St John Henry Newman, Vicar of St Mary's 1828-1843

In 2019, John Henry Newman was canonised by Pope Francis in Rome. To mark this event, the Revd Dr William Lamb was invited by our friends at the Oratory to participate in a series of podcasts celebrating Newman's life and thought. Newman became one of the great leaders of the Oxford movement in the nineteenth century before eventually becoming a Roman Catholic in 1845. He was renowned as a preacher, and the focus of this podcast is a quotation from one of Newman's University Sermons, preached at St Mary's, on a passage from Luke's Gospel, 'Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart' (Luke 2.19). 

The full series can be found here.

A Journey into Sainthood: John Henry Newman
cardinal newman

Distilled to its most fundamental elements, a saint is a Christian who is recognized for exercising all of the Christian virtues to a heroic degree, and who is acknowledged as a friend and servant of God. Newman regarded the possibility of being numbered among the canonized saints as an absurd fantasy. In 1847, two years after his conversion to Roman Catholicism, Newman reacted to the assertion that he was already numbered among the saints of the church in this way: ‘I have no tendency to be a saint—it is a sad thing to say. Saints are not literary men, they do not love the classics, they do not write Tales. [Newman had just finished writing a novel] I may be well enough in my way, but it is not the “high line”’.

Yet despite his protestations, John Henry Newman is now numbered among the recognized saints of the Christian church. This exhibition highlights moments along the path of his 90 earthly years, from his childhood formation, intellectual and spiritual growth as an Anglican priest and intellectual, his leadership of the Oxford Movement, and his long latter life as a Roman Catholic and Oratorian. This exhibition explores the journey of one friend and servant of God.

Kenneth L. Parker
Ryan Endowed Chair for Newman Studies
Duquesne University
Journey to Sainthood


John Henry Newman was born in London on 21 February 1801, the son of John Newman, a banker, and Jemima (née Fourdrinier), of Huguenot descent. It was a prosperous upbringing: the Newmans lived in Southampton Street, Holborn, and Newman and his brothers were sent to board at Ealing School, a rising institution with a growing reputation. In 1816, his father’s bank crashed, precipitating ‘a great change of thought’: Newman’s evangelical conversion.

Having been brought up to delight in the Bible, but having ‘no formed religious opinions’, he now devoured Anglican evangelical classics under the tutelage of his teacher, the Reverend Walter Mayers. Joseph Milner’s ecclesiastical history inspired a lasting love of the Church Fathers, while Thomas Scott – ‘to whom (humanly speaking) I almost owe my soul’ – provided him with two lifelong maxims: ‘Holiness rather than peace’ and ‘Growth the only evidence of life’.

From Ealing he went to Trinity College, Oxford. A disappointing examination performance in 1820 and his father’s bankruptcy in 1821 led him to think seriously about his future. He resolved to take Holy Orders and to read for a fellowship. From the mid 1820s, Newman began to move away from his youthful opinions, but he never repudiated this as the ‘beginning of divine faith in me’.

Dr Gareth Atkins
Queens’ College, Cambridge


John Henry Newman was a Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, from 1822 until 1845. The story of Newman at Oriel represented a major dimension of his spiritual pilgrimage and intellectual development. As he himself later recorded, he ever felt the day of his election as Fellow of Oriel on 12 April 1822 ‘to be the turning point of his life, and of all days most memorable. It raised him from obscurity and need to competency and reputation’.

In that era, Oriel was the most academically and intellectually prestigious of all the Oxford colleges. Newman’s intellectual formation among the Oriel Noetics (proponents of free enquiry) engaged in a rational defence of Christianity against the challenge of heterodoxy and unbelief. They also influenced his religious evolution from an early Calvinist Evangelicalism to something resembling a high church theological understanding of Christianity. Oriel furnished him with the tools and weapons which he employed so effectively as inspirer and leader of the Oxford Movement.

Oxford’s and Oriel’s tutorial system lent itself to Newman’s view that as a college tutor, he held a pastoral office. It proved to be the ideal medium for his emphasis on the importance of personal influence and principle of personality in fostering personal holiness as well as academic excellence. It helped mould his conviction that education involved a moral and spiritual grounding as well as mere intellectual attainment.

Dr Peter Nockles
John Rylands Library
University of Manchester


John Henry Newman became Vicar of St. Mary’s in March 1828. The office was at that stage still customarily held by a Fellow of Oriel, it being in the college’s gift as Patron of the living. Newman found himself with so much work on his hands that time for study, not least of the Church Fathers, became scarce. From the University pulpit he nevertheless soon established himself as one of the most compelling preachers in England, although his style and choice of subjects caused controversy in some quarters. In 1833 John Keble preached from the same pulpit his now-famous Assize Sermon on ‘National Apostasy’, which Newman later considered to have been the beginning of the Oxford Movement proper. He agonised about leaving St. Mary’s in the wake of the furore over Tract 90. In the end he resigned in September 1843 and retreated to Littlemore, two years before his reception into the Roman Catholic Church.

Dr Serenhedd James
Oriel College, University of Oxford


The Oxford Movement, also known as ‘The Tractarian Movement’, began at Oxford University in 1833. It intended and effected spiritual, doctrinal, and liturgical renewal in the Church of England by returning to the church fathers and seventeenth century Anglican theologians. In pamphlets and treatises, such as ninety ‘Tracts for the Times’, in sermons, poetry, lectures, translations, hymns, biographies and novels, it relentlessly attacked the university’s, church’s and country’s secularism (religious indifference), liberalism (the view that reason alone cures evil) and Erastianism (final authority in religion belongs to the state). Affirming doctrine and devotion, the Movement promoted the Holy Catholic Church as supernatural and divinely authorized, a visible unity on earth sustained by the grace of the sacraments and the unbroken apostolic succession of bishops.

Its founders, ordained fellows of Oxford’s Oriel College, were noted for their intellectual, moral, and spiritual stature: John Keble (1792-1866), poet of Anglican devotion; Richard Hurrell Froude (1803-1836), zealous apologist for Catholic truths; and Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800-1882), saintly, erudite aristocrat. John Henry Newman (1801-1890) became the acknowledged leader and genius of the Movement. Reaching its zenith in 1838, the Movement, though anti-papal, was increasingly attacked by church and university for resembling Romanism. Nonetheless, it survived Newman’s 1845 conversion to Rome and continued to influence the shape and direction of the Church of England.

Mary Katherine Tillman
Professor Emerita, Program of Liberal Studies
University of Notre Dame, Indiana


On becoming Vicar of the University Church, Newman discovered that its benefice included Littlemore, an impoverished hamlet 3 miles outside Oxford, with no church of its own. He began to walk there regularly, visiting its rural workers and setting up school lessons for children. His mother and sister helped with pastoral care. In 1835 he secured permission and funding for a church.

Built to Newman’s personal design, with ‘Catholic’ features that shocked many Anglicans, Littlemore Church soon became a model for small elegant places of worship throughout the world. Newman told his parishioners to view its architectural symbolism as ‘a holy book, which you may look at and read, and which will suggest to you many good thoughts of God and heaven’.

Newman’s other legacies in Littlemore included tree planting, building a school and securing land for new resident philanthropists. By 1840 he was staying there regularly and began planning a monastic retreat or ‘college’. He moved permanently into ‘The College’, a converted granary and stables, with a group of like-minded theologians in April 1842. It was here that he famously converted to Roman Catholicism in October 1845, two years after resigning his Anglican duties.

Dr Philip Salmon FRHistS
History of Parliament Trust


The early 1840s marked a watershed in Newman’s life. As a fellow at Oriel College and leader of the Tractarians, Newman’s influence among Anglicans was near its apex. Yet controversies surrounding Newman’s work precipitated his estrangement from the Church of England and movement toward Rome. In January of 1841, Newman published Tract 90, which attempted to harmonize the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles with the Decrees of the Council of Trent. Swift denunciations of the Tract from leadership in his own Church came as a shock.

In September 1842, Newman retreated from Oxford to Littlemore, where he stayed for his remaining days as an Anglican. There, his views toward Rome continued to take shape. In February 1843, Newman preached his final University Sermon, ‘The Theory of Developments in Religious Doctrine’, which proposed a vision of Christian teaching that changed and expanded through time. This theory became a pillar of Newman’s thought as a Roman Catholic.

In his final months as an Anglican, Newman composed his famous Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, which offered a rationale for his decision to enter the Roman Catholic Church. The Essay stands as a testimony to this turning point in Newman’s life, illustrating how much ecclesial controversy also represented his personal struggle of faith.

C. Michael Shea
Seton Hall University


While the first half of Newman’s life was dedicated to Oxford University, the second half was devoted to the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri in Birmingham. Newman found in the Oratory a Roman Catholic religious institute that most approximated life in one of the Oxford colleges. The Oratory, in fact, is often referred to as a ‘collegium’. The priests and brothers live in a community which is their ‘home’, (nido in Italian, for ‘nest’), but do so without vows except for that of charity. With ample pastoral responsibility to the lay community they serve, Oratorians also have time for a life of prayer and study.

Newman founded the Birmingham Oratory (1849) and oversaw the formation of a second house in London (1849), under the great influence of his brother Oratorian, Father Frederick William Faber (1814-1863). Newman’s dream for an Oratory in Oxford was finally realized in 1990. For over a century and a half, Newman’s vision of Oratorian life has spread throughout the English-speaking world.

Beyond his extraordinary literary and theological contributions, Newman’s work for the Oratory has provided a true ‘ressourcement’ (re-sourcing) and an ‘aggiornamento’ (updating) to Saint Philip Neri’s sixteenth-century idea of the Oratory.

Fr Drew Morgan
Co-founder, National Institute for Newman Studies
Pittsburgh, PA


In 1847, John Henry Newman met Paul Cullen in Rome, not long after his conversion, and asked the influential Irishman’s help in convincing Roman authorities of the orthodoxy of his theology of doctrinal development. A few years later, Cullen, now Archbishop of Armagh, asked Newman to become the first rector of the new Catholic University of Ireland. As the rector of this new university, Newman wrote the lectures that eventually became The Idea of a University. This collection remains one of the most important texts ever written on the philosophy of higher education, not least because of its classic defence of the liberal arts. The university first opened in late 1854 with a small number of students, and their numbers declined with each passing year. An eminent faculty, intellectual ambition, and the lure of Newman himself could not overcome the lack of a charter and the difficult circumstances in Ireland. Newman first contemplated resignation and then insisted on it, and the institution faded into obscurity after Newman’s final departure in 1858. His time in Ireland was a failure – by his own reckoning – it gave the world a timeless defence of the intellectual and spiritual benefits of a liberal education in the truest meaning of the word.

Dr Colin Barr
School of Divinity
University of Aberdeen


Newman was never a stranger to controversy. The composition of the Apologia pro vita sua was initially sparked by Charles Kingsley’s charge upon Newman’s resignation as the Anglican vicar of St. Mary’s in Oxford, that he had been mendacious about his attraction to Roman Catholicism. According to Kingsley, Newman ‘has no real care for truth. Truth for its own sake is no virtue in his eyes, and he teaches that it need not be. . . . Dr. Newman, for the sake of exalting the magical powers of his Church, has committed himself unconsciously to a statement which strikes at the root of all morality. If he answer, that such is the doctrine of his Church concerning “natural virtues”, as distinguished from “good works performed by God’s grace”, I can only answer, So much the worse for his Church. The sooner it is civilized off the face of the earth, if this be its teaching, the better for mankind’.

Newman responded to Kingsley and other critics by composing and publishing his Apologia, which first appeared as a serial over the course of several weeks. Newman’s Apologia is now counted among the greatest spiritual autobiographies of the Christian faith and in 1864 garnered public support and sympathy, as well as rehabilitated his reputation among many in Great Britain and beyond.

Elizabeth A. Huddleston
National Institute for Newman Studies
Pittsburgh, PA


During the last stages of composing the Grammar, Newman received an invitation to attend Vatican I as a consulting theologian. He declined the invitation for various reasons. He was ‘too old for it’. The attempt to define papal infallibility was also inopportune, especially since no ‘impending danger’ was to be ‘averted’. Instead, ‘a great difficulty’ was to be ‘created’. More importantly, the philosophical issue that preoccupied Newman during this time was whether Christian belief could be considered rational. So, he feared that diving more deeply into the issue of papal infallibility would take him away from ‘the work [the Grammar] which I am now upon, and may never be able to take up the tangled threads of it again’.

The importance of Newman’s philosophical insights in the Grammar have been duly noted both critically and constructively. Some, for example, have said that the Grammar is ‘one of the classics’ on the topic of the philosophy of religion, a ‘seminal work in the philosophy of religion’, one of ‘the most famous of all philosophical approaches to the subject of belief’, a ‘classic contribution to philosophy in general’, and a work that contains ‘much original material of interest on many philosophical topics’.

Professor Frederick D Aquino
Professor of Philosophy and Theology
Graduate School of Theology
Abilene Christian University


In 1874, former Prime Minister William Gladstone questioned whether English Catholics could still be trusted to serve as faithful subjects of the Crown. As Gladstone put it, ‘no one can become her [the Roman Church’s] convert without renouncing his moral and mental freedom, and placing his civil loyalty and duty at the mercy of another’. Newman strongly disagreed. In his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk (1875), Newman explained that Catholic moral theology affirmed the primacy of conscience—that the heart of the moral life is to follow divine authority through the voice of conscience. Newman added that ecclesiastical authority does not overrule conscience, but appeals to it. The pope ‘come[s] to us from the Divine Lawgiver, in order to elicit, protect, and enforce those truths which the Lawgiver has sown in our very nature’. Newman affirmed that English Roman Catholics could serve as trustworthy subjects of the Crown, since the final standard of moral discernment is for them, as it is for all persons, the moral truths given to us by God. Concerning conscience, Newman wrote: ‘Certainly, if I am obliged to bring religion into after-dinner toasts, (which indeed does not seem quite the thing) I shall drink—to the Pope, if you please,—still, to Conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards’.

Ryan Marr
Director, National Institute for Newman Studies
Pittsburgh, PA
Church and State


The motto Newman adopted for his crest when he became a cardinal in 1879 was cor ad cor loquitur, ‘heart speaks unto heart’. Wilfrid Ward, Newman’s first biographer, found in this motto the philosophical and spiritual core of Newman’s thought. It sums up the personal relationship between God and human beings, which is achieved through prayer. The three hearts found on Newman’s crest represent the three relationship between hearts: God speaking to humans, humans speaking to humans, and humans speaking to God. For Newman, this is the way we make our spiritual journey toward becoming a friend and servant of God. Holiness is achieved through this triad of relationships.

Elizabeth A. Huddleston
National Institute for Newman Studies
Pittsburgh, PA