Newman Theological College and Cardinal J. H. Newman

Newman Theological College and Cardinal J. H. Newman

Paper prepared by Archbishop Anthony Jordan, O.M.I.
given at the College on March 20, 1979

By a happy coincidence, we are, in this early spring of 1979, celebrating TWO noteworthy events - the creation of John Henry Newman as a Cardinal of the Catholic Church on the 18th of March, 1879: and, on the 30th of April, 1969, the passage of a Bill by the Legislative Assembly of Alberta incorporating Newman Theological College, and authorizing the Board of Administration of the College to grant degrees in Theology and Religious Education. Both of these events are worthy of celebration.

Let us begin by noting the fact that in the late months of 1968, the professors of St. Joseph’s Seminary began to speak among themselves about the desirability of dropping the Course in Philosophy, and at the same time, of emphasizing the Courses in Holy Scripture and Theology. Concurrent with this happening at the Seminary, I, having been a participant during all four sessions of Vatican Council II, had come back from Rome with the dream of seeking the approval of the other Bishops of the West of a plan to designate the Seminary as THE School of Theology for Western Canada, as well as to designate another Western See as THE School of Philosophy. This idea had been in my mind for some years although I had said little about it to anyone. It had long been a conviction of mine that top notch courses in Philosophy, Theology, and Holy Scripture were a 'must', and that to this end, it was necessary to develop well-prepared professors dedicated to a life of holiness and SCHOLARSHIP essential for this sublime purpose. Such specialized staffs require careful selection, long preparation; they are difficult to organize, and even more difficult to maintain…. Ideas such as mine emerged elsewhere; consultations occurred, meetings were held; and there were soundings. At times, hopes were high; at other times, all seemed lost.

I've mentioned Vatican Council II. One of the significant benefits of the Council arose out of the saying of the late Pope XXIII about 'opening the windows.’ I was one of the beneficiaries of the slogan, because it led to unheard-of communication in the Church. So, one day, probably in the late months of 1968, the staff of St. Joseph's Seminary asked me to meet with them, and they proposed that the Seminary limit itself to Theology and kindred subjects to the exclusion of Philosophy; they proposed as well that the Legislative Assembly of the Province be requested to incorporate a new Theological College, with a Board of Administration empowered to grant degrees in Theology and Religious Education. The result of the meeting was another meeting, with the addition of the Consultors of the Archbishop. The second meeting resulted in a unanimous decision to apply for the proposed incorporation, and the degree-granting power of Newman Theological College. It should be on record that the name of "Newman" was suggested by the late Msgr. C. J. Foran, at that time parish priest of St. Anthony's in the city. I need not tell you that the action of the Legislative Assembly in passing the Act of Incorporation on April 30, 1969, was most gratifying to all concerned but there was no fanfare.

Thus we find ourselves on this occasion celebrating the Tenth Anniversary of the existence of Newman Theological College at the same time as we observe the 100th anniversary of the creation as Cardinal of the Catholic Church of your illustrious patron.

Some of you may ask: Why Newman? why was his name chosen for the new College. It's a pertinent question. One that would be easy to answer at any time, much easier though since Vatican Council II. During one of the sessions of the Council, Bishop Butler, an Auxiliary of the Archdiocese of Westminster, England, said that it was truly Newman's Council because the problems that he was working on and working for on the intellectual level one hundred years ago, such as the supremacy of faith, revelation and its development, the return to the Bible and the Early Church were very much to the fore. Hence his conclusion that Newman's name and ideas are most relevant to our time.

But there's still more reason for the choice of Newman's name for the College. As you all know, your patron was not always a member of the Catholic Church. Born in London on February 21, 1801, the oldest of six children in a home where the father was not exactly a religious man, it was from his mother, daughter of Huguenot parents, that John Henry received his first inklings of divine truth. When he left home at the age of seven to attend a private school in Ealing, he came under Evangelical influence, especially during his final year, 1816-17, when as he wrote later, "I was 15 in the autumn of 1816 and a great change of thought took place in me. I fell under the influence of a definite Creed, and received into my intellect impressions of dogma, which through God's mercy have never been effaced or obscured.” Years later, Newman attributed his conversion (as he called it) to one of his teachers, Rev. Walter Mayers, calling him "the human means of the beginning of divine faith in me.” Besides Mayers, he paid tribute to a religious writer, Thomas Scott, of whom he wrote: "He made a deeper impression on my mind than any other," and added "to him (humanly speaking) I owe my soul.” It was from Scott’s books that he learned about the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Redemption, as well as the doctrine of the presence and indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the soul.

Along with these strong religious convictions, John Henry Newman brought with him to Trinity College, Oxford University in October, 1817, an enviable academic record. The headmaster of Ealing, Dr. Nicholson, was accustomed to say that "no boy had run through the school so rapidly as John Newman. It was with very high hopes of a brilliant future that his masters saw him enrolled at Oxford, an Anglican stronghold, which Newman twenty-five years later described as "the most religious university in the world”.

He was a sedulous student and worked hard, too hard, it seems, for he was so over-wrought when he took his final examinations in 1820, he gained no honours in acquiring his Bachelor of Arts degree. But he was too intelligent and had too much character to be daunted by this experience. Within two years, he sat for and obtained a Fellowship at another Oxford College, which was then at the height of its literary and intellectual fame. When he was elected a Fellow of Oriel he wrote in his diary: "Of all days, most memorable. It raised me from obscurity and need to competency and reputation.” At Oriel he became associated with many men of distinction and fame, three of whom should be mentioned: Richard Whately (who later described Newman as the most clear-headed man he knew), Richard Hurrell Froude and John Keble. Keble and Froude were prominent High Churchmen. It was chiefly under the influence of Froude that Newman finally got rid of his Evangelical leanings and became an ardent Anglican. Even before the Oriel Fellowship (which provided him with a steady income, and eventually led to his becoming a tutor), Newman had decided to take Anglican Orders and was ordained deacon on June 13, 1824. The seriousness of this step is reflected in the words he wrote in his diary" It is over. I am thine, 0 Lord. At first, after hands were laid on me, my heart shuddered within me; the words 'forever' are so terrible. It was hardly a good feeling that made me feel melancholy at the idea of giving up all for God. At times indeed my heart burned within, especially during the Veni Creator. Yet, Lord, I ask not for comfort in comparison with sanctification. I have the responsibility of soul on me to the day of my death.” This sentence is worth noting for Newman's undertakings to the end of his life had a pastoral purpose….

Now, my friends, I'm going to leave Newman the Anglican clergyman in the year 1824, to focus on Newman the Catholic as of October 9, 1845, 44 years of age. The organizers of this celebration at one moment hoped to have a separate conference on Newman the Anglican. It is a great loss to all of us that this hope has not been realized this time. So, with regret, I am skipping the next 21 years in order to give you a brief look at Newman from 1845 until his death in 1890.

Newman did not reject his past. He took the step of becoming a Catholic because he became convinced that the Anglican Church was neither the Church founded by Christ nor a branch of it. But it wasn't easy. We, Catholics, living 124 years later, and in another country, have little idea of what it meant for this exceptional Anglican to become a Catholic. He became one by conviction after years of prayer, study and a program of austerity. His decision came slowly, and, one may say, against his natural inclination, as witness what he wrote privately: "No one can have a more unfavourable view than I of the present state of Roman Catholics - so much so that anyone who joins them would be like the Cistercians of Fountains, living under trees till their house was built. If I must account for it, I should say that want of unity has injured both them and us." One of his biographers has written: "Becoming a Catholic in the mid-nineteenth century had far graver social consequences than becoming a Communist in the mid-twentieth". That's not hard to believe when we recall what happens to the family-relationships of some people we know as a result of their embracing the faith. Listen to what Newman said in his famous sermon called "The Second Spring". Six years after becoming a Catholic, he was invited to preach at a gathering of Catholics, all the bishops of England.. heads of religious orders, nuns, the faithful. The theme of the sermon was the revival of the Church in the nineteenth century, and the portion I am going to read tells us of the state of the Church in the centuries following the Reformation, as well as his impressions of Catholics when he was a boy. In the sermon, he has just given a glowing picture of the Church before the Reformation when the vigorous, splendid influential Catholic Church dominated the scene in England. Now he goes on: "It was the high decree of heaven that the majesty of that presence should be blotted out…. The vivifying principle of truth, the shadow of St. Peter, the grace of the Redeemer left it. That old Church in its day became a corpse…. and then it did but corrupt the air which once it refreshed, and cumbered the ground which it once beautified. So all seemed to be lost…. there was a struggle for a time, and then its priests were cast out or martyred. There were sacrileges innumerable. Its temples were profaned or destroyed; its revenues seized by covetous nobles, or squandered upon ministers of a new faith. The presence of Catholicism was at length removed - its grace disowned - its power despised - its name, except as a matter of history, at length almost unknown. It took a long time… but at last the work was done. Truth was disposed of, and shoveled away, and there was a calm, a silence, a sort of peace…. It may not be out of place, if by one or two tokens, as by the strokes of a pencil, I bear witness to you from without of what you can witness so much more truly from within. No longer the Catholic Church in the country; nay, no longer, I may say, a Catholic community; but a few adherents of the Old Religion, moving silently and sorrowfully about, as memorials of what had been.

'The Roman Catholics’; not a sect, not even an interest - not a body, however small, representative of the Great Communion abroad - but a mere handful of individuals who might be counted like pebbles… and who merely happened to retain a creed which, indeed, in its day was the profession of a church. Here a set of poor Irishmen, coming and going at harvest time, or a colony of them lodged in a miserable quarter of the vast metropolis. There, perhaps, an elderly person seen walking in the street, grave, and solitary and strange, though noble in bearing, and said to be of good family and a 'Roman Catholic'. An old-fashioned house of gloomy appearance, closed in with high walls... and the report attaching to it that 'Roman Catholics' lived there; but who they were or what they did, or what was meant by calling them 'Roman Catholics' no one could tell; though it had an unpleasant sound, and told of form and superstition. And then, perhaps, as we went to and fro, looking with a boy's curious eyes through the great city, we might come today upon some Horavian chapel, or Quaker's meeting house, and tomorrow a chapel of the 'Roman Catholics’; but nothing was to be gathered from it, except that there were lights burning there, and some boys in white, swinging censers…

Such was about the sort of knowledge possessed by the heathen of old time, who persecuted its adherents from the face of the earth and then called them a people who shunned the light of day. Such were Catholics in England, found in corners, and alleys, and cellars, and the housetops, or in the recesses of the country; cut off from the populous world around them….

Isn't this an incredibly gloomy picture of a people? Our preacher is referring to a time prior to 1829. Until then, Catholics in England were so underprivileged intellectually, socially, and economically that the majority were hardly citizens at all. Those who escaped this dreadful environment were the ones who were able to be educated privately at home, or who went to the continent for their education and other advantages.

The Catholic Emancipation Act, passed in 1829, changed all that, although for several more years Catholics were barred from universities such as Oxford and Cambridge, because all students were required to subscribe to the 39 articles of the Anglican Church. It is not surprising then that Newman, having become a Catholic and a priest, set about what he considered to be his life-long task of promoting holiness and education among his co-religionists. Soon the stage was set for him. He began a series of lectures, later published under the title of 'Present Position of Catholics in England'. At the close of the series, he addressed these words to his fellow-Catholics: your strength lies in your God and in your conscience; therefore it lies not in your number any more than in intrigue, or in combination, or worldly wisdom...

What I desiderate in Catholics is the gift of bringing out what their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give they can defend it, an account of it, who know so much of history that I want an intelligent, well-instructed laity; I am not denying that you are such already, but I mean to be severe, and as some would say, exorbitant in my demands. I wish you to enlarge your knowledge, to cultivate your reason, to get an insight into the relation of truth to truth, to learn to view things as they are, to understand how faith and reason stand to each other, what are the bases and principles of Catholicism," These words on Religious Education to the Catholic Laity are worthy to be placed side by side with other memorable words spoken by Newman in one of his sermons as an Anglican clergyman: "O that we could take that simple view of things as to feel that the one thing that lies before us is to please God. What gain is it to please the world, to please the great, nay even to please those whom we love, compared with this? What gain is it to be applauded, admired, courted, followed compared with this one aim of not being disobedient to a heavenly vision? What can this world offer comparable with that insight into spiritual things, that keen faith, that heavenly peace, that high sanctity, that everlasting righteousness, that hope of glory, which they have who in sincerity, love and follow Our Lord Jesus Christ? Let us beg and pray Him day by day to reveal Himself to our souls more fully, to quicken our senses, to give us sight and hearing, taste and touch of the world to come, to work within us that we may sincerely say, 'Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel, and after that, receive me with glory. Whom have I in Heaven but Thee? and there is none on earth that I desire in comparison of Thee. My flesh and my heart faileth, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever'.

These two rather long quotations on Education and Holiness incorporate the whole of Newman's apostolate. He never ceased to be inspired and guided by them, - in pursuit of them, he ever employed his bright intellect, his vast learning, his singular ability of expression and his ability to convince; in pursuit of them, he also suffered and was often misunderstood. Since time does not permit us to single out each and every one of the major incidents of his life as a Catholic. I shall limit myself to one which, you will see, had important bearing on his relations with the Holy See.

Among his many undertakings for the Church, an early one was his acceptance of the Editorship of a review named The Rambler the only review geared to educated Catholics, which for ten years set a very high educational and cultural standard. It was owned by two laymen, who were faithful Catholics, but who began to arouse the ire of the bishops. When matters came to such a pass that one of them was about to be publicly censured by the bishops. Newman was persuaded to get this seemingly objectionable editor, Simpson by name, to resign in order to take over the editorship himself. He did so with serious misgivings - misgivings which were soon justified. You know, my friends, in the history of human relationships generally, there is no sadder page than the list of misunderstandings, estrangements, frustrated lives, even tragedies resulting from poor communications. Especially is this true when persons of integrity, pledged to promote the honour and glory of God, find themselves on opposing sides. In assuming the editorship of the Rambler and getting out the next issue of the Rambler, Newman avoided making much of the change of editor, and indeed, most of the first two issues under his editorship was made up of material prepared by the departing Simpson. So unacceptable were the contents to the Bishops, that Newman was prodded into consenting to his own withdrawal after the next, that is, the third, issue. It proved to be the most unacceptable to the Bishops for much of it was made up of an article by Newman himself entitled: "On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine". What a storm ensued! After preliminary skirmishes, Dr. Gillow, professor of Theology, wrote that the article was heretical, and wrote to this effect to Bishop Brown of Newport. This latter translated the article into Latin (in actual fact, it was mistranslated), and sent it to the Holy See, and in an accompanying letter, made the charge of heresy. The Roman authorities, after reading the text, drew up a list of points for clarification, gave it to Cardinal Wiseman, who happened to be in Rome, requesting him to give it to Newman. Time passed; Newman sensed there was something amiss between himself and Rome but did not know what it was. Meantime (we know this now from what has since come to light), that two men of some influence, one of them living in Rome, exchanged views about the article. The one in Rome wrote: It is perfectly true that a cloud has been hanging over Dr. Newman in Rome ever since Bishop Brown reported him for heresy for his article in The Rambler. What is the province of the laity? to hunt, to shoot, to entertain. These matters they understand, but to meddle with ecclesiastical matters, they have no right at all. Dr. Newman is the most dangerous man in England.” The other man scoffed at the idea of the laity knowing anything about church matters. The result was that Newman was looked upon with suspicion at home, and ill-regarded by authorities in Rome. It was a most trying time chiefly because the victim was not being used in any way, and all the while, there was the untrue and very uncharitable gossip. One of his biographers has written about this dreary period: "not to mind, he must needs have been not merely uncommonly thick-skinned, but even rhinoceros-hided, Newman was not a stoic; rather he was a true Christian who lived always close to his suffering Saviour. He knew what carrying a cross daily meant in the form of mental suffering, loss of friends and good name, and the like. Long before he had written: "The foundations of the ocean, the vast realms of water which girdle the earth, are as tranquil in the storm as in the calm. So it is with the souls of holy men. They have a well of peace springing up within them unfathomable, and though the accidents of the hour may make them seem agitated, yet in their hearts they are not so." Not all misunderstandings last forever. In this case, it came to light years later that the list of clarifications requested by Rome had in fact never been given to Newman!

Hardly was that regrettable misunderstanding cleared up when, in 1864, at the age of 63, Newman was attacked from another quarter: The Rev. Charles Kingsley, an Anglican clergyman, well-known author, professor of Modern History at Cambridge University, wrote these words in a book review, published in January, 1864: "Truth for its own sake has never been a virtue with the Roman clergy, Father Newman informs us that it need not, and on the whole, ought not to be; that cunning is the weapon which Heaven has given to the saints wherewith to withstand the brutal, male force of the wicked world." An exchange of correspondence followed, with mild protest from Newman, and vague reply from Kingsley, who, to Newman's indignant surprise, at length quoted some words from one of the latter's Anglican sermons, which had nothing to do with truthfulness, or the Catholic clergy. To relate this episode in full would be courting your displeasure, so let me just say that Kingsley's recklessness led to the writing and publishing by Newman of "Apologia Pro Vita Sua" - the words mean Explanation of his Religious Opinions. It is one of the best religious autobiographies in any language. It won back for its author, many of his Anglican friends who had deserted him in 1845, it enhanced his name among Catholics, and it devastated Kingsley. I'm not going to attempt to give you even a digest of it, but I urge you to read it even though it is hard going.

Though trials did not cease, our hero's name was greatly enhanced, and when he was getting really old, an unexpected honour came to him from the Holy See. Nearly all his Catholic life had been lived during the pontificate of Pius IX, who died early in 1879. Cardinal Pecci, who had a long reign as Leo XIII, was elected to succeed soon after that. Very early in his pontificate, a visitor enquired of him what his policy would be, and the Pone replied: "Wait until you hear the name of my first Cardinal.” So it happened that a year and a month after his election, on March 18, 1879, the official letter called a 'biglietto' arrived at Newman's residence in Birmingham, telling him that he had been created Cardinal of the Church. He was 78 at the time, and lived for another eleven years. Shortly before his death, he asked that these words be engraved on his tombstone: 'Ex umbris et imaginibus ad veritatem - from the shadows and images of things to the Truth'.

As he lay dying on August 11, 1890, I like to think that he kept recalling words he had written as a meditation some time before: "God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission - I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am like a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do his work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place while not intending it - if I do but keep His Commandments. Therefore will I trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends; He may throw me among strangers; make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me - still He knows what He is about.”

Anthony Jordan, O.M.I.

Paper read at Newman Theological College, Edmonton, Alberta

March 20, 1979.

Historical Timeline of Newman Theological College


  • B.A. in Catholic Studies approved by the Minister of Advanced Education


  • 50th anniversary of the founding of Newman Theological College.


  • With the Pastoral Letter of February 7, 2018, the Ukrainian Catholic Bishops of Canada announced the relocation of Holy Spirit Seminary to Edmonton, Alberta. The seminarians will pursue theological degrees at Newman Theological College.


  • ATS Re-accreditation Self-Study and Visit


  • Benedict XVI Institute for New Evangelization is founded to serve the New Evangelization by developing and offering innovative programs in faith formation and catechesis.


  • Classes officially begin at the present site.


  • NTC and St. Joseph Seminary move to temporary locations in Sherwood Park and Ottewell. The $15 million Cornerstone of Faith campaign starts for new construction. A $4.18 million grant is awarded from the federal government’s Knowledge Infrastructure Program to finance technology infrastructure. It represents the first government support the college has received in its history.


  • The Province of Alberta purchases the land of NTC and St. Joseph Seminary in order to facilitate the completion of the Anthony Henday ring road.


  • The NTC Academic Senate establishes the annual Kevin Carr Christian Leadership Award to recognize a lay person or lay persons whose outstanding Christian leadership reflects the mission and values of NTC and the qualities that Kevin Carr cherished and exhibited in his work as NTC’s seventh president (1993-2001).


  • SJS celebrates its 75th anniversary with a three-day celebration, highlighted by an Apostolic Visitation from Rome.


  • NTC celebrates the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman with special presentations about NTC's namesake.


  • NTC/SJS celebrated the official opening of the new Sopchyshyn Family Library and the Sopchyshyn Seminary Residence.


  • ATS visitation and reaccreditation.


  • NTC continues as a corporate body by an Act of Continuance of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta.


  • ATS visitation and granting of accreditation.


  • The ATS grants the status of candidacy to the NTC.


  • Academic programs gradually develop. In 1972, associate status is granted to the NTC by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) in the United States & Canada.


  • The theology faculty of SJS becomes Newman Theological College (NTC) by an Act of the Alberta Legislature. NTC is opened up to a larger number of lay people and religious.


  • On his return from the Council Rome, Archbishop Anthony Jordan looks for ways of addressing the role of the laity in the Church. Men and women, both religious and lay, interested in theology are invited to share the facilities available in St. Albert.


  • Approximately 100 students are studying for the priesthood at SJS.


  • SJS moves to St. Albert where a new building is erected on vacant farmland owned by the Archdiocese.


  • Oblate Fathers move to Saskatchewan; Archdiocese of Edmonton takes over the building and calls it St. Joseph Seminary (SJS); this becomes the formation center for the diocesan seminarians.


  • First theological faculty is set up at the Oblate Immaculate Conception Scholasticate in St. Joachim’s Parish, Edmonton. Diocesan seminarians attend the scholasticate as well.