Sunday, September 19, 2010

Blessed Newman, pray for us!

Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman was beatified today.
His feast day will be on October 9th, which marks
the day that he was received into the Catholic Church.
Earlier today, Pope Benedict beatified John Henry Newman, an English convert to the Catholic Church who rose to the rank of Cardinal before his death in 1890. This day is of particular importance to Catholic college and university students because the Newman name is one that is historically connected to Catholic campus ministries.

In 1888, two years before Newman's death, the Catholic Club at Oxford University in England renamed itself the Newman Society in response to Newman's writings which encouraged the establishment of societies for Catholic students who were attending secular colleges and universities. The idea spread like wildfire throughout the UK and in 1893, the first American Newman Club was founded by four Catholic students at the University of Pennsylvania.

In 1937, Ole Miss became home to its own Newman Club when the four-year old Catholic Club at the University became affiliated with the national group. What many do not know is that an organized ministry to Catholic students at Ole Miss actually predated the establishment of the parish of St. John's in Oxford. Before St. John's was established, spiritual care of the Catholic students at Ole Miss was undertaken by a series of pastors from the now-defunct St. Patrick's parish in Water Valley, Mississippi who served the Oxford and University communities from 1869 until 1942. Masses for Ole Miss Catholics were often held monthly or bi-monthly in the old chapel (the building that now houses the Croft Institute) or in the old student union (now Weir Hall). On other Sundays, some Catholic students would ride the train down to Water Valley or try to hitch a ride to attend Mass at St. Patrick's parish there. During his time at Ole Miss, football coach Harry Mehre, a Notre Dame graduate who served as Ole Miss football coach from 1938 until 1945, would drive some of the Catholic students down to Water Valley on Sundays for Mass.

Bl. Newman's coat-of-arms, chosen
after he became a cardinal (note the
red hat at the top) bears his personal
motto "Cor ad cor loquitur" which
means "Heart speaks to heart."
Coach Mehre and members of the Ole Miss Newman Club were instrumental in convincing then-Bishop Richard Gerow that a parish should be established in Oxford to serve the Catholic students and faculty members of Ole Miss. Their pleas were answered when St. John the Evangelist parish was established in 1942. Catholic students were so invested in their new parish that they even contributed to the construction costs of the original parish church building. Parish records tell us that one of the side altars of the original church, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, was paid for totally by donations from the Ole Miss Newman Club. Bl. Newman's coat-of-arms referenced Christ's Heart as well. This is actually the reason that CCM has the Sacred Heart in our logo.

Years ago, campus ministries at the colleges and universities in Mississippi began to change their group names, but their connection to now-Blessed Newman remains strong. His life and his writings inspired many and do well to remind us to live out our Catholic faith in our college years.