Saint John Henry Newman

Maynooth’s Connection to New Saint

Introduction

The canonization in Rome on 13 October of Cardinal John Henry Newman, has a particular resonance for St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. Newman was an Anglican, who converted to Catholicism. Assisting him in his intellectual journey of conversion was one of Maynooth’s celebrated historians who later became President of the College, Dr Charles Russell.

Best known in Ireland as the founder of University College Dublin, in 1854 Newman was appointed rector of the newly established Catholic University of Ireland. Newman was responsible for establishing UCD’s Literary and Historical Society, which has been a fertile proving group for aspiring leaders of Irish society.

Newman often attributed his conversion to Russell’ intimacy and influence, writing of him, “He had, perhaps more to do with my conversion than anyone else.”

On the day he sought admission into the Catholic Church in October 1845, Newman wrote to Fr. Russell to tell him of his decision to convert.

The Story

For more see Library Treasures.

On 8 October 1845, John Henry Newman, a leading theologian who was later to be first rector of the Catholic University of Ireland, sat at his desk in the small retreat house he had established in the village of Littlemore near Oxford, writing a letter to Charles William Russell, Professor of Ecclesiastical History at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth. It was a moment of calm inevitability, and a turning point in Newman’s life. He was about to leave the haven of the Anglican Church ‘I am expecting this evening Father Dominic the Passionist whom I shall ask to admit me to the bosom of the Catholic Church.’

In anticipation of this act he had given up his position as vicar of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, together with the church and school he had built in Littlemore; more immediately he has resigned his fellowship at Oriel College and all without knowing exactly what lay ahead for the step he was about to take would dramatically change the circles in which he moved. He was forty-four year of age. The letter to Russell is preserved in the archives of Maynooth College.

pic 2Newman’s desk in the Birmingham Oratory, 1985

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Newman’s letter to Dr Russell, 8 October 1845

Newman knew that his action would cause strong reverberations. He had been an energetic force in a renewal movement within the Church of England, re-examining the common roots of the Anglican and Catholic Churches with the Edward Pusey, Regius Professor of Hebrew, John Keble. Fellow of Oriel College and author of the Christian Year, and others, in a series of tracts which culminated in his own Tract Ninety, written in 1841. It was at this point that Russell first wrote to him, thereby beginning a life-long friendship between them. When Newman published the history of his religious opinions in his Apologia pro Vita Sua in 1864, he wrote that Dr Russell ‘had, perhaps, more to do with my conversion than anyone else.’

Newman wrote to other close friends that fateful day. Father Dominic Barberi, the Passionist, whom he described as a ‘simply holy man – but far from a fool’ was on his way from Staffordshire to Belgium and had been asked to call at Littlemore. Newman was cautious in his letter to Russell ‘I shall not send this to you until it is all over.’

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Newman in May 1890 (image taken from an album entitled ‘Oratory Photographs’ by A. H. Pollen)

He was received into the Catholic Church on 9 October 1845. He was beatified on 19 September 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI and so is now commemorated both in the Church of England liturgical calendar (11 August) and in the Catholic calendar (9 October).

On 1 July 2019, Newman’s canonisation was authorised and the date for the canonisation ceremony was set for 13 October 2019. The Russell Library will host a small exhibition curated by Audrey Kinch and Adam Staunton, to celebrate Newman’s canonisation during the month of October. The exhibition will include the original letter from Newman to Russell as well as other material from the collections of St Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

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