John Henry Cardinal Newman’s Catholic legacyBy Jack P. Calareso and Rev. Michael C. McFarland
SEP. 16, 2010 (www.telegram.com
) - It is safe to say that the writings of Newman had a significant impact on Catholic higher education in America.
On Sept. 19, John Henry Cardinal Newman will be beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in Birmingham, England. Beatification is the third of four steps leading to canonization in the Catholic Church. But for those of us in Catholic higher education, Cardinal Newman already holds the highest place of honor. In so many ways, Newman is responsible for the growth and development of the Catholic educational system. His writings and work in the mid-1800s still serve as the foundation for Catholic colleges and universities throughout the world.
Newman’s journey to his writing of the seminal work “The Idea of the University” was long and circuitous. Born in London, he was ordained into the Anglican Church and became a leader of the Oxford Movement. His earliest writings and sermons focused on his concerns for the intellectual growth and moral development of students. Because his writings were supportive of Catholic doctrine and perceived as a threat to Anglican teachings, he was removed from Anglican ministry. In the subsequent years, he drew closer to Catholic theology and practice and was ordained a Catholic priest at age 45.
In the early 1850s, Newman was asked to establish the first Catholic University in Dublin and was appointed its founding rector. It was during these years that “The Idea of the University” was written, based on his lectures and discourses. The Catholic University in Dublin was founded with 38 students and 23 faculty members, 21 of whom were laymen and 11 of whom were converts to Catholicism.
It is safe to say that the writings of Newman had a significant impact on Catholic higher education in America. Today, there are nearly 250 Catholic colleges and universities in America, heavily influenced by the Jesuits, the Sisters of St. Anne, and many other religious orders. Whether founded prior to the Catholic University in Dublin and the publication of “The Idea of the University” or not, all are strongly influenced by the vision and philosophy of John Henry Cardinal Newman.
Newman’s approach to education was comprehensive and inclusive. He envisioned four-year colleges, and two-year master’s degree and doctoral/research institutions. He believed that education should be holistic, covering a range of disciplines balanced by values and an understanding of faith. The college of Newman’s vision included academic preparation, laboratory experiences, libraries, research opportunities, campus ministry, religious studies and recreational activities. What Newman envisioned and what we experience on most Catholic college campuses is liberal education dedicated to the formation of the whole person.
The most evident influences of Newman on today’s Catholic colleges begin with academics. Newman believed that the undergraduate degree should center on liberal education and include both theology and philosophy. He promoted the necessary balance between faith and reason. He believed that colleges should not focus on a single program or discipline, but rather provide quality education in the liberal arts, the sciences, the social sciences, and the arts.
For Newman, campus ministry was a central component of a college educational experience. He argued that the college was responsible for developing moral behavior, spiritual growth, opportunities to practice faith and respect religious freedom and diversity, and preparation for a life of service. It is no accident that even on public college campuses, the Catholic campus ministry building is often called the Newman Center (the first one was initiated at the University of Pennsylvania in 1893).
Newman believed that Catholic colleges should be centers of research and publication. He rejected a static view of knowledge that was suspicious of new ideas and discoveries and that asserted that the proper function of education was simply to pass on traditional knowledge. Rather, he saw our understanding of ourselves, our world, and even our God as constantly deepening and expanding through scholarship, exploration and debate. In his essay, “On the Development of Christian Doctrine,” he wrote, “In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” Newman’s life and writing provide a powerful witness to the need for lifelong learning, for openness to change, and the willingness to grow.
Newman was also adamant that Catholic colleges provide access to those with limited resources, special needs, first-generation college students and immigrants. Newman believed that Catholic education would and should provide an experience focused on the whole person that would form lives and transform the world.
The Worcester region is privileged to have so many great colleges and universities, and is fortunate to be the home of three Catholic colleges — Anna Maria, Assumption and Holy Cross. These institutions provide thousands of students with a value-centered education and enrich the community through unlimited programs and services. While each of these colleges celebrates a unique history and identity, we all share the vision of John Henry Cardinal Newman. And as he is beatified in a few days, we too are truly blessed.Jack P. Calareso is president of Anna Maria College, and the Rev. Michael C. McFarland, SJ, is president of The College of the Holy Cross.