Less than three weeks after the canonization of St. John Henry Newman by Pope Francis on Oct. 13, 2019, St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie marked the significant moment in the Church by hosting a two-day symposium of noted scholars exploring the theological and pastoral dimensions of the 19th century saint’s universal call to holiness.
That conference has now been given renewed life in the pages of a newly published 161-page book called “Heart Speaks to Heart: Saint John Henry Newman and the Call to Holiness.”
With a foreword by Cardinal Dolan and an epilogue by Auxiliary Bishop James Massa of Brooklyn, the current rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary, the book’s contributors include Father Ian Ker, regarded as the world’s foremost scholar on St. John Henry Newman; Bishop John Barres of Rockville Centre, the principal celebrant and homilist of a Mass at the symposium; Edward Short, a New Yorker who has written several acclaimed volumes about the saint; Jo Anne Cammarata Sylva, author of the book “How Italy and Her People Shaped Cardinal Newman”; Ryan Marr, director of the National Institute for Newman Studies in Pittsburgh; Elizabeth Huddleston, coordinator of research for the National Institute for Newman Studies; Christopher Blum, academic dean and professor of history and philosophy at the Augustine Institute in Denver; and Father Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the archdiocese who is associate professor emeritus of theology at Boston College.
Father Kevin J. O’Reilly, a priest of the archdiocese who was academic dean and professor of dogmatic theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary, served as editor of “Heart Speaks to Heart” and also wrote on “Newman and Apologetics.”
The book project was “in his final days a labor of love” for Father O’Reilly, says a tribute on an early page. Father O’Reilly died Feb. 1 in a snowstorm in the Bronx while in the course of his priestly duties. He was 51.
Bishop Massa, in a phone interview last week, told me that Father O’Reilly “read through all of the talks when they were in pre-published form. He worked with the publisher and with the authors themselves to prepare their manuscripts for publication.
“He read carefully the essays in the volume and entered into dialogue with the authors to make sure their contribution spoke to the overall theme of holiness.”
Speaking of the juxtaposition of the Newman canonization and the academic symposium, Bishop Massa explained that Father Imbelli and he were both present in Rome for the canonization and then again at Dunwoodie for the symposium.
“It was a wonderful link between an important event in the Church, recognizing the heroic virtue and holiness of John Henry Newman, and then seeing the seminary community gather scholars together to reflect on the relevance of Newman’s holiness for Christian life today,” the bishop said.
(Msgr. Peter Vaccari, currently the president of Catholic Near East Welfare Association, was rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary when the symposium took place. The book introduction cites Msgr. Vaccari’s tireless work “in arranging for the speakers and the massive amount of details connected with running such an elaborate event and he deserves our profound gratitude.”)
Bishop Massa noted that Father O’Reilly’s “essay” was his favorite among the book’s chapters.
“He demonstrates how holiness is the Church’s most important and effective form of apologetics. Holiness attracts people.”
At a time when it can be difficult to communicate the Gospel message in society, “what opens the door for many people is the holiness of the person who speaks about Christ,” Bishop Massa said.
The saint’s own words from a sermon he gave at Oxford University, as quoted by Father O’Reilly, express the proposition clearly.
“The safeguard of faith is a right state of heart. This is what gives it birth; it also disciplines it. This is what protects it from bigotry, credulity, and fanaticism. It is holiness, or dutifulness, or the new creation, or the spiritual mind, however we word it, which is the quickening and illuminating principle of true faith, giving it eyes, hands, and feet.”
As St. Joseph’s Seminary celebrates its 125th anniversary year, “Heart Speaks to Heart” will be available at celebratory events beginning in the fall. Gracewing, a Catholic publishing firm in England, is the publisher.