This year, St. John Henry Newman’s feast day fell on Sunday, October 9. Below are some recollections by Fr. Peter Conley who was present at St. Peter’s Square and a thirty minute conversation between Barbara Wyman, Robert Kirkendall, David Warren and Fr. Juan R. Vélez, three of whom were also privileged to be in Rome for Newman’s canonization.
Fr. Peter Conley’s Recollections
Praying, in the sun-shine of Newman’s canonization day, I realised how deep his letters and diaries have impacted my life- after I experienced an ‘inner calling’ to make his humanity better known through them. Poignantly, Newman’s correspondence helped me grieve for my parents and, I have found, brings comfort to families when quoted in my funeral homilies. Discovering his use of local language, popular proverbs and metaphors drawn from cricket, badminton and boxing; his obvious excitement at visiting the zoo, discovering fossils, studying geology and astronomy and in reading novels by Scott, Trollope, Gaskell and Austen, all drew me closer to him. These details became ways for me to write about just how effective Newman, as a pastor, was- because he, so clearly, adapted his linguistic gifts and hobbies to connect with ordinary people, in the service of the Gospel.
From where I sat, with priests from across the world, Newman’s banner, flowing down from St Peter’s, literally filled almost my entire gaze. It was providential. As his face beheld mine, I was so moved and rededicated myself to carry on his mission- by highlighting, from his own life, what he calls “the lights and shades of a Saint” -which are things “not directly and immediately spiritual”. The wording is key as it points us to their hidden potential. They are, Newman teaches, “essential for understanding what a saint is”. (Fragment of the Life of Saint Philip, 1853). Importantly, he believed that holiness can be incarnated by our “lights and shades” too.
The mass, celebrated with such beautiful simplicity by Pope Francis, had a profound atmosphere- captured, afterwards, by a Bishop friend of mine’s profound phrase “the stillness of joy”. May Newman’s intercession carry us to the Lord’s presence always.