Technology Allows 10,000+ Digitized Newman Writings to Be Studied
Much in the world has changed since Blessed John Newman’s birth 200 years ago, but the spirit of his writings remains relevant—and more accessible than ever at the National Institute for Newman Studies in Pittsburgh.
Newman’s timeless message about religion—“Heart speaks to heart”—persists, significant to lay people as well as to scholars, said Dr. Kevin Mongrain, holder of the new Ryan Endowed Chair at Newman Studies at Duquesne University and director of the National Institute for Newman Studies.
The institute, home of the world’s most complete collection of Newman’s work and work about him (nearly 10,000 volumes), has invested time and money in digitizing so these writings are 21st-century accessible, searchable and useable.
“We have something that is cutting-edge in the world,” Mongrain said, referring to the institute’s Newman Knowledge Kiosk, a definite advantage for scholars. “A key component of the Knowledge Kiosk is a suite of search tools that enable the user to conduct robust analysis ranging from a simple search by word, author or subject, and complex searches.”
He thinks that Newman, a giant within Catholic intellectual tradition, one of the Church’s great teachers and the innovator behind the Newman Centers on the campuses of so many non-Catholic universities, would approve.
“His whole mission was to make Christianity accessible to ordinary people again,” explained Mongrain. Everyday people and scholars can delve into the thoughts that Newman developed, first as an evangelical in the Anglican church, exhibiting great love for the Bible, then as one who came to love the ritual, beauty and poetry of the liturgical year and sacramental life.
The institute’s Tudor-style home in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood is itself is enough to encourage a visit.
“The space is meant to facilitate a very human kind of interaction,” Mongrain said. “Newman’s view of education, both at universities and libraries, was that these places were for people to grow more and develop in their knowledge and understanding. Universities and libraries don’t exist just to produce data; rather, they are places where people go to have their minds and thoughts formed.
“This is a place where you want people to linger and stay; that’s why they built the apartments for the scholars right in there.”
Scholars from around the world, like a Japanese academic who will visit in December, are eligible for research stipends to immerse themselves, literally and figuratively, in Newman’s words and world. Besides theology, their disciplines may be education, philosophy, literature and others.
The institute, as it moves forward in its affiliation formed in 2010 with Duquesne, is planning two public lectures a year, in Lent and Advent, to discuss spirituality and faith from Newman’s perspective. Also, twice a year, the institute will host lectures for scholars, drawing prestigious academics from around the world to the institute.
“The missions of the National Institute for Newman Studies and Duquesne University are very complementary. The institute has all kinds of things to offer Duquesne in its mission as a Catholic university, and Duquesne helps the Newman institute gain credibility as a first rate scholarly library because of this affiliation. I think it’s a win-win for everybody.”