Newman's Rosary
Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
A Visit to Newman’s England, Part Two: Littlemore 

In the first portion of our summer’s Newman pilgrimage, my husband and I visited Oxford University (as described in Part One of this series); we found ourselves in the modern lively urban centre of the city of Oxford, where the various colleges of Oxford University are located. With a bit of mental readjustment to make imagination fit reality,  we were able to discover Newman’s Oxford of the early 19th century. Perhaps a little known fact is that Oxford and Oxfordshire are located in the area considered one of the most beautiful in England called the Cotswolds.

The Cotswolds refer to this 787 square mile region in central-southwest England, along a range of rolling hills. The area is defined by the distinctive golden colored limestone quarried there which was and is still used to build the postcard beautiful thatched cottages found in the little bucolic villages. These villages also boast stately homes with gardens. The larger cities, like Oxford and Evesham, although with modern buildings and modern commerce, still contain those structures built with this yellow stone, especially Oxford University itself.  As a designated “Area of Natural Beauty” by the British government, the Cotswolds have become a famous tourist destination because of the well-preserved smaller villages in the countryside, surrounded by grassy pastures dotted with sheep. Both Beatrix Potter’s gardens and Tolkien’s Shire were inspired by the sheer loveliness of the Cotswolds villages, which still today seem off the pages of a story book. 


When Newman became Vicar of the University Church at Oxford, he discovered that its benefice included Littlemore, at that time an undeveloped rural and rather impoverished area around 2.5 miles from Oxford University. Littlemore had no church of its own. Newman, who loved to walk, began to take outings there regularly, visiting its farm workers and arranging schooling for the children of the area. Even his mother and sister helped with pastoral care. In 1835 he secured permission and funding for a church. Built to Newman’s personal design, the Anglican Littlemore Church soon became a model for small elegant places of worship throughout England. Newman understood that beautiful buildings themselves can lead worshipers to the transcendent, “which will suggest to you many good thoughts of God and heaven”. He also planted trees and soon built a school. By 1840 he was staying at Littlemore regularly and began planning a sort of monastic retreat or ‘college’. He insisted, however, that it was not a monastery. In 1843 he moved permanently into “The College”, which was a converted granary and stables. 

“The College” had a courtyard and along with his own modest room, a few private rooms as well as a chapel and a library for study. Newman added a few other dwellings for visitors. Soon other like-minded men joined him there, as they each contemplated their paths forward. It was at Littlemore, after much discernment and prayer two years after resigning his Anglican duties, that Newman “made his submission to Rome.”  He was received into the Roman Catholic church by Blessed Dominic Barberi, a traveling Passionist missionary from Italy. The future saint knelt by the fireplace in his room on that stormy night of 8th October, 1845, and began a  lengthy confession. He continued his confession on 9th October and was received into the Church. On the following day he, made his first Catholic Communion.

Knowing the background of Newman’s retreat to Littlemore and its location in the Cotswolds, one can’t be blamed for forming a very romantic vision of his converted cow barn outside of Oxford. The image of Newman’s lean frame walking the grassy fields, visiting with farmers and the less fortunate of the area, after giving up his prestigious position at Oxford University, all the while contemplating the state of his soul, one conjures a dramatic figure, with the conflicted Newman raising his eyes to the heavens asking God for guidance. But the reality of today’s Littlemore was far from this romantic idyll. In the early 20th century, the Littlemore area began urbanizing and was incorporated into the city, and in the 1950s, the progress accelerated. We soon realized that we were to have another reality check as we boarded a city bus in Oxford city centre – the first sign being that Littlemore is a labeled bus stop on busy Cowley Road. And far from leaving behind the city, on the contrary, the route leads past an empty car factory, down an increasingly unlovely street with unattractive modern developments, before turning down what is left of the main street of the hamlet of Littlemore. There, on a corner plot, one can see the back of the low-slung building which is “The College.” Most jarring of all is the Church across the street dedicated to the Blessed Dominic Barberi, built in the unfortunate architectural period of the 1960s, in a style that would make Newman shudder. 

With spirits drooping along with the rainy afternoon, we got off the bus and made our way to “The College.” We passed the unattractive church and saw the small sign indicating we were in the right place. After a bit of sleuthing, we found a call box and wrang for entrance. We had checked earlier and knew that the site was opened for visitors. Soon we were greeted by a friendly Austrian sister, who took us through the gate, away from the disappointing surroundings, and we walked into Newman’s Littlemore. There in front of us was a small but lovely garden filled with flowers. Directly in the middle stands a very nice statue of Newman. Though the whole place is compact, still, there is a covered walkway which links all the bedrooms, with Newman’s room next door to the chapel. The library is at the other end of the walkway from his bedroom. 

Pausing for a moment while the sister checked on the seminar which was taking place in the library, a bit of mind over matter took place and we were brought into the proper state. THIS IS WHERE IT HAPPENED, RIGHT HERE. With the human scale of the place, the rough stone of the walls, the realization that the windows look out onto the garden and not the street, one can then mentally join Newman, walking with him from his room to the other places within paces of each other. When the sister returned, we were shown into his bedroom. The first thing one notices is its small size. Most of the original furniture is gone, but some remains. There is a single bed which is similar to the one he had, along with a small reading desk overlooking the garden.There are mementos on the wall, letters and a few pictures. The floor, a dark red brick, is original, and most importantly, the fireplace! With the meager belongings of the room, the fireplace takes center stage. Though the chilly rain was still falling, all the disappointment of the surrounding area evaporated, and the vision of St. John Henry Newman humbly kneeling on that very floor on such a rainy evening fills one with emotion. It is a visceral response. 

In the chapel with walls adjacent to Newman’s bedroom, still bearing the red brocade of Newman’s day, the sisters preserve his rosary. The sister who was showing us around invited us to hold the rosary, and we prayed a decade before the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. One can feel Newman’s presence strongly, especially with the knowledge that his very hands held the rosary. After that moving experience, we were only able to have a quick glance in the booklined library because the seminar was still taking place. But it didn’t matter. We had met Newman there in Littlemore, felt his presence, and literally walked in his footsteps, but most wonderfully of all, we had prayed with him.

John Henry Newman left Littlemore and Oxford on 23rd February 1846 for Oscott College (St. Mary’s College) which he named “Maryvale.” This was the first house Newman established near Birmingham where the Birmingham Oratory would be established. Birmingham was the final destination in our Newman pilgrimage. 


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Newman lays down a firm rule in the light of life's abundant blessings: the Christian is not allowed to be gloomy.

Newman wrote, “I have been accustomed to consider the action of the creator on and in the created universe, as parallel in a certain sense to that of the soul upon the body.”

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We need to remember our mortality, so that we may be ready to meet Our Lord each and every day. Lent and lenten mortifications have a role in this preparation. We must die to self daily, so that we may be brought to the glory of His resurrection. 

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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.

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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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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.

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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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“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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