Blessed John Henry Newman (1801 – 1890) was born in London, the oldest of six children. His father was a banker and his mother descended from a wealthy family of Huguenots who had fled to England from France. From an early age, he demonstrated an aptitude for learning and a love of literature. He entered Oxford’s Trinity College in 1816 and in 1818 won a scholarship of 60 pounds tenable for nine years. He had originally intended to become a lawyer but changed his mind after feeling called to dedicate himself to God.
In 1825, Blessed John Newman was ordained an Anglican priest. A few years later he made a six-month trip to Southern Europe. After visiting Rome, he became very ill but recovered with the conviction that God had work for him to do in England. On the return trip, his boat was becalmed at sea for several days. It was here, marooned in the open waters and far from home, that he wrote the poem Lead, Kindly Light.
His desire to gain more knowledge of the history of Christianity led him to the study of the Church Fathers. This, however, drew him ever closer to the Catholic faith and, in 1845, he finalised his conversion by being received into full communion with the Catholic Church. Blessed Newman would later write that “to be deep in history, is to cease to be Protestant.”
Two years after being received into the Church, he was ordained a Catholic priest. In this capacity he wrote more than 40 books, founded Oratory houses in Birmingham and London and, for seven years, served as rector of the Catholic University of Ireland. In 1879, Pope Leo XIII made him a cardinal, despite the fact that he was not a bishop, in recognition of his untiring and productive labour for the faith. Blessed John Newman died of pneumonia in 1890 at the Birmingham Oratory. In 2010, he was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI who praised his pastoral zeal for the sick, the poor, the bereaved, and those in prison.
Lead, Kindly Light
Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead thou me on;
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
Lead thou me on;
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene: one step enough for me.
I was not ever thus, nor prayed that thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose, and see my path; but now
Lead thou me on.
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.
So long thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on,
O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost a while.