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by Most Reverend James D. Conley

I came to the Catholic faith in the 1970s, during my undergraduate years at a public university in Kansas.  On its face, that setting seems among the most unlikely places in which to encounter Jesus Christ and his Church.   But, the Pearson Integrated Humanities Program specialized in the unlikely, and the extraordinary.

From approximately 1970 to 1980, three professors at the University of Kansas drew students into the riches of the Western intellectual tradition—forming their minds, their imaginations and their hearts, for friendship, and humility, and wonder.  In less than a decade, a public university in Kansas formed two future bishops, an abbot, monks, priests and religious, and hundreds of men and women who’ve been reborn in wonder, and reborn in Jesus Christ.

At the very heart of the Integrated Humanities Program was the work of my spiritual patron, the great British convert Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman. A prolific author he wrote eloquently on theology, history and literature.  He brought a unique religious community to England, and oversaw its expansion.  He preached beautifully and his sermons have become classics. But the great apostolic project of his Catholic life was the formation and education of Catholics who would know and love the faith, which would be the basis from which they undertook every other kind of noble project in their lives.

Newman founded the Catholic University of Ireland, and also the first English boarding school for Catholic gentlemen since the Tudor Reformation.  And in his intellectual work, most especially The Idea of a University, Newman outlined the principles by which any university, Catholic or otherwise, should undertake its solemn mission.

A university, said Newman, is “a place of teaching universal knowledge”.  A university trains the intellect to reason, so that students will possess the “faculty of entering with comparative ease into any subject of thought, and of taking up with aptitude any science or profession.” Newman reasoned that to succeed, a university had to undertake its work with a commitment to “educate the intellect to reason well in all matters, to reach out towards truth, and to grasp it.”

In short, Newman wrote that every university should be a place where young minds are able seek out and discern what is true, what is good, and what is beautiful.

Today, education in many places has been overcome by our cultural tendencies towards technocratic reasoning and a utilitarian preoccupation with earnings.  Technical possibility has become the common standard of moral responsibility.  The minute specialization of scientific and technological research in modern universities discourages reasoned reflection on the relationship between scientific advancement and moral goods.  And the role of history, literature, poetry and philosophy is ever diminished—the humanities regarded too often as a curiosity; a tolerable deviation from the real work of career preparation.  Too often, modern universities train students for earning and producing, without really preparing them for living.

In The Idea of a University, Newman wrote that “men whose minds are possessed with some one object, take exaggerated views of its importance, are feverish in the pursuit of it, make it the measure of things which are utterly foreign to it, and are startled and despond if it happens to fail them…. But the intellect, which has been disciplined to the perfection of its powers, which knows, and thinks while it knows, which has learned to leaven the dense mass of facts and events with the elastic force of reason, such an intellect cannot be partial, cannot be exclusive, cannot be impetuous, cannot be at a loss, cannot but be patient, collected, and majestically calm, because it discerns the end in every beginning, the origin in every end, the law in every interruption, the limit in each delay; because it ever knows where it stands, and how its path lies from one point to another.”

The antidote to the problem of modern universities is the formation of minds that think with the “elastic force of reason.”  This requires a revival of the classical approach to university formation—a revival of the poetic imagination, of formation in history and philosophy.  Minds that know how to reason are the products of hearts and imaginations that have been transformed by wonder.

On secular campuses and Catholic universities, educators must become as intentional about human and spiritual formation as they are about the transmission of scientific and technical knowledge.

In A University Education, Fr. Juan Vélez provides practical reflections on the history and mission of universities.  He offers insights for students and parents on the process of finding a truly meaningful university education, and he offers sober reflections for university administrators about the needs of modern students and the formation of meaningful university curricula.

There are many Catholic colleges and universities across the country committed to forming minds to know the truth, and hearts to choose the good.  And there are excellent Newman Centers and Catholic Studies Institutes at dozens of secular universities, offering intellectual and personal formation to students seeking to know and serve Jesus Christ.  A University Education is a useful guide for parents and students discerning the place in which God might be calling them to study.

A University Education is important for anyone concerned with the state of higher education in the United States, and the consequences for the Church, for souls, and for the world. It presents critical insights about the relationship between education, formation, and Christian discipleship. Newman wrote that “religious truth is not only a portion, but a condition of general knowledge. To blot it out is nothing short, if I may so speak, of unraveling the web of University Teaching.”  A University Education offers historical and practical wisdom about the integration of Jesus Christ, and his Church, into the university formation of disciples, ready to reason, work, and live in the light of Truth.

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The true light of Christ’s divinity was made visible to the Apostles at the Transfiguration.

We call His presence in this Holy Sacrament a spiritual presence, not as if ‘spiritual’ were but a name or mode of speech.

The sacrifice of the altar as a re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary is a “bloodless rite,” but nevertheless, like that sacrifice, it too is a “fire of Love,” and a “Fount of Light.”

The world which sees only appearances cannot comprehend the hidden reality of a heart captive to Christ. 

With this indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we have the indwelling of Christ in our souls. Christ is born in us. The Holy Spirit makes us children of God, crying out Abba Father, and restores in us the likeness of Christ.

Preaching the truth means Jesus Christ is the goal in our conflicts with others - not winning the argument. This is why we can approach everyone with understanding, respect and patience, in other words, in a Christ-like way.

Though the invitation is open to all, not everyone responds to it in faith. Those who accept the call, embrace Christ, and live according to His teachings; they are the chosen ones.

John Henry Newman calls the Holy Mass the Gospel Feast and takes us through numerous biblical passages that prefigure this great Sacrament.

Our Books

About Cardinal John Henry Newman

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A Guide to John Henry Newman will interest educated readers and professors alike, and serve as a text for college seminars for the purpose of studying Newman.

Review by Catherine Maybanks
(Catholic Herald, April 1, 2023)

Review by Serenheed James
(Antiphon, April 2023)

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Fr Peter Conley takes us on an exciting journey into the spirituality and inner life of Saint John Henry Newman.

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Endorsement by Neyra Blanco (Amazon)
I bought this book for my son and he loved it, he wrote this review and urged my to submitted: “I think this book has a very beautiful message, because it shows how the young Newman was so determined to achieve his dream of becoming a priest, but even after his dream he continued to work in the church with passion until the day he died, it’s so admirable that even Newman so old and so weak still had that urge to continued his work of being a priest. And the book is well written with words not too complicated with very enjoyable texts and well illustrated pictures. I highly recommend this book for a 5th grader.  

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What is a Classical Liberal Arts Education? Why is it so important for the development of a person?

Fr. Juan R. Vélez answers these and more questions you might have about University Education in the 21st century. This book is aimed for parents, prospective University students, and educators. It will help you discern why adding Liberal Arts electives to your education will help it form it better, and help the student learn to reason, and not just learn.

He also explains how many Universities have changed the true meaning of Liberal Arts, and the subjects, and gives advise on how to choose College Campus, Subjects, and Teachers.

A wonderful book that every parent should also read way before your children are College bound. A Liberal Arts education can start earlier in life, even from home.

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Endorsement by Christopher Moellering (Goodreads, September 14, 2019)
In Passion for Truth Fr. Vélez gave us an outstanding biography of Cardinal Newman. In this work, he provides a concise overview of his thought and his devotion. This is a great work for someone who, perhaps hearing of Newman for the first time because of his beatification 13 October, 2019, wants to know more about this English saint.Vélez is a wonderful writer in his own right, and the frequent quotations from Newman round out the work nicely. I especially appreciated the frequent citing of Newman’s Meditations and Devotions, which show a different side of his spirituality than his more well-known works, Development of Christian Doctrine and the Grammar of Assent.

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Take Five: Meditations with John Henry Newman, endorsement by Illow M. Roque (Amazon, September 3, 2010)
“There is a time to put direct inquiry on hold and give ourselves to prayer and practical duties.” Sound advice from one of the earlier, thought-provoking reminders in this sparkling gem of a book: Take Five | Meditations with John Henry Newman, written by Mike Aquilina and Fr. Juan R. Vélez and published by Our Sunday Visitor. This particular paragraph, referenced above, which begins with a direct quote from soon-to-be canonized priest, cardinal and poet, John Henry Newman: “Study is good, but it gets us only so far . . .” is actually the 15th in a series of 76 concise, logically organized meditations moving from the elementary to the sublime. Each meditation–one per page–is built upon the great man’s writings and remarkably rich spirituality. Whether taken whole in one reading or in part page-by-page over a course of weeks and months, these wonderfully insightful meditations will open up, even to the busiest reader in the midst of the world, a unique pathway into prayer and contemplation. My advice to spiritual inquirers at all levels, from the novice to the spiritually adept, is to follow the authors’ recommendation to use this book as a guide for daily prayer and meditation. The structure of the book itself is ideal: first, the authors introduce us to Cardinal Newman, the man, where we are given the opportunity to get to know him through a brief sketch of his life and spirituality at the beginning of the book. This is something readers will likely find themselves referring to again and again, prompting many, I suspect, to even wider explorations of this most gifted Christian leader. Then comes the meditations, consisting of a short summary of Newman’s thoughts on subjects taken, as the authors explain, from various salient points for which Newman is justly remembered: The pursuit of objective religious truth; Teaching on the Virtues; Defense of the Catholic Church; A devout spiritual and moral life; and Generosity and loyalty in his friendships, which sets the topic and tone for each meditation to follow. Each meditation consists of an excerpt taken from Newman’s thirty-plus volumes of writings and diaries. Next comes three brief and extremely useful sections entitled: “Think About It,” which establishes a prayerfully resonant tone throughout the book; “Just Imagine,” which provides a vivid, prayerful experience of the Scriptures that tie in, and finally, “Remember,” a pithy summation which the authors suggest may be used as a daily aspiration. Each meditation is given its own page, which makes it ideal for daily reflection for readers on the go. This book is a must have for every serious Catholic who wants to take their faith to the next level, which is to respond appropriately to the universal call to holiness and seek interior union with God.
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