Five reasons John Henry Newman is a saint for our times

When people today hear that John Henry Newman is being named a saint, the first question that likely comes to mind is: What can I take away from the example of a 19th-century priest and intellectual?

Not only did he live in a very different time, but his day-to-day existence was quite different from what most of us experience.

We should be careful, though, about being too quick to dismiss his example.

Newman, like all of the saints, is perennially relevant because holiness never goes out of style.

In light of his feast and in celebration of his canonization, here are five ways Newman remains relevant to the world today:

  1. He prioritized the education of the lay faithful

    Throughout his life, Newman had a real concern for education.

    He thought it was particularly important that the lay faithful—not just clergy—have a strong understanding of the reasons the church taught what it did. Newman promoted various educational efforts, and this legacy has been preserved through his being named the patron saint of Catholic campus ministries at public universities.

    Thus, thousands, perhaps even millions of U.S. Catholics have experienced the formative years of their intellectual and spiritual development at Newman Centers on college campuses. When adult Catholics think about when they made a personal commitment to their faith—something beyond simply making their parents happy—their mind very likely turns to Newman.

  2. He fostered community

    The generation of Americans who are coming of age now highly value community.

    Newman recognized that in the Christian faith, we need the support of others—not only to steer us away from erroneous ideas about God but also to sustain us through the difficult moments that inevitably come our way.

    He was celibate, but this does not mean that he was devoid of love. He developed several close friendships, and in his voluminous collection of letters (now digitally archived in the NINS Digital Collections), we can see just how significant these relationships were in his spiritual journey.

    For young Catholics, the communal life that Newman fostered is a shining example of the kind of shared witness that is sorely needed in our world today.

  3. He stood up for the truth

    Newman wrote extensively about conscience—its role in our coming to know God as well as the moral imperative of listening to the promptings of conscience.

    As applied to his life, he firmly believed that he was bound in conscience to adhere to the truth regardless of the personal costs.

    For instance, when Newman, ordained an Anglican priest in 1825, became convinced that the Roman Catholic Church was founded by Christ as the ark of salvation, he felt compelled to enter that communion, even though this decision cost him close friendships and meant giving up his fellowship at Oxford. Continue reading

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