Native of the Bronx, Professor of English Literature, Jesuit of the New York Province, 21-year resident of Europe working for the canonisation of a Londoner – all these facts about Vincent Blehl seem like shards from rather incompatible ciphers until one recognises the indicating number – John Henry Newman – the priest, theologian, poet, preacher, and extraordinary man of God.
Vincent Ferrer Blehl was born in 1921 and at the age of 18 entered the Society of Jesus. His studies were commenced at Woodstock College, Maryland, against an increasingly dark international background (the Roosevelts were near neighbours and Blehl often spoke of their kindness in allowing the young students to use part of their grounds for recreation). An MA in English followed, and Blehl's dissertation had the 19th-century English cardinal Newman for its subject (he had developed a keen interest in Newman's Grammar of Assent when at Woodstock). Blehl's doctoral work at Harvard had the same focus.
Father Blehl worked with Father Charles Stephen Dessain of the Oratory and hoped to work further on Newman's Cause for Canonization, but his superiors had other assignments for him, including the chairmanship of the Department of England at Fordham University. But he finally had his chance to make a great contribution to Newman's Cause:
He also published several books about Newman or collections of Newman's sermons, letters, and other works. Father Blehl was devoted to making sure that Newman's spirituality and devotion to Jesus Christ were better understood. The White Stone: The Spiritual Theology of John Henry Newman is a great example of this, as is Blehl's introduction to a collection of sermons which includes a foreword by Muriel Spark, whose reading of Newman led her to join the Catholic Church.
Although Father Blehl did not live to see Newman beatified or canonized, his soul surely knows that his work helped the Cause.
St. John Henry Newman, pray for us!!