"Everyone who belongs to the Truth hears my voice…" (John 18:37)

Heart Speaks to Heart

Blessed John Henry Newman


John Henry Newman, by Sir John Millais


Born: February 21, 1801 in London, England


Died:  August 11, 1890 in Birmingham, England


Beatified:  September 19, 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI


Feast Day: October 9


Patronage: Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, Word on Fire Institute[1]


Attributes: Cardinal’s attire


October’s colours and harvests invite me to think about God’s patience as He waits for the fruits of grace in our lives.  On October 9, 1845, seeds planted in Blessed John Henry Newman’s life bore the fruit of his conversion from the Anglicanism of his birth to Catholicism at the age of 44. His brilliance as a scholar and devotion as a disciple enabled him to give the Church his seminal work, ‘Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine’ available online with all his other works at the Newman Reader website.[2]


Oxford became Newman’s home, the soil in which he thrived.  He was planted as an



undergraduate in Trinity College at 16, became a fellow of Oriel College at 22, an Anglican priest at 24 and by 27 was the Vicar of St Mary the Virgin, the University Church, where he delivered influential sermons ‘to members of the University, all in their gowns, and the seniors all clerics.”[3].  When he saw the Anglican Church making decisions governed by political rather than theological principles Newman began to search the Church Fathers’ writings to better understand what we mean when we declare our belief in ‘One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church’.   His doubts about the Anglican Church’s claim to unbroken apostolic authority led him to resign his Holy Orders at 42 and withdraw to Littlemore, just outside Oxford, where he converted a barn and stable into a retreat.  The ‘Essay’ was begun at Littlemore as an Anglican layman to explore how ideas, not just institutions, develop in time: just as Christ compared his kingdom to a seed which becomes a tree[4]. As he applied his intellect to the questions raised by his conscience he left the book in midsentence in October 1845 when he heard that Fr Dominic Barberi was passing through Oxford. Newman had met Fr Dominic and “had not only liked him, but felt at once that he was a man of true holiness.”[5]  He asked a mutual friend “in a very low and quiet tone: ‘When you see your friend, will you tell him that I wish him to receive me into the Church of Christ?’”[6]   Fr Dominic arrived at Littlemore at eleven at night in the pouring rain. “‘I took up my position by the fire to dry myself,’ Fr Dominic later wrote to his superiors. ‘The door opened and what a spectacle it was for me to see at my feet John Henry Newman begging me to hear his confession and admit him into the bosom of the Catholic Church!’”[7]

Bl John Henry Newman has been called an ‘absent Father of Vatican II’[8] because his works enabled the Church to discern how the seeds of revelation in Scripture and Tradition have been tended, ripening to the dogmas that nourish Her children in every generation.  Bishop Robert Barron, in Catholicism: The Pivotal Players Series, devoted an episode to ‘Newman – The Convert’ because “At a time when many felt that a self-respecting intellectual of the modern age could not believe in the Biblical view of the world, Newman, by the witness of his life, proved this false.”[9] By following God’s ‘Kindly Light’[10] step by step, he not only found his way, but has led many others home.


John-Henry-NewmanCultivating a friendship with Bl John Henry Newman has encouraged me on my journey into the Church and he continues to challenge me to grow.  One of his concepts that I return to is the invitation to grow from notional to real assent to truth.[11]  Do I let the words of Scripture, the prayers of the Mass and Liturgy of the Hours which I may ‘get by heart and think very fine… come home to [me]… and pierce [me], as if [I] had never before known them, with their sad earnestness and vivid exactness’?[12]  And once convinced of truth, do I let it change me, to ‘take away the winter of my desolation, or make the buds unfold and the leaves grow within me, and my moral being rejoice?’[13]  Will I share grace with others, bearing the fruit that Jesus longs for even when circumstances seem discouraging?

Bl John Henry Newman suffered such misunderstanding from both English Society and the Church’s hierarchy that fruitfulness seemed out of his reach.  And yet during these seemingly barren years he left us powerful meditations on how to grow from notional into real trust in God’s providence:

“God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another…I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.’’[14]

In his 50’s he was tried for libel, frustrated as Rector of the Catholic University in Ireland, then replaced as editor of an influential Catholic periodical because he was mistrusted by the English bishops.

When accused in the press in 1864 of teaching that “Truth, for its own sake, had never been a virtue with the Roman clergy,”[15] his calling became clear; he wrote the masterful Apologia Pro Vita Sua because “false ideas may be refuted indeed by argument but by true ideas alone are they expelled.”[16]  His ability to communicate the real truths of the faith won a hearing for the Church in a hostile culture and touched hearts hardened to the notion of Roman Catholicism.  Gerard Manley Hopkins, an Oxford undergraduate at the time, read the Apologia as it was published in serial pamphlets; he was received by Newman into the Church on October 21, 1866.


When at last, aged 78, Bl John Henry Newman was affirmed as a Cardinal by Leo XIII, he chose as his motto Cor ad cor loquitur: heart speaks to heart.   He encourages us to let God continue to pierce our hearts, letting the notion of God’s passionate love for our world then unfold us.  When our convictions move from notional to real we will reach out to others, heart to heart.  When he died at age 89, the motto he chose for his memorial stone encourages us to continue our own journeys:  Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem: out of shadows and images into the truth.


San Giorgio in Velabro, Rome (Bl Cardinal Newman’s titular church)


Blessed John Henry Newman, pray for us.


Peggy Gibson



[1] Word on Fire Institute “Principle Four: Rootedness in the Mystical Body”; available from https://wordonfire.institute/; Internet accessed September 21, 2018

[2] National Institute for Newman Studies, 2007 “Newman Reader-Works of John Henry Newman”; available from http://www.newmanreader.org/works/index.html; Internet; accessed September 18, 2018

[3] Meriol Trevor, Newman’s Journey, (London: Harper Collins, Fount Paperbacks, 1996), 32

[4] Matthew 13:31

[5] Newman’s Journey, 100

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid, 101

[8] Franciscan Media, “Saint of the Day for September 24”; available from https://www.franciscanmedia.org/blessed-john-henry-newman/, accessed September 18, 2018

[9] Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, “Catholicism, The Pivotal Players, Volume 1, Blessed John Henry Newman, The Convert” [DVD series] (Des Plaines, Illinois, 2016)

[10] Newman Reader, “The Pillar of the Cloud”; available from http://www.newmanreader.org/works/verses/verse90.html; Internet; accessed September 19, 2018

[11] John Crosby, “The Personalist Spirit of Newman’s Thought” in The Christian Personalism of Blessed John Henry Newman [Youtube Lecture Series] Franciscan University of Steubenville 2011; available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bKfXTA_-HmU&index=2&list=PL5C11C8DDF77AD202&t=0s; Internet; accessed September 18, 2018

[12] Newman Reader, “The Grammar of Assent” Chapter 4, section 2, paragraph 79; available from http://www.newmanreader.org/works/grammar/chapter4-2.html; Internet; accessed September 18, 2018

[13] Newman Reader, “Apologia Pro Vita Sua” Chapter 5, paragraph 242, Internet http://www.newmanreader.org/works/apologia65/chapter5.html, accessed September 18, 2018

[14] Newman Reader, “Meditation on Christian Doctrine” I. Hope in God-Creator, March 7, 1848, paragraph 2; available from http://www.newmanreader.org/works/meditations/meditations9.html; Internet; accessed September 18, 2018

[15] Newman Reader “Apologia correspondence”, paragraph 6; available from http://www.newmanreader.org/works/apologia/correspondence.html; Internet; accessed September 18, 2018

[16] Newman Reader, “Apologia Pro Vita Sua”, Part 2, paragraph 100, available from http://www.newmanreader.org/works/apologia/part2.html; Internet; accessed September 18, 2018

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