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Cardinal John Newman

picture of Cardinal Newman

John Henry Newman was born in 1801 in the City of London, where his father was a banker. He went to school in Ealing, and, at just 16, gained a place at Trinity College, Oxford, where he studied widely. Given that he was a very intelligent young man, and widely read, he unexpectedly failed his final examinations. This was a great shock to him, but it clearly did not hold him back, as he later got a fellowship at Oriel College Oxford. He was popular as a Don because of his friendly approach to students and his willingness to listen to them. He was described by his contemporaries as being great fun and very witty. He followed in the tradition of his time that most Oxford University fellows were ordained in the Church of England: He first became a curate and later a Vicar of the University Church Oxford. He worked as a college tutor and also engaged in theological research and writing, which put him at the forefront of religious scholarship.

Over the years Newman's religious views moved steadily away from the Protestant tradition of universities in the English-speaking world. He became a leading force in the Oxford Movement, a group of Anglicans who wished to reintroduce many of the Catholic beliefs and the liturgical rituals that were part of the doctrine of the Church of England before the English Reformation. He worked within this movement for about ten years, and during this time he and his associates wrote what were called ''Tracts for the Times', expressing their views on the Anglican Church, its beliefs and organization. Newman was a controversialist, and the establishment disapproved of many of his views. Matters came to a head after the publication of 'Tract 90', which the establishment said was not acceptable, and Newman resigned from public life and considered his faith. The retreat he chose was the parish of Littlemore outside the city of Oxford, where he had previously established a chapel and a school. (There is a school called the 'The John Henry Newman Church of England Primary School in Littlemore today, and St Mary's and St.Nicholas Church acknowledges its existence to the initiative of John Newman.)

In 1846, Newman went to Rome, where he was ordained priest by Cardinal Fransoni, and awarded the degree of DD by Pope Pius IX. At the end of that year he returned to England as an Oratorian and lived in various locations in the Midlands, before finally settling in Edgbaston, Birmingham. He founded the first Oratorian Congregation in Birmingham and established an Oratory School. Edgbaston became his permanent home thereafter except for a period of 4 years in Ireland. In 1854, Newman became rector of the newly established Catholic University of Ireland, now University College, Dublin, at the request of the Irish Catholic bishops. During this time he founded the Literary and Historical Society. He published a volume of lectures entitled 'The Idea of a University', which explained his philosophy of education. After four years, he retired from his position in Ireland and returned to Edgbaston.

John Newman was created Cardinal on the12th May 1879 by Pope Leo XIII, his title being 'Cardinal-Deacon of San Giorgio al Velabro'. The previous year Pope Pius IX had died (on the same day as Newman was elected an honorary fellow of his old college in Oxford). Pope Pius mistrusted Newman, but Pope Leo was encouraged by English Catholics to create him Cardinal, despite his being neither a bishop nor resident in Rome. Other Cardinals had mixed views about his appointment. Newman accepted the position as Cardinal, on the basis of his work for the church, but he requested not to be consecrated bishop (a usual pre-requirement) and that he might remain in Birmingham.

Cardinal Newman was a literary figure of note, his major writings including his contributions to 'Tracts for the Times , his autobiography 'Apologia Pro Vita Sua ( a defence of his life against the opinions of Charles Kingsley), the Grammar of Assent (on the philosophy of faith) and his poem 'The Dream of Gerontius', which was set to music in 1900 by Edward Elgar. He wrote the words of the popular hymns "Lead, Kindly Light" and "Praise to the Holiest in the Height".

Cardinal Newman died on the 12th August 1890 at the Oratory, Edgbaston, in his 90th year. His funeral Mass was given in the Cathedral of the Oratory and was attended by seventeen Roman Catholic Bishops, not a few of the Catholic nobility, and a considerable number of eminent Oxford academics.

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