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John Henry Newman, Doctor of Divinity (D.D.) and Oratory of Saint Philip Neri (C.O.), who was beatified on September 19, 2010, during Pope Benedict XVI’s (#266) visit to the U.K., was born in London on February 21, 1801; his father a prominent banker, his mother a descended of the French Protestant Huguenots. He got his first degree from Oxford (earning a reputation as an intellectual though he did poorly in his final exams) and was ordained a Anglican deacon in June 1824, aged 23.
In the early 1830s he became involved with the Oxford Movement — which can now be thought of as an early precursor to Benedict XVI’s (#266) Anglicanorum Coetibus to provide integration between Anglicans and the Catholic Church. He converted to Catholicism in late 1845 and was ordained a Catholic priest in May 1847. At the behest of Pius IX (#256) he established the Oratory of St. Philip Neri – a society of Catholic priests and lay brothers. He was also instrumental in founding University College, Dublin [Ireland]. He was a man of letters and even wrote some hymns.
During his later years there was much debate in the U.K. as to the role of the laity in the Church. Some priests of the time dismissed the laity as being incapable and irrelevant. Newman thought otherwise. As a respected intellectual he had this to say: ‘If I may so express myself. I want the intellectual laymen to be religious and the devout ecclesiastic to be intellectual‘.
He also defended the ‘work’ of the laity: ‘He then, is perfect who does the work of the day perfectly, and we need not go beyond this to seek perfection.’
During these times he also uttered these immortal words: ‘A great memory does not make a mind, any more than a dictionary is a piece of literature’.