St John Henry Newman’s “vision for education continues to inspire”, the Archbishop of Dublin has said.
Addressing the growing secularism in Ireland, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said it is “necessary to revert to Newman’s ideas” in order to create a new sense of Catholic faith in young people.
Speaking at the Pontifical Irish College in Rome in the lead up to the canonisation of St John Henry Newman, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin pointed out that the new saint’s links with Dublin “form an important part of his legacy”.
St Newman was invited to Dublin by Archbishop Martin’s predecessor Cardinal Paul Cullen in 1854 to be rector of the newly established Catholic University of Ireland, now University College, Dublin. Archbishop Martin suggested that St Newman’s canonisation offered an opportunity to reflect on the new saint’s vision of university education.
Noting that both St Newman and Cardinal Cullen were concerned about the lack of good education among both the laity and the clergy, the archbishop explained that the two clerics believed “a Catholic university would help foster religious cultural presence against the prevailing nineteenth century European secularising currents”.
“Both Newman and Cullen recognised the importance that the development of intellectual life among Catholics had for the welfare of both individuals and the Catholic Church,” he said.
Archbishop Martin explained that St Newman’s university was not to be a theological college or a glorified seminary, but a “true university with schools of arts and sciences, as well as medicine, engineering, classics, theology and philosophy”.
“For Newman a university environment was one in which intellectual training, moral discipline and religious commitment would come together,” he said. “The lesson that comes from Newman is that there is sense in which this development of mature faith takes place optimally within a university.
“Newman wanted to show his contemporaries that faith and reason do not conflict, but also that ‘reason could not be the sole arbiter of all truth’.”
Returning to the present, Archbishop Martin said the development of university education in Ireland had “lost this dream of Newman”.
“The main universities proclaim themselves to be by definition exclusively secular and thus they shun any real place for religion in their culture,” he said. “On the other hand, adult faith formation suffers because it is deprived the interdisciplinary nature of a university.”
Noting that Irish culture is becoming “impoverished by a false dichotomy between religion and society”, the archbishop blamed both sides of the debate for being at fault and insisted that “a new relationship” between the two is needed.
He suggested that in today’s society there is now “a need for the transformation of dimensions of Irish culture for the sake of mature pluralism”.
“Newman’s vision for education continues to inspire,” he said. “The Church in Ireland has not yet understood the full extent of the cultural change taking place and often continues to act as if we were still simply living in a culture with a Catholic majority.
“On the other hand, there are those who feel that a pluralist Ireland must necessarily be a secularist Ireland.”
Archbishop Martin suggested that the challenge is to “foster an Irish Catholicism capable of living and witnessing to the importance of faith in life, even in a world not always favourable to the concept of faith”.
“It is necessary to revert to Newman’s ideas and to create in young people a new sense of Catholic faith,” he said.
“Newman hoped that his university would generate Catholics not only with a passion for science, but also with a passion for truth — those ‘educated people, but also good Christians’.
“He dreamed of a generation of Irish Catholics who could take their place in public without being ashamed of their belief in the value of the contribution of their own faith to society.
“Ireland today — and not just Ireland — needs people so inspired by Newman’s vision on the relationship between faith and reason,” said Archbishop Martin.
Picture: St John Henry Newman is pictured in an 1865 photo. (CNS photo/courtesy Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory).