Newman spoke frankly to the leading layman Lord Howard of Glossop when explaining how he viewed the predicament that Catholics found themselves in during the 1870s. The letter has current applicability for those who attend universities which are all but secular except in name.
‘We are driven into a corner just now, and have to act, when no mode of action is even bearable. It is a choice of great difficulties. On whole I do not know how to avoid the conclusion that mixed [i.e. religiously plural] education in the higher schools is as much a necessity now in England, as it was in the East in the days of St Basil and St Chrysostom. Certainly, the more I think of it, the less am I satisfied with the proposal of establishing a Catholic College in our Universities; and I suppose the idea of a Catholic University, pure and simple, is altogether out of the question.’
Newman thought that the bishops should repeal their virtual prohibition of young Catholics attending Oxbridge colleges, and that they should counter ‘what can only be tolerated as the least of evils’ by placing a strong presence Oxford. This ‘should be a strong religious community, which would act as a support and rallying-point for young Catholics in their dangerous position, commanding their respect intellectually, and winning their confidence, and providing quiet opportunities for their being kept straight both in faith and in conduct’.
He remarked: ‘The true and only antagonist of the world, the flesh, and the devil is the direct power of religion, as acting in the Confessional, in confraternities, in social circles, in personal influence, in private intimacies etc etc And all this would be secured by a strong mission worked zealously and prudently, and in no other way.’
Since a large university allowed a student to choose his company, he felt that ‘the open University, when complemented by a strong Mission, may be even safer than a close Catholic College’. (Newman to Howard, 27 April 1872)