By Grazie Christie

(RNS) — On Sunday (Oct. 13), Pope Francis will canonize Cardinal John Newman, the first Englishman to be made a saint since Pope Paul VI canonized the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, who were killed for their Catholic faith during the Protestant Reformation.

Unlike his compatriots, who endured savage execution and ignoble burial, Newman died quietly in his bed in 1890 at the advanced age of 89. Like those earlier martyrs, however, Newman courageously followed where truth led him, even when it led through ignominy and exile from everything he held dear. His countrymen appreciated him for it: Thousands lined the streets of Birmingham to watch his funeral cortege go by.

Yet Newman is not a figure who readily captures the popular imagination or easily inspires fervent devotion. Newman’s holiness is understated; his life’s work a glassy lake of extraordinary spiritual depths. In those depths, however, are the elements that make him a pivotal figure in modern church history — a man whose versatility of mind, elegant rhetoric and robust defense of both conscience and fidelity exert a profound influence on the church today.

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