CARDINAL Newman, who is beatified yesterday by Pope Benedict XVI, scandalised Victorian England when he converted from the Church of England to Catholicism, drawing condemnation from many parts of British society.
The 19th-century clergyman was a famous Anglican preacher and a prominent thinker who had spent years as a fellow of Oriel College Oxford and vicar of the University Church when he became a Roman Catholic in 1845.
The decision to convert was highly controversial at the time as theRoman Catholic Church had onlyrecently been liberated from penal laws and was few in numbers andeducational opportunities.
His move to Rome was seen as the next step in his journey as a leading light in the Anglo-Catholic Oxford Movement, which sought to revive elements of Catholic theology and ritual in the Church of England.
Cardinal Newman was ordained as a Catholic priest in Rome in 1847. He later founded the Birmingham Oratory, a Catholic university in Dublin and a Catholic school in Birmingham in 1859. He was made a Cardinal in 1879.
During his life, Cardinal Newman was acclaimed as an intellectual, poet, and public speaker and writer, in particular for his work on the development of Christian doctrine, the role of the conscience and the pursuit of truth.
His works include the hymn Lead Kindly Light and the Dream of Gerontius, later set to music by Elgar.
Born in 1801, the eldest of six children to a banker father and mother of Huguenot descent, Newman attended a school in Ealing, west London.
His happy childhood was said to have come to an abrupt end in 1816 when the financial collapse after the Napoleonic Wars forced his father’s bank to close. Cardinal Newman started at Trinity College, Oxford, when only 16 years old.
After he had become a Catholic, Cardinal Newman moved to Birmingham in 1849, where he spent 30 years as a parish priest looking after the poor and the sick.
When he died in 1890, the streets in Birmingham were lined by tens of thousands of people.
It was not until 1991 that Pope John Paul II declared Cardinal Newman to be “venerable”.
The way was cleared for Cardinal Newman to be beatified last year when the Vatican approved the cure of a US deacon, Jack Sullivan, from an agonising spinal disorder as a miracle.
Beatification takes him one step closer to becoming England’s first non-martyred saint before the Reformation. A second miracle is required for Cardinal Newman to be canonised, or become a saint.
In advance of the Vatican announcement, Cardinal Newman’s remains were exhumed in 2008 to allow for their public veneration. All that was discovered was a brass plate with his name and date of death, the brass handles of his coffin, a brass replica of his cardinal’s hat and a wooden crucifix inlaid in silver. The Catholic Church said his body had decomposed along with the coffin in the damp soil.
The Church was forced to defend Cardinal Newman against charges that he was gay – after it became widely known that he had been buried in accordance with his strict instructions, in the same grave as his great friend, Father Ambrose St John.
Father Ian Ker, a world authority on Cardinal Newman, said Fr St John was the “equivalent of a brother” to the Cardinal.
“In an age that has almost lost the concept of affectionate friendship untouched by sexual attraction, such speculation was no doubt inevitable,” he said.
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