasizes Anglicanism’s Catholic roots and influenced the thought and writings of, among others, Catholic convert and apologist G.K. Chesterton, poet and Anglican convert T.S. Eliot, and English Christian apologist C.S. Lewis.

Ordained a Catholic priest in 1847, Newman went on to help establish the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in England. Pope Leo XIII made Newman a cardinal in 1879. The cardinal died in 1890 at the age of 89 in the English industrial city of Birmingham, where he had ministered to the poor with special zeal; more than 15,000 people lined the streets for his funeral.

Sally Axworthy, the British ambassador to the Holy See, described herself as “delighted” at the latest news, describing Newman as “a truly global Briton” whose canonization “will be an important moment for Britain and for U.K.-Holy See relations.” England’s Anglican Communion also welcomed the news. The Right Rev. Christopher Foster, Anglican bishop of Portsmouth and co-chair of the English and Welsh Anglican-Roman Catholic Committee, said: “We give thanks for this recognition of a holy life formed in both our communions that continues to be an inspiration for us all.”


‘Controversial’ Conversion

In less ecumenical times, Newman’s conversion to the Catholic faith was controversial. Not only was he shunned on his reception into the Church by many who had been his friends, but his own sister, scandalized by his decision, never spoke to him again.

The Maryvale-based Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Community are a religious community made up of recent converts to the Catholic faith from Anglicanism. Community superior Mother Winsome told the Register: “We are thrilled [at the news] because we are living virtually next door to Maryvale Institute, on land which would have formed part of [Cardinal Newman’s] original home here. We feel a special bond with him because we also came from Oxfordshire to Birmingham, from the Anglo-Catholic Oxford Movement within the Church of England, as he did, into the full communion of the Catholic Church.”

As superior of a religious community now part of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, established in 2011 by Pope Benedict XVI to allow former Anglicans to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church, Mother Winsome added: “It is very significant as patron of the ordinariate that he, too, was a convert — so those of us in the ordinariate are walking the same path he walked. … He feels very much our special saint!”

News of Newman’s forthcoming canonization brings equal delight to the congregation in which he lived for the latter part of his life and in which he carried out his priestly ministry, namely the congregation of the oratory. Speaking to the Register, Father George Bowen, one of the fathers of the London Oratory, said: “This is a very great moment for the oratories in England and a great opportunity for us to celebrate our English founder. We have been working on progressing the cause and preparations for this announcement for a long time, and it is with a sense of joy and relief that we can now look forward to October.”

Father Bowen said it was all too easy to put Newman on a pedestal “and admire him from afar as a giant theologian,” but being so closely involved in the canonization process over the last year had enabled him to come to know Newman even better. Father Bowen told the Register that, notwithstanding his many years as an Oratorian, “The account of the canonization miracle opens up a very different Newman to the giant on the pedestal, and, hopefully, many people will have the chance to read the account and feel as inspired as I’ve been.”


                                                                             Register correspondent K.V. Turley writes from London.