Newman and St Beuno's

Published on 25 Nov 2019
John Henry Newman reading

by Alan Harrison SJ and Tim McEvoy

Last month on 13 October 2019, St John Henry Newman was canonised by Pope Francis: the first new British saint in over forty years and, incidentally, the fifth saint to have originated in the City of London (after Thomas Becket, Thomas More, Edmund Campion and Polydore Plasden).

Newman’s life spanned much of the nineteenth century and he was famous in his day as an English theologian, poet, priest and as a controversial Catholic convert from Anglicanism at the age of 44. 

A leading figure thereafter amongst the British Catholic community, Newman exerted an enormous influence on the young life of Gerard Manley Hopkins – whom he persuaded to enter the Jesuits – and he was also held in great affection by the Jesuit community of then St Beuno’s College, the Jesuit theologate in North Wales.

Newman would have been very familiar with the St Beuno’s of his day, staying there several times on his way to Dublin where he was instrumental in establishing the Catholic University of Ireland, later to become University College Dublin, in 1854.

From present-day St Beuno’s, Alan Harrison SJ has managed to uncover a little-known correspondence which we share here with you: a letter addressed to Newman from the community of St Beuno’s on the day that it was announced, very unexpectedly, that he was to be made Cardinal by Pope Leo XIII; and Newman’s moving reply, dated the very next day.

From the Jesuit Community, St Beuno’s College, North Wales:

‘Feb. 21, 1879.

Dear Father Newman,

The good news that reached us yesterday, that the Holy Father has laid at your Reverence’s feet the highest honours of the Church, has caused us so much pleasure that we cannot refrain from sending you a few lines to express our heartfelt joy at the welcome announcement. It is by a happy coincidence that we are able at the same time to convey to you our sincere congratulations on the occasion of your 78th birthday. We rejoice to hear that, at the evening of a long life devoted to the service of God and His Church, the exalted dignity of the Church’s princedom has been offered for your acceptance; we rejoice still more when we look back on the seventy years and more which are today completed, and think of all that you have done and suffered for the cause of Truth.

Your Reverence is not unaware of the deep affection and high esteem in which you are held among us. We are all of us in some way or other indebted to you. Some of us are bound to you by the strong ties of personal gratitude. The best return we can make to you is the prayers we shall tomorrow send up in your behalf to the throne of God. Those of us who have the opportunity of doing so hope to offer for you the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar, and we shall all pray God that He may crown the years which still remain to you with the joy of one who has fought the good fight and earned the reward of peace and victory, and that in the Church Triumphant you may wear the crown which is laid up for the Princes of the Kingdom of Heaven.

We recommend ourselves to your Reverence’s Prayers and Holy Sacrifices, and we remain,

Dear Father Newman,

Yours affectionately in Jesus Christ,

Thomas Rigby, S.J.; Victor Frinz, S.J.; Bernard Tepe, S.J.; Paul Rochford, S.J.; Wm. Syrett, S.J.; John Morris, S.J.; Francis Clough, S.J.; Jerome Janin, S.J.; Michael Gavin, S.J.; Bernard Vaughan, S.J.; Thomas P. Brown, S.J.; Peter J. Chandlery, S.J.; Richard Clarke, S.J.; John Rickaby, S.J.; Wm. A. Sutton, S.J.; Wilfrid Mordaunt, S.J.; William Shapter, S.J.; Thomas A. Finlay, S.J.; William J. Burns, S.J.; William Hilton, S.J.; Joseph Kenny, S.J.; Parker Joseph Lander, S.J.; Philip J. Brady, S.J.; Joseph Winkebried, S.J.; Patrick Anderson, S.J.; Frederick O’Hare, S.J.; Daniel Quigan, S.J.; Edward Williams, S.J.; Henry S. Hepburne, S.J.; Joseph H. Jerrard, S.J.; Peter M’Laughlin, S.J.; Wm. Philip Edgcome, S.J.; John P. A. Collins, S.J.; John S. Conmer, S.J.; John Charnock, S.J.; Edward Sidgreaves, S.J.; Henri Laventure, S.J.; Henry Parker, S.J.; George Postlewhite, S.J.; Thos. A. Barker, S.J.; Patk. Keating, S.J.; Charles Wilcock, S.J.; John Sardi, S.J.’

Newman's reply to the Jesuit Community at St Beuno’s:

‘The Oratory, Birmingham, Feb. 22, 1879.

My dear Very Rev. and Rev. Fathers and Brothers,

I am too deeply moved, or rather too much overcome, by your letter to me of yesterday, my birthday, to be able to answer it properly. For such an answer I ought to be more collected than I can be just now.

If I were not writing to Religious Men it would be affectation in me and want of taste, to say, what is the real truth, that at the moment I cannot address to you the thanks due to you for your most loving words, for I am full of the thought of the goodness of God who has led you to send them: Misericordias Domini in aeturnum cantabo.

Do you in your charity, my dear friends, pray for me that I, an old man, may not fail Him who has never failed me; that I may not by my wilfulness and ingratitude lose His Divine presence, His Sovereign protection, His love, and that, having been carried on by His undeserved mercy almost to the brink of eternity, I may be carried on safely into it.

Your humble and affectionate servant in Christ,

J. H. Newman.’