On April 23, 2008 the Vatican approved the beatification of John Henry Newman, of one of the most significant Anglican converts to Catholicism. But, before he can be canonized, a few things need to occur: namely, a second miracle, and removing his body from a grave he shares with his beloved–a fellow priest, Ambrose St John.
In an interview with L’Osservatore Romano shortly before Newman’s beatification, Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, Prefect of the Congregation of the Causes of Saints, said Cardinal Newman was “a man of thought, an emblematic figure of a conversion from Anglicanism to Catholicism.” The Cardinal added, “Personally, I hope that such a beatification may occur truly within a short time because it could be very important at this moment for the path of ecumenism.”
If so, Newman’s beatification is certainly ironic.
The Anglican Communion is tearing itself up over homosexual clergy and solemnizing the relationships of its gay communicants. Several Anglican bishops from North America have already or are in the process of seeking reception into the Catholic Church.
It’s most famous convert–John Henry Newman–was most certainly a gay man. Converting in 1845 at the age of 44, he chose to live a celibate life as an Anglican priest. However, his strong and intimate emotional attachments were with men–Richard Hurrell Froude and then, Ambrose St John. When St John died, Newman clung to the body all night.
It was Cardinal Newman’s dying wish that he be buried with his closest friend in the grounds of the house they shared as priests. The cardinal repeated on three occasions his desire to be buried with his friend, including shortly before his death in 1890.
“I wish,with all my heart, to be buried in Fr Ambrose St John’s grave – and I give this as my last, my imperative will,” he wrote, later adding: “This I confirm and insist on.”
Newman wrote after the death of St John in 1875: “I have ever thought no bereavement was equal to that of a husband’s or a wife’s, but I feel it difficult to believe that any can be greater, or anyone’s sorrow greater, than mine.”
Ambrose had also become a Roman Catholic around the same time as John Newman, and the two men have a joint memorial stone, inscribed with the words Newman had chosen:
“Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem”, which translates as “Out of shadows and phantasms into the truth”.
But now, nearly 120 years after his death, Newman is to be reinterred in a sarcophagus in preparation for his becoming a saint, leaving the remains of his friend behind.
The decision to separate the remains of John Henry Newman and Ambrose St John has led some people to question whether the Church is embarrassed about their relationship and doesn’t want to raise attention to it at the time of Newman’s beatification.