Newman University celebrates as its namesake becomes a saint

A statue of Cardinal John Henry Newman stands outside of Sacred Heart Hall on the campus of Wichita’s Newman University. Newman will be canonized by the Catholic Church during a ceremony this weekend.
A statue of Cardinal John Henry Newman stands outside of Sacred Heart Hall on the campus of Wichita’s Newman University. Newman will be canonized by the Catholic Church during a ceremony this weekend. The Wichita Eagle

Newman University will soon be named after a saint.

On Sunday, the university’s namesake Cardinal John Henry Newman will be declared a saint by Pope Francis during a canonization Mass in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican City in Rome.

That’s a big deal for the folks who work and study at Newman University, as well as graduates and others.

“Not many places get to celebrate the canonization of their namesake,” said Father Adam Grelinger, director of Newman University’s Campus Ministry and an assistant professor of theology. “It’s super rare and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Many Catholic institutions are named after individuals who have already reached sainthood, Grelinger said.

Newman University — the only U.S. university named for the 19th century British theologian, poet and scholar — has been marking the occasion with events all week. A student watch party on Sunday to catch the 3 a.m. livestream of the canonization ceremony caps the celebrations.

“I never thought I’d be alive when Blessed Newman would be canonized, much less still president of Newman,” said university president Noreen Carrocci in an email.

Carrocci, who is retiring at the end of the year, is leading a group of 34 Newman administrators, alumni and local Catholic clergy attending the ceremony in Vatican City.

The Mass is expected to draw 20,000 people, among them Prince Charles of the U.K. Newman began his religious life in the Church of England and later converted to Catholicism.

Newman was beatified in 2010, earning him the designation of Blessed. After a second miracle was attributed to him and recognized by the Vatican, he was eligible for sainthood.

Newman senior Caleb Kuestersteffen said he’s sensed “a spirit of excitement” among the students who’ve been at the events. Nearly 1,600 students attend Newman University, according to a university spokeswoman.

The events have included writing Newman quotes in chalk on sidewalks and watching a documentary on Newman’s life. Kuestersteffen was among several faculty and students who took turns reading from Newman’s prolific writings during a three-hour event in the Eck Hall foyer.

Kuestersteffen, who is in the seminarian program, also designed memorabilia — bookmarks, prayer cards, stickers, posters and T-shirts — to commemorate the event for the university. The 3-inch oval stickers have been the most popular, he’s been told, with students sticking them on laptops and water bottles.

“It’s an easy way to express yourself,” he said.

The spotlight on Newman’s life that has come with declaring him a saint has been good for the Newman University community, said Father Joseph Gile, associate professor of theology and dean of the university’s School of Catholic Studies.

“This has helped to bring his work to life,” said Gile, who teaches an elective class about Newman.

Newman was a man of great intellect and great integrity, Gile said. He became known for his writing on religious difficulty and about the purpose of a university and education.

“If there’s a patron saint of ecumenism, it could be John Newman,” Gile said.

Newman’s conversion to Catholicism in 1845, about halfway through his 89-year-life, was considered controversial and he lost friends and even his sister because of it, Gile said. He converted because he found Catholicism a truer form of faith, Gile said.

His series of lectures about liberal arts and education were published as “The Idea of a University,” which Gile called “a seminal work for Catholic higher education.”

“He’s an intellectual powerhouse but also a very holy man,” said Grelinger, who was a student studying information technology at Newman University when Newman was beatified in 2010.

The process to become a saint is a fairly lengthy one, with the final two steps being based on miracles attributed to the individual. The miracles are the result of someone praying in the name of a holy person and asking for that person’s help, called intercession.

In Newman’s case, a church deacon in England with a disabling spinal condition was inexplicably healed. In the second miracle, a pregnant woman in Boston was diagnosed with a life-threatening condition of a torn placenta, and within five days she was healed.

Newman University, originally founded in the 1930s as Sacred Heart College, first adopted the Newman name in 1973 when it was renamed Kansas Newman College. It became Newman University in 1998.

Newman University will have a final celebration of Newman’s sainthood ceremony during a prayer breakfast at 8 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 24 in the Dugan-Gorges Conference Center. Carrocci and others from the Newman group who attended the canonization will talk about their experience.

The breakfast is free and open to the public; registration is required. For more information and to register, go to