Collection: St. John Henry Newman

ARTIST: Julie Lonneman


John Henry Cardinal Newman was an Anglican priest and theologian whose studies in history persuaded him to become a Roman Catholic.

Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet! I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.
—Saint John Henry Newman

England, 1801-1890

His feast day is October 9.

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John Henry Newman was born in London, England, on February 21, 1801. He was the son of banker John Newman and Jemima (Fourdrinier) Newman. He entered the private school at Ealing in 1808, at the age of seven. Following the failure of his father's bank in 1816, Newman, then in his final year at Ealing, underwent what he would later refer to as a "conversion." He came out of the ordeal pledged to a celibate life and committed to evangelism. The experience left him with a hatred of the Roman Catholic Church and a personal conviction that the pope was the anti-Christ. In 1817, he entered Trinity College, Oxford, and graduated with third-class honors in 1821.


Following graduation, Newman took private pupils and endeavored to gain a fellowship at Oriel College, Oxford. In 1822, he was elected as a fellow at Oriel, where he developed a friendship with Edward Bouverie Pusey (Mss. 064). On June 13, 1824, he was ordained as a deacon in the Anglican Church and, at Pusey's suggestion, became curate of St. Clement's, Oxford. In 1825, Newman served as vice-principal to Richard Whatley (Mss. 102) at St. Albans Hall. On May 29, 1825, he was ordained into the Anglican priesthood.


From 1826 to 1832 Newman served as a tutor at Oriel College, developing a close relationship with Pusey, John Keble (Mss. 096) and Hurrell Froude. From 1827 to 1828 he served as public examiner in classics in the university's B.A. degree program. In 1828, he was appointed as vicar of the university church, St. Mary's.


By the late 1820's Newman's evangelical, low-church, views were changing, assuming a more eccleastical, high-church, tone. On March 8, 1830, he was dismissed from the Church Missionary Society because of his opinions on Nonconformists and church control of society. Three months later Newman broke his last ties with the low-church when he dissolved his relationship with the Bible Society.


From 1831 to 1832 Newman served as university select preacher. In 1832, he accompanied Froude on an extended tour of southern Europe. On that trip he first met Nicholas Wiseman, the future Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, at the English College in Rome. He also wrote the poems that he would publish as Lyra Apostolica (1834), and the verses of the hymn "Lead, Kindly Light." Newman returned to Oxford in time to hear John Keble deliver his July 14, 1833 "National Apostasy" sermon that marked the onset of the Oxford Movement. From 1833 to 1841 Newman, Froude, Keble, Pusey and William Palmer published Tracts for the Times. Of the 90 tracts published, Newman wrote 26, including the last and most controversial, Tract 90. In the final tract, he attempted to interpret the 39 articles of the Anglican Church in a Catholic light.


In 1836, Newman was one of the principal opponents of the appointment of Renn Dickson Hampden as regis professor of divinity. Hampden's rivals believed that his Bampton Lectures of 1832 were heretical. Newman published a pamphlet, "Elucidations of Dr. Hampden's Theological Statements," in which he detailed their claims. In 1838, he published Parochial and Plain Sermons, a collection of sermons he had preached at St. Mary's. In that same year he became editor of the British Critic, a magazine for Anglicans with Catholic sympathies. Newman resigned as editor in 1841, at the same time the publication of Tracts for the Times was suspended.


By 1839, Newman's influence at Oxford was at its peak, yet his personal studies were leading him to question Anglican authority and teachings. In 1842, he and a small group of followers secluded themselves at Littlemore, part of the parish of St. Mary's. In February 1843, he placed an anonymous advertisement in the Oxford Conservative Journal, in which he withdrew all his anti-Catholic statements. In September 1843, Newman preached his last Anglican sermon and resigned his position at St. Mary's. In 1845, he wrote his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, in which he attempted to reconcile himself to Catholic doctrine and creeds. On October 9, 1845, Newman and several of his adherents were received into the Roman Catholic Church. In February 1846, he and his followers took up residence in the old Oscott College and lived under the direction of Bishop Wiseman. At Wiseman's urging, Newman decided to become a priest and left for Rome in October. In Rome, on Trinity Sunday 1847, he was ordained into the priesthood and was awarded the D.D. degree by Pope Pius IX. Newman returned to England on Christmas Eve 1847.


Following his return, Newman served as an oratorian at Maryvale; St. Wilfred's College, Cheadle; St. Mary's, Birmingham; and Edgbaston, a suburb of Birmingham. On February 2, 1848, he founded the Congregation of the Oratory, a branch of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, at Edgbaston. In 1850, Pope Pius IX authorized the restoration of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in England. A widespread anti-papal backlash spread through Britain following the restoration. Newman attempted to counter the no-popery campaign by writing a number of letters to British newspapers under the pen name Catholicus, and publishing a by series of sermons, Lectures on the Present Position of Roman Catholics (1851). In 1852, he was successfully sued for libel by former Dominican priest Giacinto Achilli, whom he had accused of various immoral acts.


In 1854, Newman went to Dublin, Ireland, at the request of the Irish bishops, to serve as rector of Dublin Catholic University. Frustrated over the lack of progress of the university he returned to England in 1858, where he was asked by the English hierarchy to serve as editor of The Rambler. He was asked to resign shortly after assuming this position because his essay, "On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine," was censured by Rome, where it was thought to be a statement against papal infallibility.


In 1858, Newman proposed opening a branch of the Oratory at Oxford. The idea was opposed by Newman's old friend Henry Edward Manning (Mss. 002) and others who believed it would encourage Catholics to send their sons to Oxford. In association with the Birmingham Oratory, he founded a school in 1859 which provided an education similar to that of the English public schools for the sons of English gentlemen.


In 1864, he used Charles Kingsley's attack on Catholic attitudes toward truth to defend his own career and actions before the English people. In his defense Newman, published a brochure, "Mr. Kingsley and Dr. Newman: a Correspondence on the Question whether Dr. Newman teaches that Truth is no Virtue," and his own religious autobiography Apologia pro vita sua. In 1870, in Grammar of Assent, he discussed faith and reason and the way they related to the common people.


At the time of the Vatican Council (1869-1870), Newman, unlike his old friend Manning, was opposed to the recording of a document of papal infallibility. Though not opposed to the concept, he felt the doctrine should be given time to mature before it was codified. Once the doctrine was established it was immediately attacked by Anglican leaders. Newman wrote a strong defense of the doctrine, boosting his prestige among English Catholics and also in Rome.


In 1873, Newman published The Idea of A University Defined, a compilation of his lectures on education written during the preceding two decades. In 1878, Trinity College, Oxford, elected Newman as its first honorary fellow. On May 12, 1879, at the urging of Bishop William Ullathorne, Newman was created cardinal by Pope Leo XIII. After several years of increased weakness he celebrated his last mass on Christmas Day 1889. Cardinal John Henry Newman died at Edgbastion on August 11, 1890.


—Excerpts from Manuscript Number 100, Processed by John N. Wright, Archives & ManuscriptsPitts Theology Library, Emory University