John Henry Newman, the Liberal Arts, and Anna Maria College


 John Henry Newman web


John Henry Newman, the Liberal Arts, and Anna Maria College

By Marc Tumeinski, PhD
Assistant Professor of Theology & Program Director of Graduate Theology


On the 13th of October 2019, John Henry Newman will be formally recognized by the Catholic Church as a saint, as someone who demonstrated a recognizable commitment to the Christian life and who sets a positive example for others. What is particularly interesting for us at Anna Maria College is that, beginning in 1851, Newman worked to establish what eventually became University College Dublin (Ireland). As part of this founding, Newman gave a series of lectures, later collected in a book entitled The Idea of a University (1852). In these talks, he emphasized a number of core ideas:

  • the centrality of the liberal arts
  • the cultivation of excellence
  • the value of nurturing the development of the whole person
  • the search for truth in an atmosphere of peaceful dialogue
  • the creation of a collegial environment that would foster mutual and harmonious relationships among students and faculty

Sound familiar? It should, particularly when we consider the mission of Anna Maria College:

As a Catholic institution inspired by the ideals of the Sisters of Saint Anne, Anna Maria College educates students to become individuals who will transform their world as ethical leaders and community-oriented professionals.


While they lived in different parts of the world and never met, it is remarkable to consider that in 1850 Marie Anne Blondin founded the Sisters of St. Anne with the charism of providing faith-based education to children from poorer families, just a few years before Newman established a Catholic university in Dublin, opening up the first institution of higher education in Ireland that was accessible to Irish Catholics.


Newman believed that through a liberal arts education, a student learns to apprehend:

the great outlines of knowledge, the principles on which it rests, the scale of its parts, its lights and its shades, its great points and its little … A habit of mind is formed which lasts through life, of which the attributes are, freedom, equitableness, calmness, moderation, and wisdom … Liberal Education, viewed in itself, is simply the cultivation of the intellect, as such, and its object is nothing more or less than intellectual excellence (‘Knowledge its own end,’ in The Idea of a University).


Furthermore, Newman called not only students but faculty in different disciplines to cultivate collegiality. He certainly lived up to his own demands. Newman was in charge of the administration of the university but also taught, and lived in one of the university houses along with eight students, taking responsibility for their common residential life.

Regarding intellectual collegiality, he pointed out that faculty should:

by familiar intercourse and for the sake of intellectual peace … adjust together the claims and relations of their respective subjects of investigation. They learn to respect, to consult, to aid each other. Thus is created a pure and clear atmosphere of thought, which the student also breathes (‘Knowledge its own end’).

This respectful atmosphere of thought and dialogue is evident at Anna Maria–in the classroom, office, performance space, residence hall and communal area. Students, faculty and staff have many opportunities for constructive dialogue on a range of academic, political and social topics. These opportunities invite earnest reflection, active engagement with each other, critical thought and the sharing of ideas in the common pursuit of truth.


Newman also understood the importance of the university becoming a vital part of the local community. Faculty gave lectures open to the public, for example, and the university offered evening courses for students who worked during the day. Newman identified a need for trained doctors in Dublin, and so the university opened a medical school.

In honor of the saint, let us consider what we might learn from the example of John Henry Newman as we continue to work together to carry on the mission and values of Anna Maria College and the charisms of the Sisters of St. Anne. Newman’s life and writings can inspire us as we strive together for ‘something greater.’

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