It started with 600 books.
The year was 2002, and Father Vincent Giese, one-time editor of Our Sunday Visitor, had recently passed away. Like most scholars, Father Giese left behind a serious book collection. But his collection was no ordinary collection. It included 600 titles by, about and related to Cardinal John Henry Newman.
That collection was left to the Newman Association of America, the organization Father Giese founded, and entrusted to the care of Oratorian Father Drew Morgan, Newman Association board member and provost of the Pittsburgh Oratory. Although he was at first unsure what to do with the books, Father Morgan, along with his fellow board member Catharine Ryan, soon devised the idea of building a permanent home for the collection.
“We wanted to complete it,” Father Morgan said. “We wanted every edition of every book Newman wrote so that we could see what changes he made. We also wanted an active library, not a sleeping one, where scholars could come and stay while they conducted their studies.”
They sought that because both believed Newman’s intellectual legacy contained vast riches yet to be mined.
From his understanding of Catholic education, which helped lay the groundwork for the American parochial school system, to his historical understanding of theology, which helped lay the groundwork for the Second Vatican Council, Newman had already profoundly influenced the Church in America. Accordingly, Father Morgan and Ryan reasoned, fostering more in-depth scholarship on Newman and bringing him into an ongoing dialogue with the modern world was the best way to unearth what Newman still had to offer the Church and culture.
Repository of works
In 2003, the National Institute for Newman Studies opened its doors in Pittsburgh, the city where the Oratorians of St. Philip Neri — the order Newman brought to England after his conversion — had been for more than 40 years. That same year, the institute welcomed its first visiting scholar, a doctoral candidate from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., who was studying Newman’s epistemology. Graduates of Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, and the University of Dallas soon followed, the former developing a course for high school students based on Newman’s writings, the other looking at Newman’s relationship to Plato.
While the institute was building its visiting scholar program, Father Morgan was preparing for another kind of building. The institute needed a more permanent home than the small suite of rooms that was initially hosting the library and scholars. It also needed more space. It got both in fall 2007 when construction on the Galliot Center for Newman Studies was complete.
The institute’s permanent home is a multimillion-dollar brick building featuring a two-story library, four apartment suites for visiting scholars, program offices and a chapel. Built in the Tudor Revival style, the library bears an impressive resemblance to Newman’s own library in Birmingham (and the English college libraries upon which his library was modeled). But more impressive still are the books that line the library’s walls.
Currently, more than 4,000 volumes are housed at the institute, including a complete collection of Newman’s writings, the titles that most influenced him, books about and inspired by Newman, and scholarly dissertations on his work. The stacks also hold 14 volumes of the Newman Studies Journal, which the institute publishes twice yearly, and even one or two books from Newman’s personal library. Many of the titles can be found nowhere else in the United States. Others can be found only one or two other places in the world.
Along with the books, the institute houses the Newman Knowledge Kiosk, a virtual database that contains even more titles than the physical library and offers researchers around the world the ability to search and study rare Newman texts online.
Haven for research
On-site, the institute has hosted more than 40 scholars in residence, providing fellowships to graduate students, professors and researchers working on Newman-related projects. Hailing from eight different countries and a dozen U.S. universities, the scholars have researched everything from how Newman’s “Grammar of Assent” can provide a framework for the evangelization of Africa to Newman’s personal ascetic practices.
One of those visiting scholars was Damon McGraw. In 2006, while studying at the University of Notre Dame, McGraw came to the institute to do research related to his doctoral dissertation: an examination of Newman’s writings on the apocalypse. He returned two years later to serve as the institute’s first full-time Executive Research Fellow. Now, he oversees the research projects conducted on-site.
As McGraw sees it, the value of the institute is not simply the literary resources it offers, but the human resources as well.
“When you’re a scholar in any subject you tend to be a free agent,” he told OSV. “It can be very isolating. Having a national institute gives scholars a point of reference and a support system.”
Dwight Lindley, a doctoral candidate in English Literature at the University of Dallas, is one of the scholars currently benefitting from that support system. His work focuses on Newman and Aristotle, with Lindley looking at how Aristotle gave Newman a language with which he could speak about faith to the intellectuals and skeptics of his day.
“Newman was brilliant at talking about the way we think and believe,” Lindley said of his work. “He spoke in ways we need to reclaim.”
For Lindley, the institute has been a manifold blessing.
“I’ve been able to get into the subject in ways I wouldn’t have otherwise,” he said. “It’s a peaceful, beautiful setting. I have all the resources I need. And I’ve been able to have so many conversations with people here that have furthered my understanding of John Henry Newman.”
“It’s been a privilege to be here,” he added. “It’s a great blessing to people studying Newman and to the Church.”
Next month, when Newman is declared blessed during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Great Britain, Father Morgan, McGraw and the rest of the institute’s staff will be there. For them, Newman’s beatification is confirmation not only of Newman’s personal holiness, but also of the importance of their work, which is grounded in the belief that Newman has as much to say to the Church and culture today as he did during the reign of Queen Victoria.
Emily Stimpson is an OSV contributing editor.
John Henry Newman: A Timeline
1801: Born in London
1816: Experienced a profound inner conversion to the Christian faith
1825: Ordained as an Anglican priest
1833: Began writing “The Tracts for Our Times,” which helped launch the Oxford movement, a push from within the Church of England to restore Anglicanism to its Catholic roots
1843: Resigned from his work as a pastor of the Anglican parish, St. Mary’s
1845: Was received into the Catholic Church; published “Essay On the Development of Christian Doctrine”
1847: Ordained a priest in the Roman Catholic Church
1848: Founded the first English oratory at Maryvale, near Birmingham
1854: Traveled to Dublin, where he would spend four years as rector of the Catholic University of Ireland (now, University College Dublin)
1865: Published his spiritual autobiography, “Apologia Pro Vita Sua”
1870: Published “Grammar of Assent”
1879: Made a cardinal by Pope Leo XIII
1890: Died of pneumonia at the Birmingham Oratory
1991: Proclaimed “Venerable” by the Catholic Church