By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
IOWA CITY — A leader in Catholic thought whose name is synonymous with Catholic ministry on many secular college campuses was canonized a saint last weekend.
Members and alumni of the Newman Catholic Student Center at the University of Iowa celebrated the sainthood designation of their namesake, St. John Henry Newman, on Oct. 13, the day Pope Francis canonized the English cardinal in Rome.
Bishop Thomas Zinkula presided at Mass at the Newman Center, offering insights into St. Newman’s life and how he encourages everyone to “dig a little deeper.” A black and white profile drawing of the new saint was perched on an easel in the sanctuary.
St. Newman was a 19th century theologian, poet, priest and cardinal who was originally an Anglican priest. He converted to Catholicism in 1845. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 1847 and eventually became a cardinal, Bishop Zinkula said. He described St. Newman’s writings as “among of the most important” writings on Catholic thought. “We are here today to give thanks,” the bishop said.
St. Newman was one of five individuals declared saints by Pope Francis in Rome on Oct. 13. According to a Catholic News Service report, Pope Francis described saints as people who recognized their need for God’s help, who took risks to discover God’s will and help others, and who nurtured a habit of thanksgiving.
“The culmination of the journey of faith is to live a life of continual thanksgiving. Let us ask ourselves: Do we, as people of faith, live each day as a burden, or as an act of praise?” the pope said. In addition to St. Newman, who died in 1890, the other individuals canonized during the Mass were Brazilian St. Maria Rita Lopes Pontes, known as Sister Dulce, who died in 1992; Indian St. Mariam Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan, founder of the Congregation of the Holy Family, who died in 1926; St. Marguerite Bays, a Swiss laywoman and mystic who died in 1879; and St. Josephine Vannini, the Italian co-founder of the Daughters of St. Camillus, who died in 1911.
Referencing St. Newman’s famous hymn, “Lead, Kindly Light,” the pope prayed that all Christians would be ‘“kindly lights’ amid the encircling gloom.”
Joe Mattingly, director of The Newman Singers, said St. Newman wrote the hymn while sick in Italy as a young man. He was unable to travel for several weeks and yearned to return to England, as he felt God calling him to return and carry on his work. “When he finally secured passage on a ship, he wrote the verses to ‘Lead, Kindly Light’ while aboard ship.” The hymn is rumored to have been playing while the Titanic was sinking, and sung by British troops during World War I, Mattingly said.
Mattingly composed a version of this hymn for the Newman Singers to perform during the Mass in Iowa City. “Newman’s verses in ‘Lead, Kindly Light’ convey both uncertainty and inner peace,” he said. “So, as the poem is one of both ambiguity and acceptance, struggle and peace, I attempted to speak to that in the music” by composing the piece in alternating major and minor keys.
At the University of Iowa, St. Newman’s name is “synonymous” with Catholic ministry, said Father Jeff Belger, priest director of the Newman Catholic Student Center. Inspired by St. Newman’s writings, Newman Clubs began emerging on secular college campuses in the late 1800s as a way for Catholic students to grow in their faith during college years.
The “Newman Club” at the University of Iowa formed at the university in 1906, and is now one of more than 2,000 Newman Centers throughout the world today, according to foundation director April Rouner. The Newman Center is located at the corner of Clinton and Jefferson streets near the University of Iowa’s central campus, offering students a place to worship, gather and grow in their faith. University of Iowa senior Thomas Asama said St. Newman’s idea of faith in education still holds weight.
The saint believed that theology was a vital part of education that aided understanding of other disciplines. Without an understanding of theology, it can become easy to make science or economics into a god, Asama said.
Fr. Belger said that in an increasingly secular world, it becomes even more important to help students at secular universities understand and embrace Catholic theology. The Newman Center, in the spirit of St. Newman, helps students see the world through the lens of faith so they can live out and share the Good News throughout their lives.
On Friday, Oct. 18, the Newman Center will share the good news of its namesake’s canonization with an entry in the University of Iowa’s homecoming parade. The theme this year is “Defining Champions the Hawkeye Way.” Newman Center’s float will include a student dressed as St. Newman seated on fluffy clouds to symbolize the saint’s place in heaven. “(St.) Newman is our champion of faith,” said Christine Wissink, director of Outreach and Education.
Alumni Giving Day a success
From midnight to 11:59 p.m. on Oct. 13, Newman Catholic Student Center at the University of Iowa hosted a telethon to raise money for Newman Center ministry programs. Newman Center set a goal of $8,000 for its first-ever telethon, and raised more than $20,000, thanks to $10,230 in donations and $10,000 in matching gifts, said April Rouner, director of development. “We are very grateful to the Newman Center alums, including our challenge match donor, who generously stepped up on our inaugural Alumni Giving Day to pay it forward to the next generation of Iowa Catholics,” she said. “ Alumni giving is a statement of gratitude for their time at the Newman Center and an affirmation of the future through ministry programs impacted by their stewardship.”