John Henry Newman Part II – The Priest

I shall start this overview of Newman’s priestly life with a word about the position of Roman Catholics in England during the 19th century. For generations, Catholics were prohibited from entering either the legal or medical profession, and were barred from all offices of state. Entrance to either Oxford or Cambridge was not an option for Catholics,  and it is often forgotten that Catholics were not allowed to vote until 1829. Pope Pius lX restored the English hierarchy in 1850, after a lapse of three centuries. When Archbishop Wiseman (later Cardinal), the new primate, returned from Rome, he was burned in effigy in many places, and his carriage pelted with dung on the streets of Southwark. We were, toward the end of this century, held in contempt and distrust by the majority. Even the Lord Chancellor of the Realm publicly referred to Catholicism as ‘mummeries of superstition’.

For The Reverend Mr. John Henry Newman – a writer and academic of great style and clarity, and a preacher of great power within the Anglican church, perhaps even the most influential Anglican minister in England – to become a Roman Catholic was unthinkable to many people. But, as we know, this is exactly what he did.

Once Newman had decided to become a Catholic, he resigned his Fellowship at Oriel College – a position that, as a Catholic, he would be prohibited from holding. We have already looked at his reception into the Church (by Blessed Dominic Barberi), and in following this path he joined some of his previous adherants who had already converted. In February 1846, he and some of his followers went to the old Oscott College, and lived under the direction of Bishop Wiseman. It was at Wiseman’s urging that Newman decided to become a priest, and left for Rome to study for the Sacred Priesthood later that year. In 1847 Newman was ordained to the priesthood and was awarded the D.D. degree by Pope Pius lX. On Christmas eve that year, Fr. Newman returned to England.

Following his return, Fr. Newman  served as an Oratorian at Maryvale; St. Wilfred’s College Cheadle; St. Mary’s, Birmingham; and Edgebaston. On February 2nd 1848 he founded the Congregation of the Oratory, a branch of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, at Edgebaston, Birmingham. When the English hierarchy was restored by Pius lX, there was an immediate and widespread anti-papal backlash. Fr. Newman attempted to counter the ‘no-popery’ campaign by writing letters to a number of newspapers under the pen-name ‘Catholicus’ with limited success. His published ‘Lectures on the Present Position of Roman Catholics’ (1851) was slightly better received. In 1852 he was successfully sued for libel by a former Dominican priest Giacinto Achilli whom he had accused of various immoral acts! His woes were far from over, as in 1858, he was asked to resign his editorship of ‘The Rambler’ after an essay ‘On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine’ was censured by Rome, where it was thought to be a statement against papal infallibility. It was also thought that Fr. Newman would be made a Bishop, but although he was publicly congratulated, the appointment was never made.

Back in Birmingham Fr. Newman continued to preach and write. His Sunday evening sermons and series of lectures drew great crowds, and many were converted to Catholicism. Although he was always a scholar, his pastoral duties were far from neglected. During the Cholera epidemic in Bilston, which claimed the lives of 700 people in two months, Fr. Newman and his Oratorians could be found caring and ministering to the sick and the dying. At the Birmingham Oratory today, Newman’s confessional stole can be still be seen – and it is very well worn!

It is said that Fr. Newman was always filled with a quiet unyielding trust in Divine Providence, but he was seldom without troubles and disappointments. Over the years he retreated from public life, though he was called upon to defend himself against wild stories that circulated, that he was considering a return to the Anglican church. It was a more serious accusation that brought him back into the limelight. In a book review, the Rev. Charles Kingsley, an Anglican minister, accused the Catholic clergy of dishonesty, and Newman specifically of having commended dishonesty among the clergy. Newman received only more insults. So he embarked on a mission to clear his name and that of his fellow priests. He wrote a defence of his life ‘Apologia pro Vita Sua’, which is now considerd perhaps the greatest spiritual autobiography since St. Augustine’s Confessions. The whole country had been awaiting Newman’s reply, which he very cleverly serialised in newspapers across the country over a period of seven weeks. They had a mesmerising effect.

From this point Newman’s reputation and stature grew steadily. Other works, particularly defending the Church’s Marian devotions, and Papal infallibility, gave him an international reputation as a powerful defender of the faith. It is said that rarely has there been an intellectual convert of the past 100 years who can’t give some of the credit to John Henry Newman!

On May 12th, 1879, Pope Leo Xlll made Newman a Cardinal. All England is said to have celebrated this honour, for Newman more than any other had changed England’s view of both Catholics and their faith; Never again would they be called intellectually inferior or morally depraved just because they were Catholics.

Cardinal Newman died on August 11th 1890, having said his last Mass on the Christmas eve of 1889. Between 15,000 and 20,000 people lined the streets as his body was borne to Rednal, some eight miles away, for a peaceful burial.

The Cork Examiner affirmed ‘Cardinal Newman goes to his grave with the singular honour of being by all creeds and classes acknowledged as the just man made perfect’.

Previous post of this series: John Henry Newman Part I: The Man

About Gertrude

Sáncte Míchael Archángele, defénde nos in proélio, cóntra nequítiam et insídias diáboli ésto præsídium.
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48 Responses to John Henry Newman Part II – The Priest

  1. johnhenrycn says:

    For those interested in a great biography of this very great man, I would recommend the two volume ( Pillar of the Cloud and Light in Winter, Doubleday, New York, 1962/63) triumph by Miss Meriol Trevor (St Hugh’s, Oxford).

    As Gertrude says, the Apologia was first published in serialised form; but the first (1864) bound edition by Longman’s holds pride of place on my bookshelf (and in my chequebook).


  2. johnhenrycn says:

    May I also suggest Newman’s Parochial and Plain Sermons published by Ignatius Press –

    …the official (English language) publishers of Pope Benedict’s encyclicals?


  3. omvendt says:

    Allow me to weigh in with ‘Discourses Addressed to Mixed Congregations’. (Roman Catholic Books, Harrison, New York).

    Masterly, invigorating sermons!


  4. teresa says:

    Johnhenry, LOL, look at your portrait under the “like” button!


  5. blondepidge says:

    Sorry if I’ve missed the previous entries, but wondering whether a part 3, Newman the poet and his influence on the literature of the day (I’m thinking of Hopkins in particular) might be in the offing?


  6. johnhenrycn says:

    Newman the poet:

    So true, Blondepidge. Certainly, I am not qualified to post such a thread ( Christopher Howse? Ha! As if he’d ever stoop to conquer); but I bring to everyone’s attention Newman’s Verses on Various Occasions, Longman’s, London, 1903 and this, too:


  7. Gertrude says:

    Blondepidge – yes, there will be a Part 3, but it will look at John Henry Newman – the Saint. I agree – there is much that can be said about this outstanding and holy man, but I have tried to look at it in the light of the forthcoming Papal visit.There is no reason why either you or John Henry may not produce a post on the literary output together with a critique, and submit to our Editors for consideration!


  8. kathleen says:

    Thank you for this excellent summary of Cardinal JH Newman’s life as a priest Gertrude.

    One thing struck me especially – something not unknown to anyone – and I have been musing over it. It was the way the Venerable Newman had nothing but problems, worries and criticism for the rest of his life ever since he decided to embrace the Catholic Church. Being a sensitive man he must have suffered greatly. He bore all this with incredible fortitude and resilience in the true way saints do, probably attributing all these heavy crosses (like St. John Vianney and St. Padre Pio) to attacks from the devil, never wavering from his faithfulness to his mission. Although we shall never know in what measure God allowed the devil to tempt Newman to despair in the depths of his soul, it is comforting for us to know that God never allows us to be tempted beyond our strength to resist.

    I would even go so far as to suggest that when unjust criticism, problems and suffering bombard us from all sides, perhaps it means we are doing something right? That’s when the devil moves in to try to divert us from the steep and narrow path.


  9. Gertrude says:

    Thankyou Kathleen. Cardinal Newman obviously had times of desolation, as did many great and holy saints. I particularly like the following little prayer of the Cardinal, which to me, really says it all:

    “My God, I confess that you can enlighten my darkness. I confess that you alone can. I wish my darkness to be enlightened. I do not know whether you will; but that you can and that I wish, are sufficient reasons for me to ask. I hereby promise that by your grace which I am asking, I will embrace whatever I at length feel certain is the truth. And by your grace I will guard against all self-deceit which may lead me to take what nature would have, rather than what reason approves”.

    I consider that in that prayer, speaks a man who has known great darkness, and his words can comfort us during the times when we too feel ‘darkness’ descending.


  10. toadspittle says:

    “In 1852 he was successfully sued for libel by a former Dominican priest Giacinto Achilli whom he had accused of various immoral acts! ”

    As an old tabloid hack (and in common with many other readers here, I bet,) I demand to know a lot more about this!

    Don’t keep us waiting! Damian’s blog will be transfixed!

    This is the stuff that sells tickets!


  11. toadspittle says:

    “Even the Lord Chancellor of the Realm publicly referred to Catholicism as ‘mummeries of superstition’.”

    Shocking. As if Catholics believed in devils and demons, and wine becoming blood and such like!
    The silly old Lord Chancellor! God rot him! No doubt (here we go again) he is roasting in Hell right now. And serves him jolly well right!


  12. toadspittle says:

    Having made my usual mild observations on Newman, I will say that some of his thoughts on life in this vale of tears are extraordinarily perceptive.
    I will read a good biog on him.


  13. Gertrude says:

    O.K. Toad, since the propensity for scandal always seems to take precedence over the propensity for holiness, I will very briefly say just this.

    Giancinto Achilli was an apostate priest, who had been in Birmingham lecturing against ‘Popery’. At that time, given anti-catholic feeling in the realm, people flocked (as I suppose they might now – or read it in the tabloids) to hear him.
    Newman criticised him in one of his lectures ‘The Position of Catholics’, and this was the basis of the libel charge brought against Fr. Newman. I expect you will be able to find the more salacious parts, but I will not go into them here. By todays standards I would not think that they would even be mildly libelous – but then I am not a lawyer.


  14. Gertrude says:

    I must also comment on your remark regarding “As if Catholics believed…..”
    You should know better dear Toad than to make such a comment about the Eucharist, that I and many like me hold Sacred. I will therefore accept your apology as read.


  15. blondepidge says:

    Hypothetically speaking, if one were to write about Newman’s literary output to whom would one send said post?

    Alternatively, for those of a literary persuasion, may I suggest Ian Kerr’s excellent book, ‘The Catholic Revival in English Literature 1845 – 1961’.


  16. toadspittle says:


    If I upset you, I am sorry.It was not my intention. I dislike upsetting people unintentionally.
    Best to do it intentionally.

    I’m never sure, any more, what is considered offensive and what is not. The best thing would be for me to provide a list of things which seem ‘difficult to believe’ to me and have someone go through them line by line.
    But it would also be excruciatingly boring for us both.

    So, it’s best I just blunder on until I ‘go too far,’ – which is where I like to be.


  17. teresa says:

    Naughty Toad, you have overheard our conversation behind the curtain!


  18. Gertrude says:

    There will shortly be a ‘Contact Us’ form on the ‘About this Blog’ page. Any contribution (hypothetically of course) can be discussed with our Editors through this form.


  19. Gertrude says:

    Dear Toad, thankyou for those comments. People must be free to comment here, but we would ask that on matters of Catholicism, and especially the Sacraments, respect is given. This after all, is a Catholic blog, and the Authors are both traditional, and orthodox, and take great pains to produce posts that both honour God and our Faith.


  20. toadspittle says:

    “I expect you will be able to find the more salacious parts, but I will not go into them here. “ says Gertrude, a trifle coyly, I think…

    Well, I will do my best Gertrude, but a little expert guidance from your good self would not go amiss.
    I know little of these matters, you see.


  21. (X)MCCLXIII says:

    You sound like a gentleman toad. Or at least, an aspiring one.


  22. The Raven says:


    The best any chap can aspire to be is a “gentleman”.


  23. Frere Rabit says:

    There you are, Teresa: things are looking up for Catholicism Pure & Simple.

    I knew you would have the old crew joining you as soon as ‘Alfred Haddock’ alerted them all to the gossip that the norty rood rabit had gone! Now you have (X)MCCLXIII and JohnHenry and very soon you’ll get plenty more I’m sure. Welcome chaps, and enjoy! We put a lot of work into creating this, and now as you see, it is up and running very much alive, and the rumours designed to undermine the project on DT’s blog have done nothing to damage CP&S. Long may it succeed.


  24. toadspittle says:


    Would you mind awfully if I called you (X)MCCLXII, for short?


  25. teresa says:

    Dear Rabit, don’t fall into her trap. Johnhenry has expressed his appreciation for you, and you know we all enjoyed reading your articles.

    I do hope all of us good Christians will make peace with each other, and that will anger those who are hostile to the Church.


  26. teresa says:

    P.S. Johnhenry wrote once that your articles and photographies are excellent, should you have missed this posting by him.


  27. kathleen says:

    We’re still hoping you will come home Frere Rabit. We all miss you.


  28. toadspittle says:

    Has it struck anyone else, that Newman’s life would make a splendid film?
    The pity is, that the ideal casting for our hero would have been Jimmy Durante, who has now, like the great man himself, Gone To His Reward.


  29. golden chersonnese says:

    Yes, Toad, I had thought of that, but it would have to have Russell Crowe in it, wouldn’t it?

    Somehow I suddenly now feel it might not be such a good idea after all.


  30. golden chersonnese says:

    Sorry if you already have this, but this is a link to some articles by Father Ian Ker, an Oxford authority on Cardinal Newman. It also says some things about Vatican II and “the Spirit of Vatican II” bores which I think he must have stolen from me. 🙂

    “. . . our ageing 60s liberals are beginning to look increasingly like poor Castro and his fellow revolutionaries in Cuba where the young aren’t interested in a revolution they never knew, but want to go to Miami and buy jeans.”


  31. toadspittle says:

    golden chersonnese

    You are, of course, absolutely right about ‘Little Russell,’ as Dame Edna memorably called the Demi-god.
    Naturally, he would have to wear a false nose of imposing dimensions, but this would bestow on him the dignity that he currently sadly lacks.


  32. johnhenrycn says:

    Proboscis. I knew that. Really.


  33. toadspittle says:


    You are so clever to put all those wonderful things on the blog. I can’t even get the spelling right half time time. But I see I am not alone in this.


    “A nose is a nose is a nose,”

    As Edith Stein was wont to say.


  34. johnhenrycn says:

    Tomorrow is the 120th anniversary of Cardinal Newman’s death.


  35. golden chersonnese says:

    Little Russell as Cardinal Newman? Oh deary me. he was bad enough as that other chap with the brilliant mind. Should stick to being a gladiator.

    Thanks for pointing that out, johnhenry. I shall read him tomorrow and have a bit of a pray.


  36. golden chersonnese says:

    johnhenry, it’s already tomorrow hhere I am, so:

    O Lord, how wonderful in depth and height,
    But most in man, how wonderful Thou art!
    With what a love, what soft persuasive might
    Victorious o’er the stubborn fleshly heart,
    Thy tale complete of saints Thou dost provide,
    To fill the thrones which angels lost through pride!

    He lay a grovelling babe upon the ground,
    Polluted in the blood of his first sire,
    With his whole essence shatter’d and unsound,
    And coil’d around his heart a demon dire,
    Which was not of his nature, but had skill
    To bind and form his op’ning mind to ill. {337}

    Then was I sent from heaven to set right
    The balance in his soul of truth and sin,
    And I have waged a long relentless fight,
    Resolved that death-environ’d spirit to win,
    Which from its fallen state, when all was lost,
    Had been repurchased at so dread a cost.

    Oh, what a shifting parti-colour’d scene
    Of hope and fear, of triumph and dismay,
    Of recklessness and penitence, has been
    The history of that dreary, life-long fray!
    And oh, the grace to nerve him and to lead,
    How patient, prompt, and lavish at his need!

    O man, strange composite of heaven and earth!
    Majesty dwarf’d to baseness! fragrant flower
    Running to poisonous seed! and seeming worth
    Cloking corruption! weakness mastering power!
    Who never art so near to crime and shame,
    As when thou hast achieved some deed of name;—

    How should ethereal natures comprehend
    A thing made up of spirit and of clay,
    Were we not task’d to nurse it and to tend, {338}
    Link’d one to one throughout its mortal day?
    More than the Seraph in his height of place,
    The Angel-guardian knows and loves the ran-
    som’d race.

    (“Dream of Gerontius”, John Henry Newman)


  37. golden chersonnese says:

    “where” not “hhere”, of course


  38. toadspittle says:

    Ms (or Mrs.?) Golden Chersonnese:

    Jolly nice rhyme. Teeny weeny bit like Tennyson on speed.
    Rather too sensational, too many ‘dog’s cocks,’ (tabloid journalese for exclamation marks) for my pedestrian taste, but I did awfully enjoy the bit about ‘the grovelling babe polluted in the blood.’

    Fair made my hair curl!
    Take that, T.S.Eliot!


  39. golden chersonnese says:

    Toad, you have to remember that it was written for Elgar (the English Wagner?) and his b flats and a sharps, although not really!!!!!!


  40. golden chersonnese says:

    The bit that gets me:

    O Lord, how wonderful in depth and height,
    But most in man, how wonderful Thou art!
    With what a love, what soft persuasive might
    Victorious o’er the stubborn fleshly heart,

    Like the “soft persuasive might” bit.

    In my meagre life, so true.


  41. golden chersonnese says:

    On re-reading the original post by Gertrude, I just want to say how well written it was.

    Thank you again, Gertrude.


  42. toadspittle says:

    No good trying to blame it on Elgar, Mrs/ Ms/ Golden Chersonnese, I suggest. Like trying to blame Hitler on Wagner..


  43. Gertrude says:

    When I was at the Birmingham Oratory recently, the Provost showed us a facsimile of the score for The Dream of Gerontius with comments written by Elgar. It was apparantly reproduced for the Fathers of the Oratory by a music publisher who was horrified that the Fathers had been showing the original (which is now securely kept there) to almost all and sundry! The original had been presented to the Oratory by Elgar.


  44. johnhenrycn says:

    Considering the time, I thought it would be okay to go off the reservation and share with you a quintessentially Canadian ballad to enjoy over your morning teas and coffees 🙂


  45. johnhenrycn says:


  46. Gertrude says:

    Thank you for that JohnHenry – a little license with Newman’s words, and the setting a bit N.O. for me, but I would imagine it would be very well received in a less Orthodox setting than the Oratory! Lead Kindly Light (the traditional version) is often sung at Holy Mass in my parish – and is much loved.


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