Orthodontist hopes event spreads his love for Blessed John Henry Newman

| Sam Patet | September 20, 2018 | 0 Comments
Ron Snyder of Our Lady of Grace in Edina poses with a bust of Cardinal John Henry Newman

Ron Snyder of Our Lady of Grace in Edina poses with a bust of Cardinal John Henry Newman from the University of St. Thomas’ Center for Catholic Studies. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Ron Snyder knows not many Catholics have heard of Blessed John Henry Newman.

But he’s hoping to change that. The 60-year-old orthodontist is organizing an event in October that will celebrate the 19th-century British convert’s life and enduring legacy.

Blessed Newman has been “very inspiring to me,” Snyder said, noting that Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles has referred to him as “the greatest Catholic mind since Thomas Aquinas.”

Snyder, a parishioner of Our Lady of Grace in Edina, was introduced to Blessed Newman in 2007 when he began pursuing a master’s degree in Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. An orthodontist by day who desired to deepen his faith, Snyder took evening classes over six years to complete the degree.

His first class was taught by Don Briel, the founder and longtime director of the Center for Catholic Studies and a Newman expert. Briel died in February of leukemia.

As part of Briel’s class, Snyder read several pieces by Blessed Newman.

“He’s compelling to read,” Snyder said. “His Catholic theology is so rich, and it’s all deeply grounded in Scripture.”

Born in 1801, Blessed Newman was an Anglican priest who converted to Catholicism at age 44. A theologian of the highest caliber, he penned dozens of works that are still influential today, including his autobiographical “Apologia Pro Vita Sua” and “The Idea of a University.”

By the time he graduated in 2013, Snyder had taken two more courses on Blessed Newman and written his master’s thesis on him.

But this wasn’t enough. Snyder knew he had only begun to plumb the depths of Blessed Newman’s thought. And he realized the engaging discussions he enjoyed with classmates and professors would soon come to an end.

So as graduation approached, he invited some classmates to join him for a discussion group on Blessed Newman’s writings. They met at Sweeney’s Saloon in St. Paul — a decision that led Snyder to dub the group “Newman on Tap.”

They quickly realized, though, that the bar’s boisterous atmosphere wasn’t ideal for the intellectual, faith-filled discussions they were having. So they began meeting at Snyder’s house in Apple Valley.

Five years later, they’re still meeting there. Between six and 12 people participate each month, Snyder said, although he’s amassed an email list of about 70 persons who have attended at some point.

Each gathering includes a discussion of a piece by Blessed Newman — typically one of the hundreds of sermons he wrote — and plenty of time for fellowship. While Snyder isn’t able to provide an on-tap selection of beverages, he makes up for it with homemade pizzas.

“It’s incredible,” Snyder said, reflecting on the group’s longevity. “It’s the energy of these kids. They love it.”

The “kids” are the other attendees — young adults in their 20s and 30s. Snyder knows he’s the oldest in the group by a couple decades.

But he doesn’t mind, and neither do the other participants.

Among them is 30-year-old Justin Shay, a middle school religion teacher at Transfiguration Catholic School in Oakdale. Also a 2013 alumnus of the Catholic Studies master’s program, he was one of the original students Snyder invited to participate.

“He’s kind of like a fatherly figure to all of us,” Shay said about Snyder. “To see the way that his faith has shaped his whole life, and then how Newman has played a part in that, I think is very rich for our group.”

Like Snyder, Shay appreciates Blessed Newman’s intellectual rigor and effortless deployment of the English language. But what always strikes him is Blessed Newman’s relentless focus on holiness.

“There are months that I get finished reading the sermon and I think, ‘I need to go to confession,’” Shay said. “That’s what a good sermon should do.”

Emily Meuer, 22, couldn’t agree more. A software developer who attends the Church of St. Paul in Ham Lake, Meuer started attending Newman on Tap this summer.

“He really calls people on to sanctity,” Meuer said about Blessed Newman. “He’s not just calling people on to strictness and to a joyless existence, but he really understands virtue.”

Synder’s hoping an upcoming session of Newman on Tap will inspire more people to learn about his heavenly hero. On Oct. 9 — Blessed Newman’s feast day — Newman on Tap will feature Mass with Archbishop Bernard Hebda and a presentation on Newman by David Deavel, an assistant professor of Catholic Studies.

The event is 6:30 p.m. at the University Club of St. Paul, 420 Summit Avenue. There’s no cost to attend, but space is limited and reservations are required. “It will hopefully be a large gathering, so more people can be introduced to the great wisdom and insight that he has to offer,” Shay said.

For more information about Newman on Tap, contact Ron Snyder at rsnyder@snydersmiles.com. For reservations for the Oct. 9 event, visit eventbrite.com and search “Newman on Tap.”

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