In spite of its feeble attempt this pun bears some significance. One and a quarter century ago, in 1893, Timothy Harringon, a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, along with two other laymen and the pastor at St. James Parish founded a Catholic Club at that secular University. It would be the first of many that would arise throughout the nation in the years since and it would be called the Newman Club.
Harrington later wrote: “ (after) finding no organization of Catholic Students at the University of Pennsylvania my mind naturally turned to the possibility of forming an organization that would give the Catholic students of this university a chance to come together, to know one another, to discuss subjects of interest to Catholic students and possibly to increase somewhat the opportunities for social life among them”.
What inspired this initiative was Harrington’s exposure to Cardinal Newman’s “Apologia Pro Vita Sua” which had been published in 1864. This eminent English poet, convert and theologian died in 1890 just before his eponymous Club was founded at Penn. But the Holy Spirit, so compellingly manifested in his life, his teaching and his writings, has since been the vivifying source of vitality for the many Newman Centers now across our nation. Those who have been touched by his writings agree that to be a student of Newman is to be a student of the Spirit (Pneuma).
The University of Pennsylvania was founded in 1740 by Benjamin Franklin whose death occurred 100 years before the Cardinal’s. Imagine what that illustrious printer, patriot, Freemason and Deist would think were he to read this quote by a student in Penn’s 1972 yearbook: “(this place) …. offers you friendship, God-talk, good food, good noise, quiet if you want it, conversation…the Spirit, ping pong, prayer, a chance to help, comfy chairs, someone to talk to if you need it, books of all sizes, Mass on Sunday, a nice place to study, and maybe a little shine when things look dark”. Imagine were he to witness the religious services, the theological dialogues, the interaction with other faith groups, and the social outreach to the poor!
The Penn and Drexel Newman Center is celebrating its 125th anniversary this October. I invite readers to visit the website: www.newman.upenn.edu/newmancelebration to experience its verve and vibrancy. What particularly heightens the excitement of this planned event for the Center is the long-awaited canonization of Cardinal Newman in that same month.
Dr. Benjamin Franklin and St. John Newman. The worlds of two giants meet at this ‘center of vibrancy’. Their mutual legacy gives us cause for hope for in our unhinged times the alumni of this Center are better prepared to lead us to a saner and more fully human world.
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