Who was Cardinal Newman and why is he becoming a saint?

Pope Benedict XVI at the end of the Mass of Beatification for Cardinal Newman, celebrated in Cofton Park near Birmingham Credit: Peter Nicholls/PA

Cardinal John Henry Newman, the 19th century Anglican cleric who scandalised Victorian Britain when he converted to Catholicism, will be declared a saint in a ceremony led by Pope Francis.

Thousands of pilgrims, well-wishers and figures including the Prince of Wales will line St Peter’s Square in Rome for his canonisation.

But who was Cardinal Newman, why is he being declared a saint, and what is a canonisation?

– Who was Cardinal Newman?

Born in 1801, the eldest of six children to a banker father and mother of Huguenot descent, Cardinal Newman was a famous Anglican preacher and prominent intellectual.

The Oxford graduate controversially converted from the Church of England to Catholicism in 1845 and later moved from Oxford to Birmingham where he spent 30 years looking after the poor and the sick.

A prolific writer and poet, he was ordained as a Catholic priest in Rome in 1847, and went on to found the Birmingham Oratory, a Catholic university in Dublin and a Catholic school in Birmingham in 1859.

He was made a Cardinal in 1879 and his works include the hymn Lead Kindly Light and The Dream Of Gerontius, later set to music by Elgar.

When the theologian died in 1890, the streets of Birmingham were lined by tens of thousands of people desperate to see his coffin pass by.

The Catholic church has since been forced to defend Cardinal Newman against accusations that he was gay – after it became widely known he had left strict instructions to be buried in the same grave as his great friend, Father Ambrose St John.

Father Ian Ker, a world authority on Cardinal Newman, writing in a Catholic Truth Society pamphlet, said Fr St John was the “equivalent of a brother” to the Cardinal.

“In an age that has almost lost the concept of affectionate friendship untouched by sexual attraction, such speculation was no doubt inevitable,” he said.

– Why is Cardinal Newman being declared a saint and what is a canonisation?

The first step came in 2010, when Cardinal Newman was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI after the Vatican approved the cure of a US deacon, Jack Sullivan, from an agonising spinal disorder as a miracle.

Thousands watched the beatification ceremony in Cofton Park near Birmingham Credit: Peter Nicholls/PA

Beatification, meaning to “make blessed”, is the first step toward sainthood and is considered a declaration that a person can perform miracles by intervening on behalf of people who pray in their name.

More than 50,000 people flocked to a special Mass in Birmingham’s Cofton Park to see the ceremony.

But in order to be canonised and thus achieve sainthood, the church must deem you to have performed two authenticated miracles.

Cardinal Newman’s second came in the form of US lawyer Melissa Villalobos, of Chicago, who credits regular prayers to him with saving her from life-threatening pregnancy complications.

The 42-year-old mother-of-seven said she was bleeding heavily while pregnant with her fifth child after her placenta tore in 2013, according to the Catholic Herald.

The lawyer said she then collapsed exhausted at home in a “pool of blood” before uttering a prayer.

“Then I said, ‘Please, Cardinal Newman, make the bleeding stop.’ Those were my exact words. Just then, as soon as I finished the sentence, the bleeding stopped … Just then, the scent of roses just filled the air…” the Catholic Herald reported.

Her doctor then reportedly said her placenta was fully healed and baby Gemma was born healthy and without medical problems.

After her daughter’s birth, Mrs Villalobos reported the episode to church authorities which was then passed by the Archdiocese of Chicago to the Vatican, with Pope Francis accepting it as a miracle earlier this year.

Cardinal Newman will be the first British saint in more than 40 years after the canonisation in 1976 of Scottish martyr John Ogilvie, who died in 1615.

A large image of Cardinal Newman will be displayed alongside the faces of four women, from India, Switzerland, Italy and Brazil, also being canonised at the ceremony.

They are Mother Mariam Thresia, Marguerite Bays, Mother Giuseppina Vannini and Sister Dulce Lopes, the Catholic Herald reported.