John Henry Newman Biography

John Henry Newman, a prominent theologian of the 19th Century, made significant contributions to both the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church. Born in London, Newman’s deep interest in religion led him to embrace a life of celibacy and faith at a young age. After studying at Trinity College, Oxford, he became the vicar at ‘St. Mary’s’ and played a pivotal role in founding the Oxford Movement. Newman’s extensive historical research led him to convert to Catholicism, despite being abandoned by his family. Undeterred, he went on to establish Oratory houses, a Catholic university in Ireland, and translated the Bible into English. With his well-received theological works and thousands of letters, Newman helped bridge the gap between Catholics and the English public, challenging prejudices and promoting critical thinking. His immense influence and dedication to his beliefs earned him sainthood in 2019, leaving a lasting legacy in the world of theology.

Quick Facts

  • British Celebrities Born In February Died At Age: 89
  • Family: father: John Newman, mother: Jemina Fourdrinier, siblings: Francis William Newman
  • Born Country: England
  • Poets
  • Priests
  • Died on: August 11, 1890
  • Place of death: Edgbaston, Birmingham, England, United Kingdom
  • City: London, England
  • Cause of Death: Pneumonia
  • Education: Trinity College

Childhood & Early Life

John Henry Newman, the eldest of six children, was born on 21st February, 1801 in London, U.K. His father was a banker, and his mother a descendant of a notable French Protestant family. He studied at the Great Ealing School. At the age of 15, in the last year of his schooling, Newman had a religious experience, as a result of which Newman committing himself to a life of celibacy and faith, and converted to Evangelical Christianity. He graduated with a B.A. from Trinity College, Oxford.

Education and Early Career

After graduating from Trinity College, Oxford, and wishing to stay on there, John Henry Newman began tutoring, and pursuing a fellowship at Oriel College. In 1822, he became a fellow of Oriel College, and was made the Vice Principal of Alban Hall three years later. He was made the vicar of the university church at Oxford, St. Mary the Virgin, in 1828, and served in that capacity for 17 years. In December 1832, he travelled with Archdeacon Robert Froude and his son on a tour of southern Europe. The poems written during this time cemented John Henry Newman’s reputation as a poet. While the Froudes came home in April the next year, Newman returned to the tour himself, composing Lead, Kindly Light while becalmed in the strait between Sardinia and Corsica in 1833. This would go on to become a very popular hymn.

The Oxford Movement

John Henry Newman was a founder and intellectual leader of the Oxford Movement, which began in 1833 at Oxford, and which was set up to reform the Church of England, while renewing all Catholic thought and practice within the Church. Of great impact to this movement were John Henry Newman’s books, Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church written in 1837, eight volumes of Parochial and Plain Sermons, which came out between 1834 and 1842. Of significantly less impact was his editing of the 90 theological publications called the Tracts for the Times, and his contribution to 24 tracts within this. Between 1838 and 1839, Newman’s influence over the Church of England increased exponentially, and he published Archdeacon Robert Froude’s Remains, with clergyman John Keble during this time. John Newman gave a sermon in 1841, where he declared the Catholic character of the Church of England. This roused the Bishop of Oxford’s anger, and he demanded Newman’s silence. This was also the year when his theological pamphlet on Remarks on Certain Passages in the Thirty-Nine Articles, also known as Tract 90, was published.

Conversion to Catholicism

After conducting historical research into Catholicism, John Henry Newman began to suspect that the Roman Catholic Church was in fact the closest in continuity to the Church established by Jesus. He made his decision to leave Anglicanism, resigning from St. Mary’s on 18 September 1843; he preached his final Anglican sermon, The Parting of Friends, at ‘Littlemore Church’ a week later. John Henry Newman was received into the Catholic Church at ‘Littlemore’ on 9 October 1845, and he published the Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine a few weeks later. Upon completing his theological studies in Rome, he was consecrated as a priest there in 1847. His siblings cut off all contact with him after his conversion to Catholicism.

Later Life and Achievements

He returned to England in 1850, and went on to establish the University College Dublin, completed a new translation of the Bible into English, was the director of a magazine, and founded Oratory houses in Birmingham and London. He was convicted of libel against former Dominican priest and later apostate, Achilli, in 1852-1853. He wrote a very well-received spiritual autobiography, Apologia pro Vita Sua (A Defense of His Life) in 1864. A poem, The Dream of Gerontius, followed soon after, the next year, and included famous hymns like Praise to the holiest in the height and Firmly I believe, and truly. Portraying the prayer of a dying man, and angelic and demonic responses, this poem was set to music by English composer Sir Edward Elgar. In 1870, he published the popular work, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, which is commonly known as The Grammar of Assent, a book on theology. He was created as Cardinal deacon of ‘St. George’ in Velabro by Pope Leo XIII in 1879. John Henry Newman wrote 40 books, including two autobiographies, and 20,000 letters that we know of, he was the editor of the Roman Catholic monthly, the Rambler, and he had even attempted to establish a Catholic hostel at Oxford, but couldn’t because of opposition.


John Henry Newman was declared as Blessed by Pope Benedict XVI, when he visited Britain in 2010. Pope Francis canonised John Henry Newman on 13 October 2019.

Recognition & Achievements

John Henry Newman is remembered particularly for his contribution to theological thoughts, especially his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine published in 1845. He was canonised as a saint by Pope Francis, in the presence of Prince Charles and numerous other dignitaries, on 13th October 2019. The feast day for His Eminence Saint John Henry Newman is celebrated on 9th October by the Catholic Church, 11th August by the Church of England, and 21st February by the Episcopal Church. His writings on various topics like the relation between the Church and State, religious liberty, and his leadership during the Oxford Movement greatly influenced both the Church of England and later, the Roman Catholic Church.

Family & Personal Life

John Henry Newman died on 11 August 1890 at the Birmingham Oratory. As per his wishes, Newman was laid to rest in the same grave as his close friend Father Ambrose St. John, until Newman’s exhumation for beatification—a part of the canonisation process—in 2008.

Leave a Comment