JohnHenryNewmanBoys and girls are like soft sponges that absorb all the water around them. They acquire piety and virtue or vice depending on the influence they receive at home, school and church. Children learn and grow in the Faith when they have an environment that fosters piety and virtues in a natural way. Catechists can help parents to create a surrounding which invites this growth and development of children’s Faith.

John Henry Newman (1801-1890) grew up in a home with two other brothers and two sisters. As a child his paternal grandmother, a woman with deep faith and piety, had a particular influence on him. She would read regularly to John Henry from the Bible. He had a good mother, and an upright and hardworking father. Despite this good family environment and that of the boarding school which he attended, when he was a young teenager he read parts of some books from authors that questioned the Christian Faith. In part due to his good upbringing and the religious influence of the schoolmaster, Newman underwent a spiritual conversion. He put aside bad reading and accepted the truths revealed in the Bible and in Church doctrine.

This personal conversion experience and his observation of the moral dissipation of students at Oxford University, where he attended Trinity College, reinforced Newman’s conviction for the need of good doctrinal formation and the exercise of virtue. After graduating from Trinity College, Newman was appointed a Tutor at Oriel College, also at Oxford. He dedicated time to the students under his care, looking after their moral and spiritual lives, not only their academic needs. A few years later he was ordained an Anglican clergyman and, at the nearby village of Littlemore, he established a Sunday school where he carefully looked after the catechism instruction of children, and taught them to sing hymns for the liturgy.

In 1845 while teaching at Oxford, Newman became a Roman Catholic. Two years later, he was ordained a Catholic priest in Rome and was asked by Pope Pius IX to begin the English Oratory of St. Philip Neri. A few years later, at the petition of the Irish Bishops, he established the Catholic University of Ireland. But one of Newman’s least well known achievements was the founding of the Oratory School near Birmingham in 1859.

One of the main reasons for starting this school was to provide good Catholic instruction for students, while offering them the academic opportunities of the then so-called Public Schools (in reality private Protestant boarding schools). At the Oratory School children’s religious formation consisted of a combination of religious instruction, devotions and character formation. In one of his sermons, Newman contended, “Youths need a masculine religion, if it is to carry captive their restless imaginations, and their wild intellects, as well as to touch their susceptible hearts” (Sermon Preached on Various Occasions).

Fr. Newman and Fr. Ambrose St. John, the school principal, supervised the religious instruction, which included lessons and sermons. The Scripture was studied in English, Latin and Greek. The students learnt the catechism and tested each other in pairs in the presence of Newman or St. John.

Two priests of the Oratory were assigned as chaplains to the school. Mass was offered every day in the school chapel, and the priests heard confessions. From his experience as a priest, Newman realized the need for the Sacrament of Confession. He knew that it is not enough for students to have good doctrine; for them to live the virtues they need God’s grace and forgiveness, which comes to them through the Sacraments. A teacher at another private school remarked on how fortunate the students at the Oratory School were. Their frequent reception of the Sacrament of Confession helped them to practice the virtues, and especially chastity, a virtue that can be difficult for boys and young men to live.

Upon becoming Catholic, Newman discovered the healthy effects on the mind and heart of popular devotions, especially when joined to a sound knowledge of religious truths and the exercise of the virtues. Thus, the Oratory school had a Eucharistic procession for the Feast of Corpus Christi, Stations of the Cross during Lent, the Forty Hour’s Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and a novena for the feast of St. Philip Neri. There were Marian devotions during the month of May and the prayer of the Holy Rosary was recommended. Newman composed prayers for all of these devotions, including a commentary to the names given to the Virgin Mary in the Litany of Loreto.

These pious devotions nourished a strong love for God and a Christian life. Students were encouraged to exercise the human and moral virtues. They had the example of instructors and tutors as well as that of the Oratorian priests. Newman wanted the students to learn how to use their freedom correctly in a healthy environment of friendship, study and piety. The students also learnt through the normal daily interactions with each other, including sports.

Newman relied greatly on the help of women, then called “matrons,” for the direct supervision and care of the younger children. These caring women, as well as Newman, communicated frequently and directly with the parents concerning the children’s needs and progress. In this manner, parents were kept involved in the education of their children and the school staff was aware of any particular concerns. With this close cooperation between parents and staff the school was like a home away from home.

The future cardinal exerted a great deal of dedication and patience in the work of catechesis and formation of youth. His effort involved a lot of insight and some degree of trial and error, as described by Paul Shrimpton in, A Catholic Eton? Newman’s Oratory School (2005). Foremost, his work was the fruit of a unitary vision of the connection between doctrine, piety and character formation, and awareness of the joint role of teachers, parents and peers.

Cardinal Newman, declared Blessed in 2010, carried out this work with a sense of measure and patience. He was demanding and strict when necessary but preferred to instruct and persuade youth. He wished them to grow in responsibility and become mature Catholics exercising a Christian influence in society. He teaches us by his example and way of thinking to carry out this important work of Christian formation in a similar way.

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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.

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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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