On the 13th of October in a ceremony in Rome attended by Prince Charles, Education Minister Joe McHugh and tens of thousands of pilgrims UCD’s founder John Henry Newman was canonised by Pope Francis. A so-called traitor to England, Newman has now been acclaimed by the heir of his country’s throne and is a respected as a beloved saint across the Catholic world. Newman is known for espousing modern English literature and promoting free consciousness above religion.

Newman, who is the namesake of our Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences building, was a controversial figure in his day as he was a leading Anglican clergyman who converted, amongst dire criticism, to Catholicism in 1845; a time of rife collision between the two strands of Christianity, particularly in Ireland. He founded a Catholic University in Dublin in 1854 (the antecedent of UCD) in order to improve the intelligence of lay Catholics across the English-speaking world. He championed a liberal arts education in his lectures on “The Idea of a University” and disliked the ‘business model’ that many universities both then and now adopt.

The canonisation has sparked certain controversy across campus as many in UCD, from the student body to the faculty, strive for the university to hold a secular mantra. This aim for secularism became clear after the impeachment of UCDSU President Katie Ascough over abortion information in 2017, and once more last week when UCD’s faculty were reluctant to send representation to the canonisation amidst fear of backlash from many in the university. 


After much hesitation UCD decided to send two representatives to Rome. Dr. Daniel Deasy (Assistant Professor, UCD School of Philosophy and Director of the UCD Newman Centre for the Study of Religions) and Prof. Orla Feely (Vice President for Research, Innovation and Impact) were chosen to represent the university due to their respected positions.

Across campus there was very little coverage of the event by the university. The majority of students knew nothing about the canonisation and the campus’ social media accounts provided no information on the ceremony except for a single retweet of Prof. Feely’s tweet by the official UCD twitter account. This is presumably to maintain the secular standing of the university. 

Elsewhere Newman’s canonisation was celebrated. A substantial congregation packed into University Church in Dublin where Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin presided over a thanksgiving ceremony for Newman. This shows that Newman remains a respected and loved man in the city where he lived and worked for so many years while his sainthood confirms that he will never be forgotten in the Catholic world.


Adam O’Sullivan – Reporter