Canonization of John Henry Newman

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Statue outside the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, popularly known as Brompton Oratory, in London

The Blessed John Henry Newman, CO (21 February 1801 – 11 August 1890) was a Roman Catholic theologian and cardinal who converted to Roman Catholicism from Anglicanism in October 1845. In early life, he was a major figure in the Oxford Movement to bring the Church of England back to its Catholic roots. Eventually his studies in history persuaded him to become a Roman Catholic.

Canonization would make Cardinal Newman the first English person who has lived since the 17th century officially recognised as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. In 1991, Cardinal Newman was proclaimed "Venerable" by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints – the first stage in the canonization process. He was beatified on 19 September 2010 at an open air mass in Birmingham.[1]

The canonization process[edit]

The road to beatification[edit]

A file on Newman’s beatification was first opened in 1958.

In 1991, Newman was proclaimed Venerable after a thorough examination of his life and work by the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints. One miracle attributed to Newman's intercession was required to have occurred and been fully investigated and approved by the Vatican before he could be beatified. A second miracle would then be necessary for his canonization.

In October 2005, Fr Paul Chavasse, provost of the Birmingham Oratory, who is the postulator responsible for the cause, announced that a miraculous cure had occurred.[2]

Jack Sullivan,[3] a deacon from Marshfield, Massachusetts in the United States, attributed his recovery from a spinal cord disorder to Cardinal Newman.[4] The claimed miracle occurred in the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Boston, whose responsibility it was to determine its validity. In August 2006, the Archbishop of Boston, Sean O'Malley announced he was passing details to the Vatican.[5]

On 24 April 2008, the press secretary to the Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory reported that the medical consultants at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints had met that day and voted unanimously that Sullivan's recovery defied any scientific or medical explanation. The question of the genuineness of the alleged miracle then went to the panel of theological consultors,[6] who unanimously agreed to recognize the miracle a year later on 24 April 2009.[7] The panel's vote, presumably having been verified by the prelate members of the Congregation, allowed Pope Benedict XVI to beatify Newman at a date of his choosing following a meeting with the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (then Archbishop Angelo Amato) to formally approve the Congregation's voting process.

On 3 July 2009, Pope Benedict XVI recognised the healing of Deacon Jack Sullivan in 2001 as a miracle, resulting from the intercession of the Venerable Servant of God, John Henry Newman. This decision paved the way for Cardinal Newman’s beatification, which occurred on 19 September 2010.[8]

Although it had been originally announced that Newman would be beatified at an open air mass at Coventry Airport,[9] the venue was later switched to Cofton Park in Longbridge.[1] Thus it was during the first Papal state visit to the UK that Pope Benedict XVI himself performed the beatification on 19 September 2010.[10]

Steps towards canonization[edit]

A second miracle needs to be confirmed before Newman can be canonized as a saint. The Vatican's Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints is expected to consider the case of a 17-year-old New Hampshire resident, who fully recovered from severe head injuries suffered in a car accident after invoking Cardinal Newman.[4]

Fr Chavasse expanded on his remarks at the Michaelmas 2006 dinner of the Oxford University Newman Society (held in November), suggesting that Benedict XVI has shown a personal interest in Newman's cause.[4]

Vatican Radio announced that on 3 July 2009, Pope Benedict authorized Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect for the Vatican's Congregation of the Causes of Saints, to promulgate decrees on the progress of several would-be Catholic saints, including Newman. This included a recognition of the validity of Newman's miracle in Boston, effectively declaring his beatification imminent.[11]

Movement of remains[edit]

In 2008, the Vatican decided to enact plans to move Newman's remains from The Lickey Hills, near Rednal, Worcestershire where he was buried, to the Oratory in Birmingham city centre in anticipation of his being declared a saint. The move required prior permission from the Ministry of Justice; in preparation the area was enclosed by steel fencing incorporating The Oratory country house, a mortuary chapel and a small graveyard which contained his shared grave (with Ambrose St. John).

The planned exhumation and move of Cardinal Newman's remains were finally agreed by the UK authorities as a special case, as UK law prohibits the removal of a body from a graveyard to a church tomb. Licence was finally granted on 11 August 2008, the 118th anniversary of Newman's death in 1890, to permit the move by undertakers.

Newman's grave at Rednal was opened on 2 October 2008.[12] It had been hoped that his body had been buried in a lead coffin and would be well preserved. However, the exhumation revealed that Newman had been buried in a wooden coffin and his body had completely decomposed; there were no human remains. The only artefacts retrieved, including an inscription plate, were wooden, brass and cloth.[13] These artefacts, along with locks of hair, which had been sent to Sullivan before his inexplicable cure (and had always been in the possession of the Birmingham Oratory), were placed in a glass sided casket for a Vigil of Reception. The relics were then solemnly placed in the Chapel of St Charles Borromeo situated to the right of the Sanctuary. They will rest in the Chapel while the process of Beatification continues in Rome. The Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory have decided that the specially made green Italian marble sarcophagus will not be placed between the columns opposite the Holy Souls' Altar in the Oratory Church, Birmingham as originally planned.[14]


The proposed movement of Newman's body angered some gay rights campaigners, who saw it as an attempt to deliberately separate him from his close companion Ambrose St John, with whom he was buried in accordance with his personal wishes. In their view, this was to deliberately downplay the intense nature of the relationship between the two men, who had been companions for 30 years.[15] Peter Tatchell entered the debate in an article in The Times on 19 August 2008, accusing the Vatican of "moral vandalism",[16] and renewed his criticisms on the Sunday programme on BBC Radio 4 on 24 August 2008.

In response, the Vatican commissioned Father Ian Ker, a theologian at Oxford University, to rebut the allegations in an article for the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.[17]

Tatchell went on to criticise the Home Office of collusion with the Vatican. According to his interpretation of heavily censored documents released to him under the Freedom of Information Act, Tatchell claimed that the Catholic Church had "put the government under sustained pressure" to obtain the authorisation to exhume the body.[18]

Nevertheless, Ker and Fr. Paul Chavasse, current provost of the Birmingham Oratory, maintain that Newman would have been glad to submit to the wishes of the Vatican in whatever they asked, no matter his previous wishes[19] – Newman had stated "I wish, with all my heart, to be buried in Fr Ambrose St John's grave — and I give this as my last, my imperative will", he wrote, later adding: "This I confirm and insist on."[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Pope's Coventry visit moved to Birmingham". BBC News Online. 24 June 2010. Retrieved 16 July 2010. 
  2. ^ "Catholic News". Retrieved 19 September 2015. 
  3. ^ "BBC NEWS – UK – England – West Midlands – 'Miracle' hope for new sainthood". Retrieved 19 September 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c Morgan, Christopher. "Victorian cleric put on path to sainthood." The Sunday Times. 20 April 2008.
  5. ^ "The Sunday Times". Retrieved 19 September 2015. 
  6. ^ "Historic mass for Cardinal Newman". BBC News. 2 November 2008. Retrieved 28 April 2010. 
  7. ^ Caldwell, Simon (2009-04-24). "Cardinal John Newman poised for beatification after ruling". The Telegraph. London. 
  8. ^ Sweeney, Charlene; Gledhill, Ruth (2 February 2010). "Pope to Meet Queen on Visit to Scotland". The Times. London. Retrieved 28 April 2010. 
  9. ^ "Mass to be held at Coventry Airport by Pope Benedict". BBC News Online. BBC. 19 March 2010. Retrieved 22 March 2010. 
  10. ^ "Mass with the beatification of Newman". Birmingham. 19 September 2010. Retrieved 20 September 2010. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ "BBC NEWS – UK – England – West Midlands – Exhumed cardinal to lie in state". Retrieved 19 September 2015. 
  13. ^ "BBC NEWS – UK – England – West Midlands – No body in exhumed Newman's grave". Retrieved 19 September 2015. 
  14. ^ "Solemn return of Cardinal Newman's remains to the Birmingham Oratory"[dead link]
  15. ^ Wynne-Jones, Jonathan (19 July 2008). "Vatican orders Cardinal Newman to be parted from priest friend in shared grave The final request of Britain's most famous Roman Catholic convert, Cardinal Newman, is to be overriden [sic] as the Vatican prepares to make him a saint.". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 28 April 2010. 
  16. ^ Gay rights activist accuses Vatican of "moral vandalism", Times Online
  17. ^ "Vatican hits back at claims Britain's 'next saint' Cardinal Newman was a closet homosexual", Simon Caldwell, Daily Mail, 3 September 2008
  18. ^ "Ministry of Justice accused of "collusion" over Cardinal Newman exhumation". PinkNews. Retrieved 19 September 2015. 
  19. ^ [1] "As a great man of the church and devoted to the saints himself, Cardinal Newman would have been the first to insist on obeying a request of the Holy See and the last to insist that his own personal wishes be regarded as immutable."
  20. ^ Buried secrets: Cardinal Newman is set to become Britain's newest saint. First he must be exhumed from the grave he shares with another man – the greatest love of his life, Geoffrey Wansell, Daily Mail, 29 August 2008

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