Tens of thousands of Roman Catholics converged on St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, Oct. 13 for the canonization of Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman. Medical doctor Thomas Bouchard of Calgary was one of many Canadians in the jubilant crowd. A week before the event, Bouchard admitted he was not sure where he’d be seated. “I’m happy to be where ever I’m placed,” said Bouchard, who was grateful to bear witness to the canonization of a saint whose work informs his own intellectual, professional and personal life.
Newman, who died in 1890, will be the patron saint of seekers. He converted to evangelical Christianity as a young man and was later ordained a priest in the Anglican church. Renowned as an Oxford academic, theologian and poet, Newman was received into the Catholic church in 1845 at the age of 44. Newman embraced the Catholic tradition as a call from God, but acknowledged his conversion, a controversial move in the United Kingdom, ended some relationships with friends and family.
Introduced to Newman’s theology at Newman Centre of McGill University, Bouchard attributes his intellectual formation in the faith to the Catholic academics who lectured there. Friends from that period of his life include Fr. Kim D’Souza, a Toronto priest who is studying in Rome. Bouchard was D’Souza’s guest at the canonization.
“The miracle that led to Cardinal Newman’s canonization is incredibly beautiful,” says Bouchard, who says the story has special resonance for him as a family doctor who delivers babies. The miracle involves an American woman who experienced severe bleeding during her fifth pregnancy. Alone with her other four children, Melissa Villalobos realized she was bleeding so badly she was likely to die. Devoted to Cardinal Newman since her days at university, she called out to Newman for help. The bleeding stopped and an ultrasound done later the same day confirmed her placenta was no longer torn.
The miracle, which occurred in 2013, was formally accepted by Pope Francis in February 2019.
To Bouchard, the miracle demonstrates the universality of the saints. “They care about everybody and I just think it’s beautiful that Newman, who is an academic, is also interceding on behalf of this woman.”
St. John the Evangelist
Back in Calgary, Newman’s canonization received special attention at St. John the Evangelist parish in Inglewood. A Roman Catholic parish of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, St. John offers a special welcome to Anglicans who seek to join the Catholic Church.
Fr. Robert Bengry, who came to the Catholic Church through the Anglican tradition, recognizes a kindred spirit in Newman. “Unless one is entirely an adventurer, it helps to know someone has already successfully made a journey one is about to embark upon. Newman made the journey home to the Catholic Church and gives others the courage to walk in his footsteps.”
Newman teaches that “one must be prepared to lose everything in order to follow Christ,” adds Bengry. “This certainly happened to Newman—loss of friendships, status, identity—but of course one gains everything of what is truly important. Chiefly the salvation of one’s own soul.”
To celebrate Newman’s sainthood, St. John the Evangelist invited Bishop Fred Henry to give the homily at the 10 am Mass on Sunday, Oct. 13.
The parish will welcome a first-class relic of the new saint on Friday, Nov. 29. The relic will be exposed at 6:30 pm with Sung Evensong. That will be followed by individual veneration. The relic will then be placed in view for collective veneration for an hour. During that time, a number of reflections from St. Newman’s writings will be shared. The evening will feature Newman hymns and will end with Sung Compline at 8 pm.
Fr. Bengry says the event is open to anyone who wants to attend. The veneration of a Saint John Henry Newman relic has special meaning for his parishioners since the event marks 10 years since the Anglicanorum coetibus was promulgated, providing a process for Anglicans to return to the fold.
Details of Newman’s life and canonization can be found at www.newmancanonisation.com. Dr. Thomas Bouchard encourages people to read Newman’s story. Like Pope Benedict, Bouchard views stories about the lives of saints as a kind of second gospel. “Because they live out the gospel in their lives, reading about the lives of saints is really like reading the gospel.”
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully
Photos courtesy of St. John Evangelist, Calgary
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers