Besides being the natural setting for preaching, Newman wanted the University Church in Dublin to be ‘the place for all the high occasional ceremonies in which the University is visibly represented’, such as degree ceremonies, formal lectures and public acts. The University Church would be an invaluable instrument ‘in inculcating a loyal and generous devotion to the Church in the breasts of the young’, and would serve to ‘maintain and symbolize that great principle in which we glory as our characteristic, the union of Science with Religion’.
Before the University opened, Newman had hoped ultimately to make the University Church and the collegiate houses into a personal diocese, either with the rector as its bishop, or else with the Archbishop of Dublin as its bishop and the rector as its vicar apostolic. Though this remained an idea on paper, his ambitious thinking conveys the conception he had of his new pastoral responsibility.
Newman took upon himself the entire expense of building and furnishing the University Church in Stephen’s Green, Dublin. Defying the vogue for the Gothic style, he chose the form of a Byzantine basilica, which had the merits of functional beauty, lower cost, suitability for the use of Irish marble, and relative harmony with the surrounding Georgian buildings. The basic design of the church and its decoration was decided on by Newman, and its execution and interpretation entrusted to John Hungerford Pollen, the Professor of Fine Arts. Newman worked closely with him on the plans and the construction, and used his stay in Rome at Christmas 1856 to commission copies of a set of tapestries designed for the Sistine Chapel by Raphael. Just ten months after Pollen had set to work, the University Church was opened on Ascension Thursday, 1st May 1856 with a pontifical High Mass celebrated by Archbishop Cullen.
The Sunday after the Church opened was a moving occasion for Newman, because for the first time he looked down from the pulpit at the few dozen students from his university attired in academic dress. The student body was nevertheless a minority in the congregation of just over a thousand, as numbers were swelled by students from Trinity College Dublin as well as a good number of parents present, academic staff and the fashionable element of Catholic Dublin who had come to hear the famous Oxford convert preach. As it was the feast day of St Monica, the mother of the intellectual convert St Augustine, Newman used the occasion to consider her as a type of the Church, ever solicitous for the return of its clever sons, who had rushed out into the world and were now spiritually dead. A chief task of the Catholic University, Newman explained to the congregation, was to shoulder this responsibility of the Church in caring for her student family. More generally, part of the University’s special office was to receive from parental hands those who were leaving home, and to live up to and delight in its well-known designation as alma mater.
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Read the whole of this sermon, ‘Intellect, the instrument of religious training’
Read the other sermons Newman delivered to students in Dublin: