Homiletic & Pastoral Review

The book, Passion for Truth, the Life of John Henry Newman, focuses on Newman’s intellectual roots and religious formation, culminating in his conversion to Catholicism, and entering the Church of Rome.  The first half of the book describes his life, friendships, family and early career path. The second half delves into his life as a Catholic, defending the Catholic Church in Protestant England.  The author, Fr. Juan R.Velez, also explores Newman’s role as an educator and founder of the Catholic University of Ireland, and the Oratory School in Birmingham. Both reflect his deep concern for an educated laity.

Throughout the biography are insights into the happenings in Newman’s life leading up to the writing of his major treatises.   The Idea of a University, together with his other published works, is shown to reflect Newman’s belief in the harmony of faith and reason, as well as his own Passion for Truth (Faith) in an increasingly secular, non-Catholic 19th century European society.

For this reader, a convert to Catholicism, the ability of Newman to remain true to his beliefs in the face of rejection through most of his working life as an Anglican clergyman, and, later, as s Catholic priest—while refusing to condemn those friends and superiors who abandoned or betrayed him—were personally inspiring.  Newman’s final elevation to Cardinal is as emotionally gripping as any novel.  “How much more can he take?” I would continuously ask.  Yet, not once did Newman complain about his treatment by superiors, neither condemning them, nor their actions.  Fr. Velez has spared no detail in revealing the hardships of Blessed Newman. His perseverance in the face of rejection by the Catholic hierarchy in Rome, and growing secularization of his own English society, at times, brought me to tears.  In this sense, Passion for Truth offers a life-lesson, and role model, for anyone who feels his beliefs are out of favor, and the system is against him.

Fr. Velez has, has written an engaging biography on this extraordinary man, revealing a saintly humility that is never overpowering in its methods, but always patient and forgiving.  The author writes a biography that, by events and actions, shows a man who has a passionate belief in the truth of his ideas, and a tireless willingness to express those ideas and beliefs in reasoned lectures, articles, letters and books.  If all this sounds ambitious in scope, the book includes maps and photographs of the buildings where Newman resided and taught, which bring the reader back to that era, allowing one to track the changes in Newman’s life.  All in all, you will find a very interesting and enlightening blend of personal history, and Newman theology, in every chapter.

Carol J. Buck, Ford Foundation Scholar, Columbia University, New York


Review on Amazon

Father Juan Velez’s new biography of Blessed John Henry Newman is a very clear, straight-forward account of the remarkable life of the great Victorian religious thinker and convert. It is also timely, as many of us await Cardinal Newman’s canonization in, one hopes, the near future. Two welcome emphases, in particular, separate Passion for Truth: the Life of John Henry Newman from earlier Newman biographies. First, it sustains focus on what is essentially Catholic in Newman’s spiritual and intellectual development from his youthful attraction to evangelical devotion through his many years as an Anglican reformer to his gradual full embrace of the Catholic Church to which, as a result, he brings enormous fresh insight. Second, and following from the Catholic emphasis, Father Juan conveys at every point what is so striking about Newman’s intellectual pilgrimage–an uncompromising, heroic engagement with eternal truth in an age, as he saw so clearly, befogged by sectarianism, “private judgment,” scientism, and the uncritical worship of progress. This is a fine book.

Vesuvio, Boca Raton, Florida


Review on Amazon

This new biography by Fr. Juan Velez is interesting because not only does it give important developments in Newman’s theology and philosophy, but personal insight into his life, friends, and habits. Newman the person is more real to me after reading this excellent biography. Fr. Juan is the perfect biographer for John Henry Newman.

Barbara Wyman, Instructor of English and Latin, McNeese State University, Lake Charles, Louisiana


Review on Amazon

As a priest, Fr. Juan is able to connect with Newman on a level inaccessible to most. His biography of Cardinal Newman will be valued not only by Newman experts, but by general readers as well as former Anglicans such as myself.

Bruce C. Wyman, McNeese University, Lake Charles, Louisiana


Review on Amazon

Father Juan Velez’s new biography of John Henry Newman, Passion for Truth, is an elegant contribution to the various portraits of this great and holy man. Fr. Velez has written a long but very readable life, emphasizing the moral integrity and personal sanctity of Newman

Fr. Velez, an Opus Dei priest and trained physician, has previously written on Newman. His 2010 work (with Mike Aquilina), Take Five: Meditations With John Henry Newman, is an excellent short work for spiritual reading and as companion for mental prayer. Passion for Truth is an ambitious book that works carefully through Newman’s correspondence to provide a narrative of a man whose theological concerns with the Anglican church became one of the defining dramas of the entire Victorian period.

Fr. Velez succinctly presents Newman’s youth and education. Moreover, his seminal role in the Oxford Movement is chronicled with care. Fr. Velez emphasizes Newman’s fierce struggle to follow the evidence, wherever it might lead, to find the truth of the faith. And it led, ultimately, to Rome, a move that cost him a great deal in friendships. What is shocking is how poorly treated Newman was by Catholic leaders following his celebrated conversion. After one slipshod challenge to Newman’s orthodoxy, Fr. Velez reports the damage:

“This episode saddened Newman and made him retire from public life. He was more cautious with projects that involved [certain members of the hierarchy], and wished to be left alone. From 1859 to 1864, he did not publish any works . . . . Instead of having his bishop judge, someone would denounce him directly to Rome. It was a time of interior suffering for Newman. He felt he was not using his talents and was thwarted from doing so. This injustice and others, which he experienced years later, helped to purify his intentions and took him to a new height of spiritual life in which he became more detached from others’ opinions. He accepted these injustices as the spiritual Cross that he was asked to bear.”

But accepted or not, there were many injustices. It was as if the Catholic Church in England had no idea what to make of the holy genius who had suddenly become one of her own. Still, Newman restored his reputation with the publication in 1864 of his riveting autobiography, Apologia Pro Vita Sua. It was during this period he wrote what many consider his profoundest book, Grammar of Assent (1870). Eventually, Newman enjoyed the full embrace of the Church, which was effected with his being made a cardinal in 1879.

Late in his life, Newman instructed future biographers: “I don’t want a panegyric written of me, which would be sickening, but a real fair downright account of me according to the best ability and judgment of the writer.” Fr. Velez has ably satisfied this requirement. Passion for Truth will not, of course, replace Ian Ker’s magisterial biography, but it certainly deserves a place on the same shelf. This book is a welcome version of the epochal life of a truly great man.

Gregory Sullivan, Holland, Pennsylvania


Review on Amazon

Fr. Velez has given us a timely, personal look at a holy man who persevered to the end. This book makes me appreciate Newman even more than before. Some of the things that struck me the most about him were his calm perseverance, his patience with his enemies, his desire to always be in God’s Will, and his humility. He reminded me a lot of St. Francis de Sales in his demeanor.
As a convert myself, I had come to the same conclusions about Holy Mother Church, but I was not as cautious and reserved as he was. Like he said, it was a 7 year probation! When you get done reading this, you’ll feel as though you were with him on his journey.
I loved reading all the details about his life with his family, friends and colleagues. Also, I found the book very “readable” – geared to a general audience, so much so, that I only put it down once before I finished it! In times like these, Bl. John Henry Newman shows us how to stand for and have a “Passion For Truth”. Thanks to Fr. Juan Velez for writing such an interesting book!

Nancy Larrick, Stow, Ohio




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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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