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Newman in Ealing

Ealing School

Ealing School

A pub on St Mary’s Road in Ealing, west London,  and the state visit of Pope Benedict XVI this September may seem like they have little in common but in fact they do: Cardinal John Henry Newman. I first became aware that John Henry Newman had any connection with the borough thanks to one of those informative little histories you sometimes get on pub walls. The pub in question is the Castle Inn.

There are many reasons why Pope Benedict is visiting Britain and his visit is likely to be followed with interest by Ealing’s large Catholic community. However, the Pope is also personally expected to preside over the beatification of John Henry Newman when he visits Britain and this should be of particular interest to Ealing residents, even though many of them, not including the regulars at the Castle, may be unfamiliar with any link at all.

John Henry Newman was a school boy at what was then one of the most famous public schools in England, Great Ealing School (located in what is now the area taken up by Cairn Avenue and Nicholas Gardens). Newman entered there as a boarder in 1808 and stayed until he went to Oxford university in 1816 at just fifteen years of age. Pope Benedict is an enormous fan of Newman, particularly of his theology and it is no understatement to say that some of the most important years of Newman’s intellectual journey were in Ealing.

It is not only Newman’s intellectual link with Ealing which is of interest but more particularly, his own attachment to Christianity. Newman did not come from a particularly religious family but it was while he was at school in Ealing that he read Thomas Scott’s The Force of Truth and was converted to a lively and personal faith. This conversion was to make Newman a leading churchman of his day, and eventual founder of the Oxford Movement which established what we would now call High Anglicanism. Of course Newman’s lasting fame is a result of his eventual conversion to Roman Catholicism and his role as one of the leading theologians of that Church. It is for this reason that Pope Benedict is such a devotee and if His Holiness has time, he might be tempted to take a slight detour to visit the site of what was for eight crucial years: Newman’s school.