AS AN ANGLICAN priest and Oxford professor, John Newman was drawn to Catholicism even as he sought to resolve conflicts within the Anglican tradition. Eventually, his Oxford Movement – which he founded to bring the Anglican Church back to its Catholic roots – led him to become a Catholic in 1845. He was ordained a Catholic priest two years later.
But in anti-Catholic England, the idea of such a well-known theologian becoming a Catholic was beyond a scandal.
For the next 20 years, his life was marked by obscurity, disappointment and turmoil. A few ill-chosen words against an anti-Catholic zealot led to a libel suit, which then-Father Newman lost and narrowly avoided prison. Efforts to create a university in Ireland – during which he wrote his classic “The Idea of a University” – ended in failure.
Asked to direct a new English translation of the Bible, he was dropped from the project in favor of bishops from the United States. Attempts to create a magazine for educated Catholic laity led to conflicts with British bishops, forcing him to resign in disgrace. Plans to create an oratory at Oxford were dashed.
“O how forlorn and dreary has been my course since I have been a Catholic!” he wrote in his journal in 1863. “Since I have been a Catholic, I seem to myself to have had nothing but failure, personally.”
But he always persevered in his faith. In 1864, he published “Apologia Pro Vita Sua,” defending his decision to join the Catholic Church. It is considered one of the great spiritual autobiographies of Christian history. His writings on education influenced a generation of U.S. educators, and Newman campus ministry centers at colleges nationwide are named for him.
He was named a cardinal in 1879. He died Aug. 11, 1890, at age 89.
His motto as a cardinal, “cor ad cor loquitur,” translates as “heart speaks to heart.” - CNS