On Saturday, October 13, Pope Francis canonized our patron, John Henry Newman. He was a 19th century British theologian, philosopher, and cardinal. Half our parish’s name comes from John Henry Newman, hence Newman Hall.
In the late 1800s, a group of Catholic students attending the University of California at Berkeley sought to fulfill their lives with more than academia offered. They realized a desire to establish a society that would be for the social, intellectual and religious benefit of its members. In 1898, this group met three times to organize a club, but there were disagreements and the project was temporarily abandoned. On December 8th, 1899, Newman Club was established. The club was named after the English Cardinal John Henry Newman, who had achieved great prominence in the Catholic life of the 19th century.
The founders of the club were motivated, in the words of an early history of Newman, “to organize a society which would be for the social, intellectual and spiritual benefit of its members and representative of the Catholic Church.” The new club held regular meetings, stimulating discussions and debates, elected officers, and began to grow in significance. The major event of the year was an annual celebration of communion followed by a breakfast.
In 1907, Archbishop Riordan appointed the first Paulist to be the full-time resident chaplain to the students at the university. Fr. Thomas Verner Moore became the first of many Paulists who would serve at Newman from that day until the present.
Newman became the patron of many campus ministries across the United States as Newman Centers were established at many public universities as an organization. In the spirit of Cardinal Newman who believed college students needed to space to explore, encourage, and engage one another in their Catholic faith, Newman Centers became that space.
Cardinal Newman is the perfect patron for Newman Hall-Holy Spirit Parish because he is an inspiration for students and for those allies who help us at Newman Hall minister to students at Cal and beyond. In a culture that tends to look down on faith or to separate faith and reason, he is an inspiration with his respect for the combination of faith and reason together and how it led him to initially find a home in the Anglican church and later the Roman Catholic Church. He models for students who are moving from the inherited faith of their parents, the conversion process necessary to deepen faith and make it one’s own.
Key to making his conversion to the Catholic faith was his insight into the development of doctrine. It is the combination of reason applied to reveal truth that helps us gain new insights that were not obvious at first. What was seen as Roman excess with her dogmatic teachings, Newman saw as authentic development while holding onto the truth. He wrote, “In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” So he believed “… the Catholic dogmas are, after all, but symbols of a Divine Fact.” As symbols, dogma help to reveal the truths that underlie them.” However Newman balanced dogma with the freedom of theology less one drift to dogmatic fundamentalism and intolerance. In today’s terms in our divisive church, he shows us how to walk the middle road between progressive and traditionalist, less we become too rigid and judgmental or too arrogant and unrestrained.
His motto as cardinal was “Heart speaks to heart - cor ad cor loquitur.” He believed there was a directness in the personal relationship with can have with God through prayer. For him, God has an abiding presence with God acting in particular and personal ways. Our task is to be aware of God’s abiding presence. And then our response would be a life in fidelity and obedience to the demands of the gospel, in particular witnessing the love and truth of God with others. And so Newman Centers are not just intellectual enclaves, but about actively going into the university world sharing the gospel.
For all his brilliance and his elevation as cardinal and now saint, Newman’s life was far from easy. It was one of continuous crosses - rejection from his friends and others for betraying the Anglican faith, opposition from others in his endeavors to set up a Catholic college, to work on an English translation of the Bible, to edit the Catholic periodical, the Rambler, etc., misunderstandings on his theological writings, death of his younger sister and his own illnesses. Despite it all, he remained faithful to uncovering the truth and to serving God in the Church. So as students face setbacks after setbacks in their search for intellectual truths during their academic years, Newman is a true role model of fidelity, perseverance, and trust.
St. John Henry Newman, pray for us.