Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
In Memoriam for Fr. Ian Ker, Bringing Souls Closer to God

Bringing Souls Closer to God

I would like to offer some personal reflections in light of the death of my fellow Archdiocesan Priest, Fr Ian Ker, the world’s leading authority on St John Henry Newman.

My signed copy of Fr Ian Ker’s world-famous book, entitled John Henry Newman A Biography (1988), is especially treasured now. I first read it as I prepared a resource about Newman for Schools to use, ahead of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Beatify him, in 2010.  Over a decade later, Fr Ian’s text, by now crammed full of my coloured notelets, spare envelopes and copious pencil underlinings, is a testament to how indispensable his work remains to me.  His preface has constantly influenced my approach to Newman, from the moment I read, what I experienced as Fr Ian’s prophetic words.  He says:

“I have quoted generously from his letters not only for literary reasons…but also because my object has been to write the life of Newman rather than a book about him…I have endeavoured to quote judiciously and selectively, but without compromising my commitment to allowing the reader to hear, as far as possible, the actual sound of Newman’s voice-and also to overhear him thinking aloud, particularly at certain critical junctures. Again, the subtlety of Newman’s highly nuanced approach to complex issues constantly discourages any bland, reductive paraphrasing, in favour of the exact rendering of his own words which alone so often convey the fullness of his thought. There is a vast literature on Newman, spanning several disciplines, which I hope I have taken account of; but I have referred only sparingly to specific secondary sources, when I have a definite debt or disagreement to record.”  (p.ix).

I’ve followed Fr Ian’s valuable hermeneutic, over the last thirteen years, as I savoured, one by one, Newman’s published letters and diaries – focusing on what they reveal specifically about his humanity   What a joy and blessing it has been. I felt a conscious sense of vocation to do this – which was also fostered by a reference Fr Ian made to Newman’s Fragment of the Life of St Philip (1853). In it Newman laments the lack of personal details, about the founder of the Oratorians, with which to apply Ignatian contemplation in order that we might encounter the meaning of Christ’s incarnation more deeply.  This was, Newman said, so that a Saint is not a “bloodless ideality”.   I did not want this to, potentially, happen to Newman either. The letters and diaries, I keep discovering, are full of such information to bring Newman close to us and illustrate that holiness is found in the ordinary as well as the sublime aspects about a person.  In Newman’s case, for example, he learned to play billiards, read Walter Scott and Anthony Trollope novels in bed and liked watching cricket. Just as we might do.

The Fragment also led me to another of Fr Ian’s insights as noted in the book he co-edited with Alan G. Hill, Newman after a Hundred Years (1990). “It is not simply that Newman uses a conversational style in his letters, but he reproduces the actual sound and tone of his speaking voice with all its cadences and stresses.” (p139). This observation made me realise the significance of Newman’s use of colloquial language, home-spun metaphors, proverbial expressions and analogies drawn from popular culture and sport (particularly, boxing!), I was constantly coming across.  Newman clearly used this kind of flexibility of language to great effect, pastorally, to relate to people from every kind of background as an Anglican Vicar in Oxford and a Catholic Priest in Birmingham, and beyond that, those he met on a daily basis.  No wonder so many came to pay their respects by lining the streets at his funeral.

My personal gratitude to Fr Ian particularly comes from his encouragement of my research into Newman’s reflections, about his own grief, and the sensitive support he gave to others who had lost loved ones.  Poignantly, I found that his letters helped me grieve the loss of my own parents too.  Fr Ian had expressed his appreciation of a series of articles of mine, which the Newman Studies Journal had published.  He kindly noted that they reminded him of a number of great Newman passages that he had forgotten about.  I then asked Fr Ian’s advice, as I wanted to write a book called Balm for the Bereaved: Letters from Newman.  I wondered about what he thought.  I, rather self-consciously, mentioned that I hadn’t got a doctorate.  Was that a disadvantage?  Fr Ian’s characteristically forthright reply took me completely by surprise, coming as being both a great compliment to me and a huge challenge at the same time.  He said: “What do you need a PhD for as long as your scholarship is good enough – why does it matter?” I have often drawn strength from his words at our memorable meeting and the delicious local pub lunch which followed it.

On the day Fr Ian passed into the arms of the Redeemer, I received an email which summed up my own feelings exactly.  It said: “We should rejoice that he has done such sterling work for Newman scholarship and in that way brought so many souls closer to God.”  I, as one of them, concur whole-heartedly.

Fr Peter Conley,

Archdiocese of Birmingham

Author of Newman: A Human Harp of Many Chords

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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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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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