John Newman inspires Duquesne U. institute

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Pittsburgh, which is already an international hub for scholars who study Blessed John Henry Newman, will add to that standing this fall as Duquesne University establishes an endowed chair for Newman studies.

Kevin Mongrain, who had been an assistant professor at the University of Notre Dame, will become the first holder of the Ryan Chair for Newman Studies at Duquesne and executive director of the Oakland-based National Institute for Newman Studies. The institute, which was founded by the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, the religious order to which Blessed John Henry Newman belonged, formed an alliance with Duquesne early this year.

"It's very, very unusual in a North American context to have an institute dedicated to the study of one person, with all of the collected works by and about him," Mr. Mongrain said of the Newman institute. Its unique software allows scholars not only to study digitized versions of everything that Blessed John Henry Newman wrote but also to find themes and connections quickly.

"This is so cutting edge that it's like what the medieval monks did for books," he said. "It will change how scholarship is done."

Blessed John Henry Newman was born in 1801 in England, where he became an evangelical Anglican priest and rector of the parish at Oxford University. He encouraged the study of the earliest Christian theologians, which led him to convert to Catholicism at the age of 44.

He became a priest in Birmingham and ministered to the poor while writing books that remain influential. Although he was never a bishop, Pope Leo XIII made him a cardinal. He died in 1890, and various parts of his legacy are claimed by theological conservatives and liberals alike. Pope Benedict XVI beatified him last year.

Catharine Ryan, a Pittsburgh philanthropist who earned her master's degree in theology from Duquesne in 1993, co-founded the Newman institute in 2002. With her husband, John T. Ryan III, she gave $2.5 million to endow the Newman studies chair, which is the largest gift Duquesne has received from a living graduate.

Mr. Mongrain had been one of the first Newman scholars to study at the Institute's Gaillot Center in Oakland when it opened in 2007. He had come to an interest in Blessed John Henry Newman through his prior scholarship on the Rev. Hans Urs Von Balthasar, a Swiss theologian influenced by Blessed John Henry Newman's writings and whose work influenced Vatican II and the future Pope Benedict.

Mr. Mongrain is excited about the opportunity to offer other scholars the same support that he had for Newman research.

"We have an opportunity to get a lot of young scholars started, and to help senior scholars with their work," he said. "I feel like I'm in a position to be a servant, in the sense of helping people, and to build bridges between scholars who might never have crossed paths otherwise."


Ann Rodgers: arodgers@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1416.


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