Newman Conference

Matthew O'Connor, Writer

It is 5:00 am on Saturday and my dad had a plan. It involved an early start and a long drive to the University of Chicago to attend an all day lecture and discussion group on the canonization of St. John Henry Newman. Why would I do this to myself?

After some orange juice and donuts the lecture started by getting everyone to learn how to debate with a simple icebreaker. The heated debate was on the curious subject of whether or not cookie dough ice cream is the best ice cream flavor.

Split up into smaller groups, the discussion began with college students participating as well to help keep the conversation on track. The debate became heated with points being made such as, “how can cookie dough ice cream be the best flavor if not everyone has tried every flavor?” Or “If you are creating one food out of two foods that are complementary to each other, how can the resulting food not be the best?”

After this “warm-up” debate we returned to our seats and listened to our guest speaker introduce the life of St. John Henry Newman. Our speaker spoke to us about how during John’s early years he was a rather rebellious teenager until he and his friends started to study religion, beginning with the Anglican religion. He found that he could not relate with this church’s teachings.

Later in life he had a revelation; he decided that the Catholic Church better fit his understanding of how a church can best serve the community. Formerly a high society member in Britain, he immediately became a very controversial figure as Catholicism was held with great suspicion since the time of Henry VIII.

A strong theme that was continued throughout the seminar was that growth is the key to a meaningful life. Live a life by learning and growing so that you can become the best version of yourself. Faith also comes before reason because you have to believe in something in order to start acting on it.

Interestingly, while Newman attended the best college of his day, he was only a mediocre student. He did, though, have a great drive to learn. He wrote often and became quite well-known for his work. Initially, this was inspired by active public speaking. He wrote books and poems and in time some of these were even put to music to better share the beauty of his message.

Newman said that people should be studying Liberal Arts. He encouraged people to use college as a time to increase their general knowledge in all fields. He encouraged people to instead of focusing on one specific topic to study the histories, new languages, perhaps a writing or reading course. His idea of the university was greatly influential and led to the founding of what is now the largest university in Ireland.

I believe by attending this event and trying something new, I was actually doing what Newman would have wanted – exploring and testing new experiences. I was annoyed and even scared at first to go to this event. After it was done, I decided I was happy that I went. I am more interested in trying new things, and I would highly recommend the opportunity to try something new. I learned quite a bit about a new Catholic saint and also about the value of learning itself.