Much in the world has changed since Blessed John Newman’s birth 200 years ago, but the spirit of his writings remains relevant—and more accessible than ever at the National Institute for Newman Studies in Pittsburgh.
Newman’s timeless message about religion—“Heart speaks to heart”—persists, significant to lay people as well as to scholars, said Dr. Kevin Mongrain, the inaugural Ryan Endowed Chair at Newman Studies at Duquesne and director of the National Institute for Newman Studies.
The institute, home of the world’s most complete collection of Newman’s work and works about him (nearly 10,000 volumes), has invested time and money in digitizing so these writings are 21st-century accessible, searchable and useable. Mongrain shared a look at these amazing resources with members of the University’s board of directors, the theology department and the Spiritan community at a special event on Nov. 15.
“We have something that is cutting-edge in the world,” Mongrain said, referring to the institute’s Newman Knowledge Kiosk, a definite advantage for scholars. “A key component of the Knowledge Kiosk is a suite of search tools that enable the user to conduct robust analysis ranging from a simple search by word, author or subject, and complex searches.”
Mongrain thinks that Newman, a giant within Catholic intellectual tradition, one of the Church’s great teachers and the innovator behind the Newman Centers on the campuses of so many non-Catholic universities, would approve.
“His whole mission was to make Christianity accessible to ordinary people again,” explained Mongrain, who looks to welcome more seekers and scholars to the institute. “Newman didn’t want the religion taken over by abstract intellectuals. He didn’t think it was about people proving something was logically true or false. All of those proofs speaking to the head don’t speak to the heart, and his motto was ‘Heart speaks to heart.’”
Everyday people and scholars can delve into the thoughts that Newman developed, first as an evangelical in the Anglican church, exhibiting great love for the Bible, then as one who came to love the ritual, beauty and poetry of the liturgical year and sacramental life. “As he keeps maturing, he enters the Roman Church, which he thinks is a perfect blend of biblically and liturgically based Christianity,” Mongrain said. “All of his homilies are rooted in the Bible and, for him, spirituality is hugely important.”
Although the institute’s beautiful library in Oakland is geared toward scholars, “I would be very happy if interested lay people came just to study and learn about Newman on their own,” Mongrain said.
The institute, as it moves forward in its affiliation formed in 2010 with Duquesne, is planning two public lectures a year, during Lent and Advent, to discuss spirituality and faith from Newman’s perspective. Also, twice a year, the institute will host lectures for scholars, drawing prestigious academics from around the world to the Tudor-inspired center, located at 211 N. Dithridge Street.
“The space is meant to facilitate a very human kind of interaction,” Mongrain said. “Newman’s view of education, both at universities and libraries, was that these places were for people to grow more and develop in their knowledge and understanding. Universities and libraries don’t exist just to produce data; rather, they are places where people go to have their minds and thoughts formed. He was very clear that a good university would have students living on campus, eating together, walking together, talking together and, yes, studying together. That’s part of the reason our library is just a beautiful place.
Scholars from around the world, like a Japanese academic who is scheduled to visit in December, are eligible for research stipends to allow immersing themselves, literally and figuratively, in Newman’s words and world. Besides theology, their disciplines may be education, philosophy, literature and others.
But the regenerative nature of Newman’s work doesn’t stop with scholars, according to Mongrain.
“The missions of the National Institute for Newman Studies and Duquesne University are very complementary,” Mongrain said. “The institute has all kinds of things to offer Duquesne in its mission as a Catholic university, and Duquesne helps the Newman institute gain credibility as a first rate scholarly library because of this affiliation. I think it’s a win-win for everybody.”
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