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A Brief History of Cardinal Newman High School

CN Official Seal - from shadows and symbols into truth

Cardinal Newman High School began as an idea to match a need, the need to provide a Catholic high school for boys in Santa Rosa, the growing center of Sonoma County. Long time established Ursuline High School for girls had moved from the downtown to alongside Mark West Springs Road in the mid 50’s and was expanding; parents began to lobby for a school for their sons too. Bishop Leo Maher, head of the recently established Diocese of Santa Rosa, February 1962, supported the idea and began the school by setting up a lay Board to plan the site and by recruiting a teaching order. In the school shield, the three parts of this beginning can be seen: Saint John Henry Newman, the 19th century English academic and social justice promoter, founder of the Oxford Movement, a convert to Catholicism, writer and teacher, minister and priest, known as one of the great minds of his time, sits in the bottom trident; the left side bears the symbol of the Diocese, a Cross of Roses, with a crescent moon, for the Valley of the Moon; the right side has the spilling Chalice with Grapes for the Society of the Precious Blood, the founding teaching order from Ohio. From this beginning, the school opened on September 8th, 1964 for the new 9th graders, the class of ’68, in the recently completed quad classrooms of Ursuline, while work began on the Hofer property, 32 acres next door. The following year, sophomores and freshmen came to attend the newly built school, designed and built by local Catholics. As a time of great change in the Church, with Vatican II having opened a refreshing of the faith, the new Cardinal Newman High School stood out as part of the ecumenical outreach of the Church and a place for students to grow in faith, academics, service, and community. The enthusiasm for the new school led to a solid enrollment from the beginning and a reputation of excellence soon developed. Catholics from throughout Sonoma County came, even some from beyond; students of other Christian denominations and Faiths also were attracted by a school that could teach theology, discuss beliefs, and share faith experiences. Over fifty years later, that remains core to the school’s mission.

The Canonization of John Henry Newman

Our very own patron is now a canonized saint. We have always recognized John Henry Cardinal Newman’s special contribution to the Catholic Church, in particular his pursuit of truth at all costs. He grew up in the United Kingdom during a time when being Catholic was discriminated against and therefore off limits to those persons respectable in the world’s eyes.  After centuries of persecution, the British ruling classes began to feel embarrassed by their intolerance of Catholicism and took a first step in 1778 to legalize Catholicism, provoking the Gordon Riots. The movement to further reform religious laws bore fruit in 1829, with the Roman Catholic Relief Act, allowing Catholics to sit in Parliament and take government jobs.  

Newman felt a strong attraction to the truth and was pulled gradually by the Holy Spirit toward the historical roots of Christianity. Though he had previously practiced types of Christianity that are strongly separated from the history of the Church and the development of Christian doctrine, he eventually came to recognize this as a mistake. In his life as an Anglican minister, he still saw that something was missing from his Christian faith. Though the Church of England incorporated aspects of historical and apostolic Christianity, it also forgot certain aspects of the integrity of the Christian faith. The Oxford Movement, which he helped to found to renew and reinvigorate the Church of England, moved him further to a deeper understanding of truth. This helped lead his progress towards the Catholic faith. Newman pursued the Christian faith in its entirety and became Catholic in 1845.

As a Roman Catholic, Newman taught and wrote. Much of his teaching focused on the nature of Christian truth and the development of doctrine. In the opinion of many people in the nineteenth century, doctrine did not change and therefore was seen as being static. Newman points out in many of his writings that though the truth of a doctrine does not change, the way in which it is expressed and understood does go through changes. Doctrines may have once been small and simple, but they become bigger and more complex over time. We see examples of this concept in the teachings regarding the Incarnation of Christ, the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in salvation history. 

Newman died in 1890, beloved as a great Victorian intellect and supporter of the urban poor. His commitment to faith and a legacy of intelligent Catholic scholarship from which we benefit immensely in the twenty-first century. He was canonized on October 13, 2019.  

Learn more about St. John Henry Newman, "A Mind Alive" in this article from the Holy See.