Newman once remarked: ‘Now from first to last, education, in this large sense of the word, has been my line.’ According to conventional wisdom a successful educator is someone who excels either at teaching or at inspiring or organising others to teach; someone who possesses a special talent for dealing with children, adolescents, students or adults in a particular setting, which might be either personal or institutional. What is unusual about Newman as an educator is that over a seventy-five-year period he dealt with every age group, instructing them both individually (in person and by letter) and collectively (in tutorial classes, lecture halls, the schoolroom and the pulpit). The range of his contributions to the organisation of teaching and learning is equally impressive. He reorganised a parish school; played a leading part in the nineteenth-century revival of Oxford University; was the chief founder and the first vice-chancellor of a Catholic university; and founded the first Catholic public school in England.
During his time at Oriel College Oxford (1822–45) he acted as a tutor, lecturer, examiner, dean of discipline and researcher, as well as Anglican clergyman, spiritual guide and preacher. His practical contributions to the reform of Oxford included the introduction of written exams in the college – the University followed suit two years later – and laying the germ of the modern tutorial system by merging the roles of private tutor and college lecturer. But his influence went far beyond these practical innovations and affected the whole teacher-student relationship and contributed to the revival of learning at the University.
Responding to an invitation from the Irish bishops, Newman was the founding rector (or vice-chancellor) of the Catholic University in Dublin. Virtually every aspect of the University which began in 1854 came into being through him, which meant that he devised the curriculum, appointed the academics and led his team, organised the system of lecturing and tutoring, edited the University Gazette, oversaw the finances and administration, took a leading part in the examination system, and, not being content to live in administrative isolation, set the tone by rolling up his sleeves and involving himself in virtually every aspect of its life. He even ran one of the collegiate residential houses that were so emblematic of his pastoral approach to education. The pet scheme of his rectorate (1854–58) was setting up the L&H.