Wednesday, January 5, 2011


The men pictured here both lived in the 19th century, both were members of the hierarchy, both passionately were interested in Catholic education, and both are “raised to the altar.” But they are not the same person, even though there is often enough confusion about them.

Today’s Memorial is of St John Neumann, an immigrant from Bohemia who became a Redemptorist priest and ultimately the bishop of Philadelphia. He was dedicated to building a Catholic school system suited especially to children of immigrant families. He was beatified in 1963 and canonized in 1977, both by Pope Paul VI.

Bl John Henry (Cardinal) Newman, formerly a tutor at Oriel College, Oxford and effectively the “campus minister” for the University, lived all his life in England. His efforts in conjunction with the beginnings of a Catholic university in Ireland led to the publication of one of his most famous books, The Idea of a University. Pope Benedict XVI beatified him this past September 2010. We are waiting for official acceptance of a 2nd miracle which would allow him to be formally canonized.

One peculiar difference between these two men is the state of their remains. Bp Neumann’s body is preserved in glass under an altar in the lower crypt of St Peter’s church in Philadelphia (see the picture above); when Cardinal Newman’s grave was opened preparatory to the beatification, virtually no remains were found inside it.

But their legacy of support for Catholic education survives, both in England and in the United States. Though they are not the same man, they shared the same vision of the importance of an educated laity for fostering the work and growth of the Church.

Though the excerpt below is from the good Cardinal and not the saintly bishop, let it be a word on the value of education in the Faith (what these days is most often referred to as ‘apologetics,’ but which perhaps more correctly should be named ‘fundamental theology’):

…I think that incalculable benefits may ensue to the Catholic cause, greater almost than that which even singularly gifted theologians or controversialists could effect, if a body of [lay] men in your station of life shall be found in the great towns of Ireland, not disputatious, contentious, loquacious, presumptuous…but gravely and solidly educated in Catholic knowledge, intelligent, acute, versed in their religion, sensitive of its beauty and majesty, alive to the arguments in its behalf, and aware both of its difficulties and of the mode of treating them. …my own reason for rejoicing in the establishment of your classes is the same as that which led me to take part in the establishment of the University itself, viz., the wish, by increasing the intellectual force of Ireland, to strengthen the defenses, in a day of great danger, of the Christian religion. (The Idea of a University)

So whether it is Newman or Neumann, cardinal or bishop, blessed or sainted, I say thank you both for your vision of the importance of learning!

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