Young Newman


Newman’s Conversion

John Henry Newman’s liturgical memorial is October 9, the day of his conversion from the Anglican Church to the Catholic Church. In just a few days, on October 13, Pope Francis will declare him a saint of the Catholic Church. This is a time of rejoicing for both Catholics and Anglicans and for all men of good will. It is the formal recognition of holiness in life and service to mankind. It is a sign of a man made in the image and likeness of God, and redeemed by the same God who fashioned him.

Conversion, a turning towards God, is primarily the work of God who communicates His grace to men and women.

But Newman’s conversion to the Catholic Church was not his only conversion. He described various conversions in his life. The first one began as a young man of fifteen when he discovered the one “luminous Being” who is the source of all and present to all: God. He realized the presence of a personal and living God who makes claims on his creatures and children. In the Apologia pro vita sua, his spiritual autobiography, he wrote that he rested “in the thought of two and two only absolute and luminously self-evident beings, myself and my Creator.”

The next conversion came when he was in college and  just a little older. He was aspiring to honors at Oxford and did poorly on exams due to mental exhaustion. The young Newman realized that he had fallen into this situation out of pride which included a growing spiritual liberalism. He turned away from this situation and turned back to God.

Another conversion was during an 1833 trip to Sicily, during which he fell gravely ill and as a result came to discover a deeper meaning for his life. “I will not die …” he kept saying to himself, “God has a mission for me.” Newman was leading an upright life but the near-death experience led him to see in a convincing way the deeper meaning of his life. Shortly afterwards aboard ship on the return trip to England, he penned the famous lines: Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom. Lead thou me on.

Each conversion was marked by a personal spiritual awareness of God, of God’s love and goodness, and of God’s expectations. God was leading Newman to greater faith and trust. Newman took the step each time, turning towards God.

The last major or defining conversion for Newman was on October 9, 1845, when he asked to be received in the Catholic Church, and was received by now Blessed Domenic Barbieri at Littlemore, just outside Oxford. For over five years, Newman had been considering the claims of the Catholic Church, and whether he could continue in the Anglican Church or whether he should become Roman Catholic.

Through his study of doctrine, reflection and, in particular, personal prayer, he became convinced that in conscience he must take this step. Often people say that Newman read himself into the Church. He had indeed read a lot of the Church Fathers and Church history. But, in fact, Newman prayed himself into the Church. During these five years he prayed a lot and fasted (something which he found very hard to do).

It was God’s grace that gave him the necessary light to see things clearly, and to take such a momentous step. After all he was the leader of a movement, and a well-known figure in England. Man must respond to the lights and desires that God places in his mind and heart (the turning, or conversion), but God is the One who initiates, moves, and sustains these changes.

In some meditation notes many years later Newman wrote the following prayer:

“O my God, let me never forget this truth—that not only art Thou my Life, but my only Life! Thou art the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Thou art my Life, and the Life of all who live. All men, all I know, all I meet, all I see and hear of, live not unless they live by Thee. They live in Thee, or else they live not at all. No one can be saved out of Thee. Let me never forget this in the business of the day. O give me a true love of souls, of those souls for whom Thou didst die. Teach me to pray for their conversion, to do my part towards effecting it. However able they are, however amiable, however high and distinguished, they cannot be saved unless they have Thee.” 

When a person notes that God is asking him for a change of life, whether it is leaving behind some personal fault, embracing some path, or something else, he must pray to the Holy Spirit for light, and discern what he perceives. Often a person must wait for more light, waiting patiently for God to show the way. In due season He will do so, renewing us in His image and likeness, and guiding us on the path to Him.

Newman reminds us not to lose faith or to become discouraged; conversion is above all the work of God in our souls. We must trust Him and persevere along the way as best we can see it. Often we must, like Newman, make several decisions throughout life to take the path of conversion, of turning again towards God, who is the “Kindly Light” for all mankind.

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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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