I have more than a passing fascination with Blessed Newman. My own vocation as a theologian and teacher, and my identity as a Roman Catholic have been profoundly shaped by him. I’ve read many of his writings, and I recently traveled to England to stay where he lived, to study in his library, to pray where he prayed. The picture below is of me re-reading Newman's Apologia ten feet away from the desk on which he wrote the Apologia.
He was soon ordained a Roman Catholic priest, and founded a community of priests and lay-brothers in Birmingham, England. Newman continued to preach and to write. His most famous work remains his Apologia pro vita sua (published 1864), his autobiography in which he describes and defends his conversion to the Roman Catholic Church, but he wrote many other works. One of these works ended up shaping our understanding of Roman Catholic higher education – The Idea of a University.
Newman insisted that a liberal arts education must include the study of theology for it truly to be a universal education. Interestingly, however, far from being a watchdog who scrutinized the thoughts of others to ensure absolute theological conformity, Newman often found himself in trouble with the church’s hierarchy, and more than once various people accused him of being a heretic and took their complaints straight to the Vatican. He had many enemies in the church, including enemies in Rome, and it was 1879 before his genius was recognized by Pope Leo XIII who made him a cardinal.
The founding president of my university was very much influenced by the educational principles articulated in The Idea of a University, and the influence of Newman continues to be found in the university's mission statement. It was because of Newman’s influence on his own ideas that our founding president named a residence hall after Newman, and the permanent place of Newman on our campus should continue to remind us of the meaning and purpose of a university education, one structured primarily upon cultivating a love of truth. It should also remind us of who Newman really was – not a watchdog on the hunt for heresy, but a complex and nuanced thinker and seeker of truth, goodness, and beauty.
Some books by Newman, that are particular favourites of mine:
Some books on Newman that I have found valuable:
If you're looking for a brief and accessible book on the life and thoughts of Newman, check out the official biography written for Newman's beatification in 2010: