The Gentle Saint: A pilgrimage to Oxford, Dublin and Rome in the Footprints of Saint John Henry Newman
by Patricia O’Leary (Gracewing, £12.99)
To many readers Patricia O’Leary will be a familiar name, as she contributed a column to this newspaper for some 14 years. By metier a Cork-based journalist, she also studied catechetics and scripture at University College Cork and pastoral care at Cork University Hospital. She received a master’s degree from the University of Limerick and spent a year at Blackfriars Hall in Oxford studying Cardinal John Henry Newman.
So, having grounded herself in Newman’s life and writing, she sets out in this book on a pilgrimage across Europe that follows the young Anglican gentleman to his last days as a monument of Catholic intellect and piety.
Any one sensitive to the special atmosphere of places will find this both a charming and insightful read. With these islands and Europe under extensive lockdown and travel controlled, this winter may not seem to be a time to go anywhere.
But nevertheless we can all travel in our minds and imagination. So many ‘bucket list’ places are so crowded with vast numbers of visitors that no pleasure can be gained from them at all. There is no time and silence to absorb the place.
How better then to go along with a writer like Patricia O’Leary, and following through her observations the varied world of John Henry Newman. Our imagination alone with the saint and the writer will I assure you be a keener and more insightful pleasure that can had these days on the path to Rome.
Given her own background and outlook, it is inevitable that Ms O’Leary devotes much of her space to Newman’s period in Ireland. This was not a happy time; nor were the Irish bishops truly kind to him. They did not want a replica of the Oxford he loved, where laypeople would be taught. They wanted a replica of Louvain; they did not want to have laypeople perhaps, but only priests.
But coming from an English publisher, this author’s focus may serve a good purpose, for it is these very years that English writers about Newman often glide over.
For those who want to know more about Newman this is an excellent book. It will lead its readers down interesting paths, none of them byways.