A new saint’s connection with old Tasmania

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Home > Media > News > A new saint’s connection with old Tasmania
A new saint’s connection with old Tasmania

By Nick Brodie

A great luminary of the nineteenth century, Cardinal John Henry Newman, is being canonised by Pope Francis on October 13, 2019. Tasmanians will be following the event with interest because although Newman never visited this island, he had a profound connection with this Archdiocese.

Some of that was typical of his broader influence. In 1930 a Newman Society was founded in Hobart, for example, fostering the sort of intellectual Catholicism for which Newman was known. Even earlier, in 1881, the Catholic Standard had printed a copy of Newman’s short essay Cathedra Sempiterna. It is one of the earliest printed copies of this work. Tasmania’s Catholics evidently followed his career with interest, and later cherished his memory.

More personally, a number of Tasmania’s priests knew him from their seminary days. Some had the good fortune to visit him later, during travels abroad. Fr Daniel Beechinor met Newman in company with Archbishop Daniel Murphy in the early 1880s, for instance, and reported that “his conversation all turned to Tasmania, in which he manifested a very great deal of interest.”

But Newman’s literary connection with Tasmania went back even further than that. In October 1864, 155 years before his canonisation, a copy of his famous Apologia Pro Vita Sua arrived in Hobart for Bishop Robert William Willson. This defence of Newman’s conversion from Anglicanism into the Catholic Church is still an influential work.

Willson was so impressed with it that he and nineteen of Tasmania’s priests signed a letter of support which they sent to Newman. Their letter was published in an appendix to subsequent editions of the Apologia. They called the work “admirable” and wrote that “from this distant land, we beg to convey to you, Very Rev’d and dear Sir, the sentiments of our affectionate respect, and deep veneration.”

The feelings were mutual. We know this because Willson had already sent a private letter to a mutual friend praising Newman and his Apologia. The friend passed Willson’s letter on to Newman himself, who in turn replied in a letter that was forwarded to Willson. As a result, the Archdiocese of Hobart Archives still has a letter from 1864 in it, signed by John Henry Newman himself, in which he called our first Bishop ‘a man I like & know very much’.

Blessed John Henry Newman will be canonised in St Peter’s Square, Rome, on October 13. To mark the event, the letter signed by Cardinal Newman and the copy of his book, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, mentioned in the article, will be displayed during 10.30am Sunday Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral in Hobart on October 13.

The canonisation can be watched live on Sunday, October 13 at 6:30pm through EWTN’s website.