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Witnessing the Canonization of John Henry Newman

October 30, 2019

James O’Reilly (’21) reflects on being present at the Canonization Mass of Saint John Henry Newman 

For the students, alumni, and faculty of Christendom College, the canonization of John Henry Newman was a momentous occasion. My classmates and I have learned in history class about the great influence Newman had on the restoration of the liberal arts. By using his strong intellect, loving the Church, and loving Christ, Newman became a true defender of the Catholic faith, and a ‘kindly light’ shining out into the world of the 19th century. On October 13th, Pope Francis, along with many cardinals, bishops, priests, and us, the laymen, in the arms of St Peter’s basilica, adjoined St. John Henry Newman’s name to the halls of Heaven where he is assuredly watching over both the Church and Christendom College.

Dawn was breaking over St. Peter’s Square as I and some fellow classmates entered early for the canonization. Somehow, after an hour of almost being run down by crowds of enthusiastic nuns and pilgrims, a couple of us students managed to race our way to seats only a few rows from the front! For three hours we sat and waited. People from England, Brazil, India, and all over the world, were gathering to witness the canonization of not just St. John Henry Newman, but also St. Giuseppina Vannini, St. Mariam Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan, St. Dulce Lopes Pontes, and St. Marguerite Bays. These were indeed women of great faith and love whose stories are inspiring and definitely worth getting to know. Flags waved and hymns and music played as the Square filled up, a sea of believers gathered, anticipating the joyous occasion. Suddenly over the loudspeaker, the Rosary began and the bustling and noise stopped; a reverent silence overcame the Square as we prayed along in Latin. After the Rosary finished there was a momentary silence. Then the canonization Mass began. Trumpets blared and the hymns started up again as we rose together. An extensive procession of bishops issued forth from the entrance of St. Peter’s followed by Pope Francis.

James, center, along with some fellow “Romers,” await the beginning of the Canonization Mass.

The setting for the Mass was incredible! To the right of the altar sat our Church’s bishops and hundreds of priests, and to the left sat dignitaries from around the world, including Prince Charles of Wales. Behind us were tens of thousands of fellow pilgrims. Above us, perched over St. Peter’s facade and colonnade, stood Christ and a multitude of Saints. Within us resided the joy of the Holy Spirit. Prior to the Liturgy of the Word, we witnessed Francis declare and define Bl. John Henry Newman, along with the others, to be enrolled among the Saints. In his homily, Pope Francis quoted Newman, saying, “The Christian has a deep, silent, hidden peace, which the world sees not. The Christian is cheerful, easy, kind, gentle, courteous, candid, unassuming, has no pretense, with so little that is unusual or striking in his bearing, that he may easily be taken at first sight for an ordinary man.” Francis then exhorted us to ask that we might be as such, and to be “kindly lights amid the circling doom.”

These words bring to mind Newman’s idea of a gentleman. Newman’s notion of a gentleman is expounded in his work, Idea of a University, in which he expressed the true aim and purpose of higher education: to form gentlemen, and today, gentlewomen. I was lucky enough to attend a celebratory symposium at the Angelicum in Rome, which commemorated Newman on the eve of his canonization. During the symposium, Dr. Tracy Rowland, one of the symposium’s speakers, and a member of the International Theological Commission, praised Christendom as one of the few colleges that is still true to Newman’s vision for a university. Dr. Rowland also expressed that although Newman believed in the formation of gentlemen, the formation of the Catholic gentleman was an even greater good to be attained. To paraphrase Dr. Rowland, education is not simply the imparting of knowledge but should also be ordered to forming holy souls. Newman wrote of a twofold first principle: that there are two self-evident beings, God and the self. Newman taught that by way of the liberal arts, a man comes to a deeper understanding of God, and thus, a better understanding of himself. As the liberal arts education continues, so does this reciprocal relationship.

Students show their Christendom spirit before the Canonization Mass.

Christendom and St. John Henry Newman reciprocate in a parallel manner. By attending Christendom, I came to know this great saint. By coming to know Newman more deeply, I have come to a greater knowledge and appreciation of what my Christendom is all about.

All in all, the canonization was an amazing time to be in Rome as a Christendom student. In the arms of St. Peter’s, I was one of the first to pray to St .John Henry Newman as a saint. I prayed for both my journey to knowledge and I also prayed in thanksgiving for the institution that gave me the tools to journey it well. I couldn’t help but feel pride as a student of Christendom as St. John Henry Newman was proclaimed a saint. Surely, Christendom is a fruit of his wisdom and work; a fruit that seeks to nourish a deprived and aching world; a fruit that seeks to be harvested by all; a fruit that seeks not just to restore, but to restore all things in Christ. St. John Henry Newman, kindly light, pray for us!