9 Ways John Henry Newman Is a Model for Today’s Students
National Catholic Register, 11 October 2019
The soon-to-be saint relentlessly sought the Truth, and he had the courage to follow where it led.
John Henry Newman was a gifted scholar and theologian, professor, preacher, poet, musician, author, servant of the poor, controversialist, university founder, priest and, eventually, cardinal. Above all, he was an indefatigable seeker of truth and had indomitable courage to follow where it led. For those reasons, university chaplaincies throughout Canada and the United States have been named after him; indeed, in some places, inquirers simply ask where the “Newman Center” is when they are looking for the chaplaincy.
Those chaplaincies will now have a blessing exceedingly rare in Church history: witnessing their patron be canonized. The usual practice in Catholic life is to name apostolates after already-existing saints. So luminous was Newman’s example that he earned the patronages first and the official veneration afterward.
What does Newman have to offer students on campus today, aside from his heavenly intercession? I have spent my entire priesthood at Newman House at Queen’s University, and I would suggest nine ways in which Newman, who will be canonized with four others Oct. 13 at the Vatican, is a model for students today.
John Henry Newman was a model student.
No student will possess the natural brilliance of Newman; he was one of the most gifted intellects in the entire history of Christianity. But he complemented his intellect with diligent study, knowing that intellectual gifts are just that, and the proper manifestation of gratitude is to study hard. It has never been easy to study hard, but today’s students face more digital distractions, which are hard to avoid. They need models of diligent study.
Along with Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, Newman is the great contemporary exemplar of the harmony of faith and reason.
On the 200th anniversary of Newman’s birth in 2001, St. John Paul II presented Newman as an image of the “two wings” with which he opened his 1998 encyclical, Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason). Newman’s confidence in reason as an ally of faith was evident in two ways. First, the essential role of reason in faith — what we call theology. Newman was rigorous in laying out a reasonable faith and turned to other disciplines, notably history, in order to understand Revelation better.
Second, Newman insisted on proper knowledge of other disciplines with their own proper autonomy; his vision of a university was not of a theological academy.
“In his Irish University he set up not only a school of arts and sciences, but also schools of medicine and engineering,” wrote Cardinal Avery Dulles, another famous convert theologian. “He made provision for a chemical laboratory and an astronomical observatory. All these elements, in his view, had a rightful place in the university as a place of universal learning. But the very multiplicity of disciplines increased the necessity of a principle of order, governing the whole, so that the student would be able to perceive the significance of each particular branch of knowledge in relation to the rest.” Students who wonder what their secular studies (reason) have to do with their knowledge of God (faith) have in Newman their great model and teacher.
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