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Cardinal Newman's Beatification Could Be Teaching Moment For Colleges

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 altBy Carol Zimmermann, WASHINGTON (Catholic News Service):

College campus ministry leaders hope the Sept. 19 beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman will make the British scholar, philosopher and writer more familiar to today's college students.


Cardinal Newman, who died in 1890, always held universities close to his heart. He spent much of his life at Oxford University as both a student and a fellow. As an Anglican priest, he was the vicar at a university church and after his conversion to Catholicism, he founded the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in Birmingham and a Catholic university in Dublin. Many of his ideas on higher education are in his book "The Idea of a University" based on lectures he gave in the 1850s.


The cardinal is often associated with campus ministry because of his emphasis on students developing and integrating their faith and intellect. He also advocated that Catholic students who attend public universities be given a place to gather to support and encourage one another in their faith. In 1893, three years after Cardinal Newman's death, the University of Pennsylvania formed the first campus Newman Club as a tribute to his ideas.


Today, Newman centers -- where Catholic college students meet for liturgies, prayer, service work, discussion groups, social events and often food -- are located on the campuses of many public university campuses. In recent years, several Catholic student groups no longer call themselves Newman Centers but instead go by Catholic associations, Catholic student organizations or campus Catholic communities, possibly because students lack knowledge about Cardinal Newman.


Father Eric Nielsen, director of St. Paul's University Catholic Center at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, said Cardinal Newman has had more of an influence on those who lead campus ministry today than the students themselves. In part, that's simply because "it's a rare student who would pick up 'Grammar of Assent' (one of the cardinal's books) and get excited about Cardinal Newman," he said.


The priest hopes sainthood is not far off for the cardinal as that would raise his profile even more and likely promote his writings to college students. But in the meantime, he told Catholic News Service, campus ministry leaders continue to take up the cardinal's challenge to help students integrate faith and intellectual study and ultimately "bring Christ to the world."


Katherine Tillman, professor emeritus for the liberal studies program at the University of Notre Dame and co-editor of Newman Studies Journal, said college students don't necessarily have to know about Cardinal Newman but they should know his ideas about higher education which emphasized knowledge of "all the disciplines in a well-rounded way."


This well-rounded intellect, in Cardinal Newman's view, was meant to be formed by faith and also to influence one's faith. Tillman noted that this can be a difficult balance for today's students who may be oriented to social justice work without theological understanding or emphasize theological study without reaching out to those in need.


Barbara McCrabb, assistant director for higher education at the Secretariat of Catholic Education of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, described Cardinal Newman's beatification as a great opportunity for Catholic colleges and Catholic campus ministry programs to gain a deeper understanding of Cardinal Newman. This summer she surveyed campus ministry programs around the country and found that many of them were linking campus programs to the beatification with special lectures, liturgies, courses and events.


Msgr. Gregory Ketcham, director of St. John's Catholic Newman Center at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, said the campus center plans to mark the beatification with a noncredit course on the life and teachings of Cardinal Newman, a campus presentation and by the singing of hymns composed by the cardinal at the Sept. 18-19 weekend Masses.


He said the statue of Cardinal Newman also was moved into the chapel sanctuary for private prayer and devotion. The St. John's Catholic Newman Center is one of the largest in the country and is one of the few to also include student housing. The priest said Cardinal Newman's message -- particularly about active laity -- is important for today's Catholic college students as they help each other in their faith and "progress outward to the larger society in evangelization."


Newman University in Wichita, Kan., the only U.S. university named after Cardinal Newman, plans to mark the beatification by sending a delegation to the event and to visit places where the cardinal lived.


The trip was coordinated by Sister Charlotte Rohrbach, a member of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, the order that sponsors the university. Those in the delegation include administrators, alumni and school trustees.


The nun, who is the university's director of mission and archives and professor emeritus of history, said students will be invited to watch a videotape of the beatification on campus. Those making the trip also will be doing some videotaping and sending up-to-date messages through the online social networking tool Twitter.


Sister Charlotte said the university's students understand the significance of this event because they are familiar with how the cardinal viewed the role of a university. According to a recent survey the Kansas school conducted about its mission, most students knew that it was "something about empowering students to transform society" -- one of Cardinal Newman's major points. []

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