Newman’s Legacy in Ireland: Courage in Adversity

Much has happened in Ireland since the mid-nineteenth century, when Blessed John Henry Newman served as Rector of the newly established Catholic University in Dublin. Since that time, the “most distressful country,” as it is called in a well-known nationalist song, has seen Home Rule, Civil War, and Partition. Among the things that have changed, radically and for the worse, is the very university at which Newman served. The Catholic University of Ireland metamorphosed into University College Dublin, which is now the nation’s largest university. Sadly, however, it is Catholic in name only and has little or nothing in common with Newman’s “idea of a university.”

The abyss that separates University College from the faith of its founders was demonstrated all too clearly by the disgraceful treatment of one of its students, Katie Ascough. Miss Ascough ran for and was elected the president of the Student Union at University College, never hiding the fact that she was pro-life. After she discovered that a Student Union publication contained information on abortion, she consulted a solicitor who confirmed that, since abortion is illegal in Ireland, it was illegal to advertise abortion services. Miss Ascough insisted that the publication be reprinted with the offending material deleted. For this heinous crime, a group of “pro-choice” faculty and students ran an aggressive campaign to have her impeached, which succeeded.

Miss Ascough’s courage in the face of such victimization, and the charitable way in which she responded to the bullying and the threats, were an inspiration to many, a light of love in a land blighted by bigotry and hatred. On April 28, she received the first annual Courage in the Public Square Award, presented by Newman College Ireland. “Courage is not simply one of the virtues,” wrote C. S. Lewis, “but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty or mercy which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on condition.” Dovetailing with Lewis’s insistence that courage is the necessary prerequisite for the preservation of virtue was the observation of Thucydides that “the secret to happiness is freedom… and the secret to freedom is courage.”

With these timely and timeless axioms in mind, it is worth quoting from Newman College Ireland’s citation of its reasons for presenting Miss Ascough with its “Courage in the Public Square Award”:

Katie Ascough has demonstrated great courage. Of equal importance is how this courage has been exercised. She has met the vile and violent attacks with remarkable poise, cheerfulness, and magnanimity. She is thus a witness not only of courage, but of Christian charity. It is impossible to watch her interviews of the controversy without being attracted to her character. One hopes that over time even those who adamantly opposed her will recognize that a great injustice has been perpetrated on a young woman who represents the best of the Irish, who loves her fellow Irish students and faculty, but loves God first.

It is our honor to award to Katie Ascough our inaugural annual award for “Courage in the Public Square.”

Another tale of courage that should not go unnoticed or unmentioned is that shown by Nicholas Healy, the president of Newman College Ireland. Formerly the president of Ave Maria University in Florida, Mr. Healy has worked tirelessly over the last few years to raise funds to start a new and authentically Catholic college in the land of his ancestors. Having finally succeeded in founding Newman College Ireland, he has seen it on the brink of floundering on more than one occasion. And yet, against all the odds, it continues to forge its way into a brave if uncertain future.

On a recent visit to Ave Maria, his old stomping ground, to give a talk on maritime law to the law school, Healy was surprised to receive two unsolicited pledges of support for Newman College Ireland, securing its future, for the time being at least. “We just held our first graduation (four graduates), and the response of parents was very gratifying,” he says, “as was the congratulatory praise of Cardinal Brady, the Archbishop Emeritus of Armagh, who despite our humble state celebrated the Baccalaureate Mass for us and stayed for the whole ceremony.”

Equally encouraging, Mr. Healy is pleased to report that Newman College Ireland has made progress on the proposal of leasing unused space at a beautiful historic monastery. “God willing, we will be negotiating an arrangement which will, after some needed renovations, allow us to be there by fall of 2019. We have been praying for six months for a campus in the South [thus far, the college has been located in County Derry in the North] and this would be the ideal solution.”

Mr. Healy has formed an alliance with William Fahey, president of Thomas More College in New Hampshire. TMC recognizes the credits of students taking courses at NCI and, if the students spend their senior year at the TMC campus and have the requisite credits accumulated at NCI, they will be able to receive an accredited degree from TMC.

Speaking of his special relationship with President Fahey, Mr. Healy perceives the possibility of the two colleges forging ever closer ties in the future. “Let us just say that we share the same vision of the importance of a liberal arts education, the need for fidelity to Catholic teaching, and Newman’s ideal of the cultivation of moral as well as intellectual virtues. We also both mourn the collapse of the faith in the nation whose people suffered much to retain it and helped its spread throughout the world, especially in America.”

With the same spirit of indomitable fearlessness that has inspired Irish Catholics across the centuries, Nicholas Healy looks towards the future. “For the coming year our students will enroll at TMC; the four seniors will then graduate with both TMC and NCI degrees. This will allow us to spend the year getting a proper campus ready in the South and also to put in place the infrastructure needed for NCI to secure its own accreditation. This will require a substantial effort, but as long as God continues to give me the strength and health I still enjoy, I am willing to keep at it. I would not even attempt it without the continuing support and encouragement of my wife Jane, who for nearly 55 years has been at my side.”

JOSEPH PEARCE is a senior fellow at The Cardinal Newman Society and editor of its journal. He is a senior contributor at The Imaginative Conservative and senior editor at the Augustine Institute. His books include biographical works on C.S. Lewis, Shakespeare, Tolkien, Chesterton, Solzhenitsyn and Belloc.

Copyright © 2018 The Cardinal Newman Society. Permission to reprint without modification to text, with attribution to author and to The Cardinal Newman Society, and (if published online) hyperlinked to the article on the Newman Society’s website. The views expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Cardinal Newman Society.

Write For Us