Why is Blessed Newman not well known yet?


Today is the feast day of Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman, a great English scholar and holy priest (1801-1890). His memorial is celebrated in the dioceses of England, but it is hoped that some day in the near future it will also be celebrated in the dioceses of the United States and other English-speaking countries.

There is a scholastic axiom “nihil volitum nisi precognitum” (nothing is loved if it not first known). This applies to the life and work of John Henry Newman. It is debatable whether Catholics know about Cardinal John Henry Newman, but it is sure that average Catholics know almost nothing about him. They have probably heard his name but that is about it. And those who have heard his name confuse him with St. John Newman, third bishop of Philadelphia. They do not know, or for that matter Catholic university students, that the university Newman Centers are named after him.

Catholics do not know that he is one of the most distinguished writers of 19th century English prose and most prolific Catholic authors of that same century. They also do not know about his effect on the Church of England or his conversion from Anglicanism, and the powerful influence he had on countless converts to Catholicism.

There are probably a number of reasons for this general ignorance about Newman. Here I only wish to venture the most obvious ones. People in general, Catholics included, do not read a lot of books; instead they watch television or movies and read news articles. Newman’s English flows in elegant and articulate sentences with rich and nuanced vocabulary. Unaccustomed readers are easily turned off after reading a few lines or are unable to comprehend them. Furthermore, given his depth of historical knowledge, Newman’s writings refer to historical events, peoples and ideas; without some knowledge of these the reader finds himself at a loss. As for the Church going Catholic, he will rarely hear about Newman because pastors know little about him and thus will not explain what he taught and quote from his works.

On this feast day of Blessed Newman, I wish to enumerate a few ways in which Christians can learn about him and come to admire and love him. The writing and promotion of short biographies of Cardinal Newman will make him more accessible to people. My biography Passion for Truth, the Life of John Henry Newman is an attempt to fill this gap. Short articles in journals and websites will also foster interest and awareness of his life and contribution. These types of articles have become more common in the last decades. Conferences on Newman and his thought such as those sponsored by the Newman Studies Institute will continue to help Newman scholars in their research. The participants in these meetings will need to continue to find creative ways to teach people in general about Newman. To this effect there should be many more talks and seminars in parishes and diocesan centers on Newman’s life and ideas.

There are two other measures that will bring Newman to a much larger number of Catholics. The first, which applies to the United States, is for university Newman Centers to develop and put into effect a comprehensive study plan on Newman’s contributions to doctrine and spirituality, and to foster devotion to him. The second refers to the liturgical celebration of Newman’s memorial in the dioceses of English speaking countries. A petition to the Holy See of one or more conferences of bishops from English speaking dioceses to include the memorial of Blessed John Henry Newman as an optional memorial in their liturgical calendars would most likely be well received and result in the liturgical observance of this memorial. In consequence, the faithful would hear about Blessed Newman and many would wish to learn about him.

The evangelization of our country, and the world at large, requires teachers who have engaged modern man and who, understanding his condition, have provided compelling answers; and who are, in the words of St. John Paul II, “experts on humanity, heralds of the Gospel.” Newman was such, and if we learn more about him and teach others about him we will greatly contribute to spreading the kingdom of God.

Blessed Cardinal Newman, pray for us, that we may be faithful and passionate heralds of the Gospel!



17 Comment(s)
  • Mike Posted October 9, 2014 7:36 am

    “And those who have heard his name confuse him with St. John Newman, third bishop of Philadelphia.”

    Perhaps even fewer people have heard about St. John NEUMANN… 8^)

    • jrvg98 Posted October 9, 2014 8:02 am

      I lived and studied in Philadelphia down the street from where St. John Newman lived and is buried.

      • Mike Posted October 9, 2014 9:13 am

        You would be referring to here, I presume:

        • jrvg98 Posted October 9, 2014 10:46 am

          Yes, this a peaceful and prayerful shrine where one feels St. John’s presence.

  • Stephanie A. Mann Posted October 9, 2014 10:41 am

    Two good ideas, Father Velez. For those who can’t undertake a systematic study of Blessed John Henry Newman, I think works like your Five Minutes devotional, or excerpts from his sermons (Scepter Publishers has a nice collection, “The Rule of Our Warfare: John Henry Newman and the True Christian Life”) or Sophia Institute Press’s “Everyday Meditations” are good places to start. They will promote devotion to him, intercession to him, and canonization for him! Happy Feast Day!

    • jrvg98 Posted October 9, 2014 10:45 am

      Stephanie, those are good resources to recommend. I am glad you mentioned them.

      • jrvg98 Posted October 9, 2014 11:26 am

        Just wanted to add that the anthology prepared by John Hullsman, titled The Rule of Christian Warfare, is excellent.

        • Stephanie A. Mann Posted October 9, 2014 4:26 pm

          And Father Velez, I am making two presentations at our Spiritual Life Center here in Wichita Kansas–on October 7, I talked about his conversion and his advice to prospective converts; next Tuesday, we will talk about his teaching on conscience!

          • jrvg98 Posted October 9, 2014 8:29 pm

            Stephanie, you chose two important topics to cover. I debated on choosing these but decided on two others: Christian holiness and Development of Doctrine for two talks. This work, and that of others will help more people learn from Newman’s contributions to Christian doctrine and spirituality.

        • Sue2 Posted October 10, 2014 3:44 am

          This is a great article, Fr Juan, with many practical ideas. Particularly in this era of the New Evangelization, Newman should be known so that Catholics would frequently seek his powerful intercession for conversions and, ultimately, for the reunion of all Christians.

          Moreover, with three through college and a fourth to start next year, I would love to see Newman Centers adopt your recommendations here. Too many have ceased to be so devoted to their Patron that they have lost the riches of his knowledge, guidance and intercession that would assist them in the very mission for which they were established and so named.

          • jrvg98 Posted October 10, 2014 5:48 am

            Susan, as you say, Blessed Newman offers many possibilities for Evangelization, and in particular on college and university campuses. We need to figure out how we can help Newman Centers. A university chaplain to whom you gave my biography of Card. Newman wrote telling me how he was inspired by Newman’s life and writings.

  • Danny Kelly Posted October 13, 2014 1:25 am

    The cottage (now a small college) at Littlemore on the outskirts of Oxford, where Newman and others were received into the Catholic Church, is well worth a pilgrimage. My parish brings our new Catholics from Eastertide there around June/July each year (plus their catechists). We also have a shrine to honour the Blessed John Henry Newman in our church and a garden in the grounds dedicated to Benedict XVI/Newman. Our local Catholic secondary school, founded in 1969 is called Cardinal Newman. Blessed John Henry Newman, pray for us!

    • jrvg98 Posted October 13, 2014 6:26 am

      Danny, I am glad to hear this. I don’t know when I can visit but some day I would like to do so. Please share with your friends this website, and if you wish, consider writing a guest column. I can send you some information about that. Yes, Blessed Card. Newman, pray for us!

  • Marvin Max Posted October 18, 2014 8:24 am

    Hello Fr. Velez, my name is Marvin Max and I am a recently baptized Roman Catholic from Leiden, the Netherlands. Would you be interested in speaking about blessed Cardinal Newman on a new catholic podcast? The Source and Summit podcast is an open podium for catholics to speak about their love for the Church. In this podcast you can not only listen to presentations from fellow catholics, you can also submit an item yourself. It would be very interesting if you could contribute a piece. You are welcome at http://www.sourceandsummit.cc for more information and to record your message. Thank you very much, Marvin Max.

    • jrvg98 Posted October 18, 2014 2:34 pm

      Marvin, this sounds interesting. Let me write to you later today.

  • Darleen Posted November 1, 2014 3:10 pm

    I have been a long time devotee of Bl. John Henry Newman. I am so glad to hear mention of the idea of including his feast day in the liturgical calendar for the US. Given the impact of the Newman Centers in this country, we should be celebrating this feast day. How can we help to have this occur? How does a feast day get added to the liturgical calendar for a particular country?

    • jrvg98 Posted November 1, 2014 3:34 pm

      It is good to hear of persons like you. When a saint is well known in a country the bishops of the country ask the Holy See to include him in that country’s liturgical calendar, but at the same time the for a saint to become well known it helps to have him included in the liturgical calendar. Given Bl. Newman’s importance as a theologian, educator and holy priest, it would be very good for the bishops of the US to petition the Holy See for this. This happens when people like us spread devotion to a saint and ask our local bishop to ask the bishop’s conference. Let us pray for this intention and continue to make Newman’s life and writings known to others as well as invite them to seek his intercession. The little book “Meditations with John Henry Newman” could be a good way to help students to learn Newman’s teachings.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *