Click 'accept cookies' below to remove this message

Previous Page


Produced by publishers of The Popular Village Monthly



Ministry Matters

(Pause For Thought)



August 19th 1890 and 15,000 people line the streets of Birmingham for the funeral of a famous friend to the poor. Cardinal John Henry Newman , theologian, poet, hymn writer, and clerical man of the people, has died at the age of 89.

Last month, 129 years later, tens of thousands again throng together, this time in St Peter’s Square in Rome for a two-hour Mass to hear Cardinal Newman venerated by Pope Francis as a Saint ... the first English person to be Canonised since the 17th century.

With the passage of time, Cardinal Newman’s legacy (he is now Saint John Henry Newman) is seen as building a bridge between the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches, forwarding the cause of ecumenism.

It is symbolic that the British delegation at the ceremony in Rome was led by the Prince of Wales on behalf of The Queen, the head of the Church of England. Bishops, Cardinals, priests, civic dignitaries from Birmingham, parliamentarians, the heads of university colleges, and representatives of other faiths were all present. Days later, the Archbishop of Canterbury preached at a special solemn vespers in Westminster Catholic Cathedral.

How different from the reaction Newman sparked during his own lifetime through his spiritual journey from Anglican priest to Cardinal of the Roman Church.

He shocked Victorian England when he was received into the Catholic Church in 1845 at the age of 44, a decision which demanded great personal sacrifice; the loss of his job , friends and family links. At the time, the Catholic Church in England and Wales was only starting to emerge from the restrictions placed on it by the British crown following the reformation.

After entering the Church, he went on to found the Birmingham Oratory, a society of priests and its school, and was later appointed the first rector of University College, Dublin. Through his writing and poetry he was a strong voice for understanding between faiths and became a force for a change. He was also known for his work with poor communities. By the time of his death, 45 years after his conversion, his teachings and writings were seen to have reshaped public opinion so that the Catholic Church in England was far greater integrated in our national life.

The move towards Canonisation goes back a long way. An article published in The Times after Cardinal Newman’s death in 1890 stated: “Whether Rome canonised him or not, he will be canonised in the thoughts of pious people of many creeds in England.” He was declared ‘Venerable’ by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1991 - the first

stage in the Canonisation process. Later on 3 July 2009, Pope Benedict XVI recognised the healing of Deacon Jack Sullivan in 2001 as a miracle, resulting from the intercession of John Henry Newman. This decision paved the way for Newman's beatification on 19 September 2010, which announced him “Blessed” during the Pope’s visit to Cofton Park near Birmingham.

Newman’s final elevation to Sainthood was made possible by a second attributed miracle, consisting in the medically inexplicable healing of a pregnant woman with life-threatening complications due to her pregnancy. The cure took place in Chicago, USA, in May 2013. After an initial investigation carried out by the archdiocese of Chicago, it was submitted to the Holy See in 2018, and approved by Pope Francis on 13 February 2019.

Fitting given his legacy of ecumenism that a short prayer by Newman remains a favourite part of evensong in the Church of England: 

Cardinal John Henry Newman
Cardinal John Henry Newman
May the Lord support us all the day long,

Till the shades lengthen and the evening comes,

and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over,

and our work is done.

Then in his mercy may he give us a safe lodging,

and holy rest, and peace at the last.

Steve Torrington
Next Page