Cardinal John Henry Newman would be surprised by his own canonization as a saint, an English bishop said Monday, adding that Newman’s life offers an important witness of holiness for contemporary Catholics.
“I am sure that no one would be more surprised than Newman to find himself a canonized saint. In his own life time it was suggested that he led a saintly life – his response was typical. ‘I have nothing of the saint about me as everyone knows and it is a severe and salutary mortification to be thought next door to one,’” Bishop Robert Byrne said Oct. 14, during a Mass of Thanksgiving for Newman’s canonization, celebrated at the Basilica of St. John Lateran.
“Nonetheless the Church thinks otherwise after due deliberation and the approval of two miracles brought about by the intercession of the saint, John Henry Newman, the Londoner born in 1801 and who died a Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church in Birmingham in 1890 is now raised to the honours of the altar,” Byrne added.
“He is held up to us as a model of Christian life and virtue and as our intercessor in heaven.” Newman was a 19th century theologian, poet, Catholic priest and cardinal. Born in 1801, he was before his conversion a well-known and well-respected Oxford academic, Anglican preacher, and public intellectual.
Newman’s 1845 conversion to the Catholic faith was controversial in England, and resulted in the loss of many friends, including his own sister, who never spoke to him again.
He became a priest in 1847 and founded the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in England. He was particularly dedicated to education, founding two schools for boys and the Catholic University of Ireland. His “Idea is a University” became a foundational text on Catholic higher education. He was a prolific author and letter writer. Newman died in Birmingham in 1890 at 89.
Byrne celebrated Mass in thanksgiving for the canonization, invoking the intercession of Newman in his prayers. The Mass was attended by an international congregation of scholars, devotees, and admirers of Newman, concelebrated by priests and bishops who have been influenced by the man.
Among those in attendance at St. John Lateran were members of the Oratorian religious congregation, of which Byrne is a member, and which Newman famously brought to England. Also there were priests and sisters of the Spiritual Family of the Work, an ecclesial movement of priests and religious sisters devoted to the spirituality and intellectual legacy of Newman. Worshipping too were pilgrims who had come to Rome for Newman’s canonization, including some who had found the Catholic Church through the saint.
Byrne said that it was “the saintly Cardinal’s relentless and heroic search for truth and holiness which brings us to this morning’s celebration.”
“The pursuit of holiness and truth were for St John Henry the driving force of his life. We see throughout his long life how he championed the cause of revealed truth and was fearless in proclaiming it not only by his many writings but also by the institutions he established. He did much to promote the Christian cause in bringing the Congregation of the Oratory to England, founding a University in Ireland and a school in Edgbaston. He worked tirelessly as a Parish Priest and had a fatherly care for his Oratorian community. He guided countless people with letters of spiritual direction and counsel.”
“He gave light to those who were searching for the truth and continues to do so through his published works of theology, philosophy, sermons and prayers.”
“Newman speaks to us in different ways as preacher, writer, theologian and pastor. But however he speaks to us we are united in giving thanks that his life and legacy is now a gift to the Universal Church,” the bishop concluded.