Soon-to-be-saint Cardinal Newman already a patron of many archdiocesan Catholics

| October 7, 2019 | 0 Comments

Friend. Guide. Inspiration.

These are some of the ways Catholics in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis describe Cardinal John Henry Newman, the 19th century English Catholic convert, priest and theologian.

Cardinal John Henry Newman

Cardinal John Henry Newman Kevin M. Gearns

On Oct. 13, they can add another word to the list.


For those who’ve been influenced by Cardinal Newman’s faith and teaching, his canonization at a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in Rome will be a powerful affirmation of the man’s holiness — and of his importance to the Church and the world today.

“We’ve all long believed in his sanctity, so it will be beautiful to see it recognized by the universal Church, thus making him an even more powerful intercessor,” said Father Byron Hagan, parochial vicar at Holy Cross in Northeast Minneapolis.

Patron of converts

Perhaps no set of Twin Cities Catholics has a greater devotion to Cardinal Newman than those who’ve joined him as adult converts to the Catholic faith. Through his arguments for Catholicism but also his own personal witness to pursuing the truth at great personal cost, they say that Cardinal Newman played a pivotal role in leading them home to the Catholic Church.

“He kept popping up,” said David Deavel, a professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, describing his own encounter with Cardinal Newman while studying abroad as a Protestant at Oxford University. In the English college town where the soon-to-be-saint had been a scholar and Anglican priest, Cardinal Newman’s presence lingered. As Deavel prayed about becoming Catholic, Cardinal Newman’s influence on him grew, especially through reading “Apologia pro vita sua,” the Englishman’s account of his own conversion from Protestantism to Catholicism, which cost him friendships, social standing, and his academic career.

“Though the details were different, Newman had been addressing all of my questions in far greater depth than I could have imagined,” said Deavel, who now teaches courses on Cardinal Newman in UST’s Catholic Studies department and is active in the Newman Association of America and on the editorial board of the Newman Studies Journal.

The details of Cardinal Newman’s life resonate with Colin Miller of Assumption in St. Paul. Like Cardinal Newman, Miller had been an ordained minister in the Anglican Communion prior to his own reception into the Catholic Church in 2016. It was while serving as an Episcopal priest in Durham, N.C., that Miller followed a similar path as Cardinal Newman, questioning claims that Anglicanism was simply one “branch” of the Catholic Church, a valid alternative to Rome.

Reading Cardinal Newman and secondary sources on the convert and discussing his questions with others helped Miller take the next step. He recalls a conversation about becoming Catholic with a good friend when, “in the midst of our usual hemming and hawing,” his friend said, “‘we’ve just got to do it.’”

“And so we did,” said Miller. He’s now a married layman and the director of pastoral care and outreach at Assumption, while his friend is a Catholic priest of the Anglican Ordinariate, a canonical structure within the Church that allows for Anglicans to come into full communion with Rome. Miller, who has named one of his three children John Henry after Cardinal Newman, says he continues to rely on the soon-to-be-saint’s guidance by reading a few pages of him every day and asking for his intercession.

Encountering Cardinal Newman through his written work played a powerful role in Father Hagan’s conversion as well. Raised as the son of a minister in the Evangelical-Pentecostal movements, he began having his own questions about the origin of the Christian faith and what “form” of Christianity today had grown up from those roots. When he realized he needed to start reading Catholic sources directly, he met Cardinal Newman.

“What he did was to put a historical, philosophical, and spiritual flesh on my intuition,” said Father Hagan, who cited Cardinal Newman’s “Development of Doctrine” as an especially important text. “He made me certain.”

Continuous inspiration

While Cardinal Newman was certainly a great Catholic apologist, he was equally passionate about the art of education. The one-time university rector is the author of one of the most cited texts regarding Catholic higher education, “The Idea of a University.”

Today his legacy plays out prominently at Sitzmann Hall, the home of the Center for Catholic Studies on the University of St. Thomas’s St. Paul campus. Founded 25 years ago by the late Don Briel, a prominent Cardinal Newman scholar, Catholic Studies is based on Cardinal Newman’s vision of higher education as an inter-disciplinary formation of the mind, rooted in a faith community of teachers and learners.

“That understanding permeates our program and continually refreshes it,” said Deveal. “It’s why we have a chapel and organize Catholic Studies houses off campus and dorm floors on campus. And it’s why we bring in top-notch scholars who take Christ seriously.”

Though Briel has passed on, Cardinal Newman continues to inspire students who are introduced to him through Catholic Studies.

Ron Snyder, a member of Our Lady of Grace in Edina, focused on Cardinal Newman during his time as a 50-something graduate student in the Catholic Studies master’s program. After Snyder graduated in 2013, he started “Newman on Tap,” a monthly reading group that focuses on Cardinal Newman’s Parochial and Plain sermons. Snyder says the deeply Scriptural and intensely personal nature of the sermons have led him into a closer relationship with Christ, and they’ve attracted others as well.

“What I appreciate most about Newman is the way that he challenges his readers to live virtuously, yet does so from a place of love and union with Christ and his cross,” said Emily Meuer, a recent college graduate who’s been attending Newman on Tap since summer 2018.

Cardinal Newman’s influence plays out beyond his thoughts and writings. Father Hagan said Cardinal Newman’s witness of love of God as a “total commitment” helped inspire his priestly vocation.

Now, he’s one of five archdiocesan priests desiring to imitate Cardinal Newman’s priestly life by establishing and living as an Oratory of St. Phillip Neri in Northeast Minneapolis. Father Spencer Howe, the pastor of Holy Cross, says the communal form of priestly living will hopefully allow those involved to serve the local Church in “a missionary and familial key.” The priests pray constantly for Cardinal Newman’s intercession.

“His picture is in our chapel and our dining room,” said Father Howe of Cardinal Newman, who he first encountered in 2008 as a college seminarian studying with Briel. “His prayer cards are in my breviary; his books are on my shelf; his name is often on my lips.”

Celebrating canonization

The priests aspiring to start an Oratory are making a pilgrimage to Rome for the canonization of Cardinal Newman, who is considered the “second founder” of the Oratory and helped establish it in England. But they won’t be the only Minnesotans present when their patron becomes a saint.

Catholic Studies associate director Jessica Zittlow knows of at least 15 alumni who will be there, a number not including seminarians studying in Rome. One couple plans on visiting important Cardinal Newman sites in England before making their way to St. Peter’s Basilica for the canonization Mass.

On Wednesday, Oct. 9, which is the date of Cardinal Newman’s feast day, Zittlow and Deavel hosted a Catholic Studies alumni event in Rome, including Mass, a visit to the Catholic Studies Rome campus, and dinner out on the town.

Back in Minnesota, a special Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Oct. 13 at the University of Minnesota St. Lawrence Catholic Church & Newman Center, one of many Catholic study centers around the country named for the saint. Archbishop Bernard Hebda, whose episcopal motto, “Only Jesus,” comes from a prayer composed by Cardinal Newman, will preside.

“We see this as an important moment to highlight Newman the man and now saint, and also to help raise awareness of his charism, writings, and influence, and how they align with sharing the abundant love of Christ,” said Father Jake Anderson, pastor at the Newman Center.

Other devotees of Blessed Newman, who will become the first English saint who lived after the 17th century, plan to celebrate his big day in a more simple way.

“I’ll probably pray a novena leading up to it and drink some English breakfast tea on the day of,” Meurer said.

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