The influential Oxford Movement had begun, and soon Edward B. Pusey, a Hebrew scholar, as well as other younger and deeply committed men joined itsranks. Dean Church, Edward Manning, and other important Anglicans would later partake in the movement. Almost from the start, it met resistance from the “high-and- dry” high Anglican establishment as well as from the Low Church Anglicans of the Calvinist cast. Various developments in ecclesiastical life made the claims of the movement more pressing and controversial. The breaking point came with Newman’s publication ofTract 90 in which. for the sake of keeping men from going over to Rome, he argued that the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Anglican Church were compatible with Catholic teaching. In fact, many Anglicans regarded themselves as within the larger Catholic body. Newman’s enemies denounced the tract to a bishop, and one bishop after another added his condemnation. This was a painful time for Newman, who regarded himself Anglican in all respects and who only sought the doctrinal and spiritual strengthening of the Church.
His days as an Anglican were, however, numbered; he felt in conscience that he must cease his duties as a clergyman. He moved permanently to the village of Littlemore, just outside Oxford, where he spent some years praying and studying with men younger than he who sought out his company. Gradually they individually came to the moral conviction that they should be received into the Roman Catholic Church. On the evening of October 8, 1845, Newman began his confession before Italian Passionist Fr. Dominic Barberi, a visiting missionary, who was overcome with emotion upon seeing the distinguished Newman coming to him for this purpose. On the morrow, Newman and a few of his companions recited the Creed and were admitted into communion with the Church of Rome.
It had been a long and arduous process of discernment, with careful examination of claims and intentions, until the final, irrevocable decision. Newman was forty-four years old, an established writer, a tutor at Oxford, and an Anglican clergyman. He was venturing on faith, as he had said in an earlier sermon. He had taken a momentous step because he felt that, given the lights that he had received, he — not others — must take this step to save his soul. He had reached a safe port after a difficult journey and would live another forty-five years as a Roman Catholic priest and cardinal. Although he would suffer a great deal as a Catholic due to misunderstandings by Anglicans and Catholics alike, he never regretted his decision.
Thus, Newman became Catholic after many years of prayer and study of Christian doctrine and history. During the immediate four years before his reception, he labored over the notion of a true and false development in Christian doctrine: to ascertain whether in reality the Roman Catholic Church was a corruption or a true development from early Christianity. The result of his study was an important book,An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, which in fact remained incomplete when he put his pen down as an Anglican on the first week of October 1845.
After a short period as a Roman Catholic, at the suggestion of Bishop Nicholas Wiseman, Apostolic Vicar to the Midland District of England, Newman and a few fellow converts traveled to Rome where they studied for ordination to the priesthood at the College of Propaganda Fidei. On Trinity Sunday, May 29, 1847, Newman and Ambrose St. John were ordained, and, shortly afterward, they returned to England to begin, as was their desire and the wish of Pope Pius IX, the English Oratory of St. Philip Neri. The Oratorywas established in Birmingham and had under its care a parish that served poor Irish immigrants. Shortly after its establishment, Frederick William Faber, a young convert and talented writer, prevailed on Newman to join him with a group of converts. Almost immediately, Faber’s excessive zeal to bring about conversions to the Catholic faith and preference for Italian expressions of piety created difficulties at Birmingham, and Newman was obliged to open the Brompton Oratory in London for Faber and some of his followers.
Faber became a close friend of Wiseman, who was named Archbishop of Westminster, the Catholic diocese of London. Moved by different ideas about the purpose of the Oratory, and out of jealousy, Faber raised suspicions concerning Newman in the mind of Wiseman, who blocked a number of important projects that Newman wished to pursue. One of these was a new English translation of the Bible entrusted to him by the First English Synod of Bishops following the restoration of the English hierarchy.
After the death of Wiseman and Faber, two other influential men — Edward Manning, Wiseman’s successor, and Msgr. James Talbot, his agent in Rome — caused comparable suffering to Newman in Rome. The latter made him suspicious in the eyes of Propaganda Fidei, and they blocked Newman’s desire to open an oratory at Oxford. In fact, toward the end of Newman’s life, they almost succeeded in blocking his reception of the cardinalate granted him by Leo XIII.
One of Newman’s greatest achievements was the formulation of fundamental ideas about the nature of a university education and the actual establishment of the Catholic University of Ireland in 1854. Although the university did not continue for a variety of reasons mostly out of Newman’s control, its founding gave him the occasion to compose his masterfulIdea of a University which, together with hisSketches on University Education and various discourses to schools at the university, as well as the day-in and day-out running of the university, has provided a lasting contribution to Catholic liberal arts education.
As a Roman Catholic, Newman wrote many memorable works. The one that most rapidly gained respect for him, both from Catholics and Anglicans, was hisApologia pro vita sua, an intellectual biography of the development of his religious beliefs. After the apparent earlier failure and many contradictions in Dublin, the success of theApologia gave Newman new impetus in his writings and dealings with others. Another one of Newman’s major intellectual contributions wasGrammar of Assent, the result of more than twenty years of considering the subject of the act of faith and the certitude reached by the believer.
Permanently back in Birmingham after resigning as rector from the Catholic University of Dublin, he resumed his pastoral work and supervision of the Oratory. A few years later he engaged in one last educational work: the establishment of a Catholic Eton: a boarding school with the prestige of English public schools like Eton, and with the Catholic ethos and sacramental life. To the end of his long life he would devote his efforts to the formation of students and the many faceted difficulties of the administration of a school.
In 1877, Newman was elected the first honorary fellow at Trinity College, Oxford. When he visited for the first time after his departure in 1844, he was kindly welcomed. Then in 1879, after returning from Rome with the cardinal’s hat, he was honored by many throughout England. He was a champion returning from receiving a great prize —a tribute to him and to the English people.
Newman was an old and wise man: humble, gentle, and kind. He prayed, offered the Sacrifice of the Mass, and served his community as much as he could even as his strength withered away year by year. His last years were peaceful; he maintained his intellectual sharpness, but his body could notrespond to the usual demands of life and he suffered prolonged colds. In the end, his correspondence — by then dictated to his faithful secretary Fr. William Neville — diminished considerably both in number and length. He had run the race and completed his work on earth. After a relatively short respiratory infection, he died on the morning of August 11, 1890, to be mourned immediately by all his countrymen. His remains were buried on the grounds of Rednal, the Oratory country house in Edgbaston just outside Birmingham.3
During his life, Newman was recognized for his intellectual brilliancy and literary composition. He was also admired for his charity and piety. Today, after having been declaredbeatus(blessed) by Pope Benedict XVI on September 20, 2010, he is venerated by Catholics.