When John Henry Newman converted to the Roman Catholic Church in 1845, it was his only hope that he be able “to minister in a humble way to the Catholic Church.” His days of public influence and national fame were at an end, he thought. What a surprise it would have been to the Newman of 1845 to learn that in 2019 he would be declared a Saint of the Roman Catholic Church, seminars and conferences would be held on his thought, and he would be widely recognized as the most influential Catholic theologian of the 19th century.
On Wednesday, October 30th, the Lumen Christi Institute held “John Henry Newman’s Path to Sainthood” at the Holy Name Cathedral Auditorium. The event provided an overview of Newman’s significance, influence, and sanctity. Kenneth Woodward, journalist and author of Making Saints, hosted a conversation between Melissa Villalobos, the recipient of Newman’s second miracle, and Fr. Ian Ker, the world’s leading scholar of Newman’s thought.
Villalobos narrated in arresting fashion her miraculous healing. While she was pregnant with her fifth child, Villalobos was diagnosed with a subchorionic hematoma that threatened both her and her child’s life. She told the audience of over 150 of her devotion to Newman and his intercession that healed her. “It was a rare opportunity to get to hear from someone who has had a direct intercessory experience,” said Madison Chastain. “It was a privilege to listen to her very vulnerable story and about her devotion to Cardinal Newman.” Villalobos was generous enough to share the story in greater depth than had been reported in public news reports, and the audience was gifted the opportunity to learn about a second intervention by Newman that re-assured Villalobos that she would not suffer any lasting consequences from the hematoma. Julie Conway, another attendee, summarized the event well: “Today we can easily be sidetracked by the darkness and hopelessness that bombard us from all sides. Melissa’s story of the miraculous cure she experienced through the intercession of St. John Henry Newman was filled with light, faith, and inspiration.”
“Today we can easily be sidetracked by the darkness and hopelessness that bombard us from all sides. Melissa’s story of the miraculous cure she experienced through the intercession of St. John Henry Newman was filled with light, faith, and inspiration.”
Fr. Ker provided a scholarly complement to Villalobos. He elaborated on Newman’s personal sanctity and the significance of Newman’s thought to the Church. “Fr. Ker's unparalleled expertise provided a theological context for Melissa's personal story,” said Michael Dinsmore. Fr. Ker was in a unique position because his tireless promotional efforts on behalf of Newman’s canonization were indirectly responsible for both miracles. Both Jack Sullivan (the recipient of the first miracle) and Villalobos had seen a program on EWTN featuring Fr. Ker and began their devotion to Newman afterwards. Lumen Christi has often had the opportunity to lean on Fr. Ker’s expertise and has maintained a relationship with Fr. Ker since his first lecture for the Institute, on “Newman, Vatican II, and the Hermeneutic of Continuity,” in 2012.
For the past seven years, Fr. Ker has led a Lumen Christi summer seminar at Oxford for graduate students on the thought of John Henry Newman. The seminar provides an opportunity for graduate students from a variety of disciplines and universities to study the thought of the Church’s newest saint. “I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunity to study at such a beautiful and historic campus. My colleagues brought a wealth of insight from their respective disciplines, and this helped me understand the different facets not only of Newman's thought but of the Catholic intellectual tradition as a whole,” one participant from 2015 said. The seminar has even helped to refine or expand graduate students’ academic work. One participant who is writing a dissertation on Newman at a German university appreciated the seminar as a “great opportunity for me to learn more about the catholic intellectual tradition in the 19th century, especially since you cannot find anything like [it] in German academia.” By organizing these seminars, the Lumen Christi Institute contributes to the Catholic formation of elite graduate students and prepares them to teach classes on Catholic topics when they are hired by a (more than likely) public or secular university.
Other events were held to celebrate Newman’s legacy. On October 31st, Fr. Ker spoke at the University of Chicago on the topic, “Newman’s Apologetics of the Imagination.” And on October 18th, the Lumen Christi Institute held, “The Making of a Modern Saint: John Henry Newman on Faith and Education in a Secular Age.” This conference was the first official event of the Newman Forum, Lumen Christi’s new program to introduce high school students to the Catholic Intellectual tradition. Insofar as Newman himself considered that, “from first to last, education … has been my line,” the Lumen Christi Institute is honored to continue that tradition in its outreach to undergraduates, graduate students, and now to high school students as well.