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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Sunflower Seeds

Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

“Lead, Kindly Light”: St. John Henry Newman


Today I’m sharing with you a famous prayer/poem/ written by St. John Henry Newman. But first, a few words about this saint canonized by Pope Francis in October 2019.


(Photo of John Henry Newman,1885)


John Henry Newman (1801-1890) was born in London, England, the eldest of six children. His father was a banker. As a child, he loved to read and study. A devout young man, he was eventually ordained an Anglican priest in 1825. But Newman’s studies began to lead him to the Roman Catholic Church. He agonized over whether to become a Roman Catholic. He knew, in doing so, he would lose many of his close Anglican friends. But finally, in 1845, he became a Roman Catholic. A few years later, he was ordained a Catholic priest. Newman lived half of his long life as an Anglican and the other half as a Catholic.


(Photo by Suzy Hazelwood – Pexels)


Newman has been described as a theologian, philosopher, historian, writer, poet, and musician. He was not only an avid reader, but also a prolific writer. He wrote 40 books. In addition, 21,000 of his letters have survived. In his theology he emphasized a historical perspective and the lived experience of believers. When he was made a Cardinal in 1879, he took for his motto: Cor ad cor loquitur which means “heart speaks to heart.” The motto expresses his belief in the essence of prayer: it is one heart speaking to another heart. Later, his motto was used to describe how we pass on the faith to others–essentially by speaking heart to heart with them.


St. John Henry Newman has been called “the absent Father at Vatican Council II.” His writings had a profound influence upon the documents of the Council–especially his writings on conscience, religious liberty, scripture, the vocation of the lay people, and the relation between Church and State.


I became acquainted with Newman as a young Sister. In those “olden days,” the books we were permitted to read were few. But Newman (along with St. Teresa of Lisieux and some Trappist monks) were on the approved book list. As soon as I started reading Newman’s writings, I fell in love with him! This fact amazed me. I asked myself, “How can this dead old man ‘speak to the heart’ of me, a very alive young woman?” It was a mystery to me, but part of his attraction for me was his beautiful writing style–a little “old fashioned” in some places, yes, but so poetic and even magical at times. I also learned that this stellar scholar would take regular breaks from his books and his writing and go into London to visit the zoo! (A man after my own heart!)

(Photo be Fernando Makoto – Pexels)


One of my favorite Newman poems is “Lead, Kindly Light.” Some of you are probably familiar with it. In this poem he addresses God as “Kindly Light.” He describes the “encircling darkness and gloom”–something we experience at times in our personal lives as well as in some of our current news headlines… Then he says, “I do not ask to see the distant scene; one step enough for me.” Isn’t that how we live our lives–one step, one small decision, one tiny act of love, one day at a time? As a young man, Newman says in the poem, he did not want to be led. “Pride ruled my will.” But now he is asking God to lead him “o’er moor, o’er crag, o’er torrent… and finally home.”


This adapted version of the prayer/poem is sung by Audrey Assad. May these beautiful words to God become our own… as we pray: lead on, lead on, Kindly Light…



PS: Next Sunday afternoon, May 19th, from 1:30 – 4:00 (Central) I will be leading a zoom retreat entitled “Finding God in the Ordinary and Amazing.” It is sponsored by the Portiuncula Center for Prayer in Frankfurt, IL. I look forward to meeting the participants, and I ask for the support of your prayers for this event. Thank you!

I’d love to know what you thought or felt as you read this reflection and/or prayed Newman’s prayer… Please leave a comment below. We all would love to hear from you!

19 Responses

  1. Good morning, Sr. Melannie…
    Good morning, all…

    All my life I’ve heard of Cardinal Newman. But that’s just it: “I’ve heard OF him, but really haven’t read his work. I vaguely remember his essay on the value of a college education; I think I read it during my own college days. And I’m sure a quote of his has come across my eyes. But here’s the thing: Despite not having read much of his work, I’ve always liked him. Sounds strange but it’s true. Perhaps I liked the authors citing him, and so by extension, I liked him. Whatever the case, your blog has inspired me to READ more of his work. The song based on his poem was beautiful. Yes, kind light, one step at a time. As usual, thank you!

  2. Simply lovely. The “heart to heart” spoke to me as did the “small steps to the light. Thank you for a wonderful start to my day. Mary Jane

  3. I will be visiting the Port during the time of your Zoom visit. I hope to be able to participate with the sisters at that time.

    Betty Chrastka

  4. I forwarded the song to my grown children. Something for them to reflect on esp. As their life unfolds.
    Of course even now I can use it as old age unfolds.
    Thank you for such poingnant messages.

  5. Dear. Melannie, you have a real gift to present reflections which are most needed in my life and our times. Thank you, thank you for sharing your giftedness,
    The fact that just before opening your reflection and reading/hearing Lead Kindly Light , I was praying with another online reflection that today May 13 is. The Feast of Our Lady of Fatima…..Our Lady of the Rosary. The juxtaposition of these two reflections was a true gift from God. Thank you again Melannie for sharing your profound insights and blessings! With much Joy and and prayers for Peace,. Marla

  6. This poem has always fascinated me with its deep insights… But the way you explained surely makes it touching in my everyday life….. yes life is all. but one step at a time….truly profound thoughts… Thank you….for inspiring me..

  7. Sister Melanie:
    Currently struggling with a very hard decision to be made…..This song is bringing me along.
    Thank you!

  8. Thank you once again Melannie for sharing your thoughts and insightful knowledge about Cardinal Newman.I have always liked whatever I heard or read of his words and wisdom while never knowing anything about him. Quite a powerful yet gentle life he lead. The song video is beautiful and listening helped calm my rather jumpy thoughts today.
    I will offer prayer for your successful presentation this coming weekend.

  9. The reflection and the song are beautiful helping me lo let go and to let God lead me. I will keep you and the participants of your retreat in prayer.

  10. Your choice of John Henry Newman for sunflower seeds is so appropriate as college graduations are underway, Melannie, since he is the model and patron saint for catholic student centers on public campuses. Your reflection got me thinking with pleasure about my more than 20 years as a campus minister sharing faith with so many spiritually eager university students. And now and then I read some of their Facebook posts and find these former students (now in their 30’s) with their own families that are being formed in the faith. It is so heartening and affirming.

  11. Sister, thank you for the inspiring words and pondering’s you place before me. Your musings always touch my heart and soul.

  12. Dear Sr. Melannie,
    Thanks for writing about Cardinal Newman. He was a giant, we journey on the shoulders of Giants. His writing is so good, and his autobiography, I think it is called “Pro Vita Sua” is so inspiring. He had such trials after he became Catholic, and was so misunderstood and maligned by so many. Some of his fellow Oratorians were a trial for him. Finally he was made a Cardinal, not bothering to become a bishop or archbishop in transit but a priest one day and a cardinal the next! He was a great,great man. As I write I want to read something by him again soon! Thanks again for writing about him.

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Meet Sr. Melannie

Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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Finding God in the Ordinary and Amazing: An Afternoon with Sister Melannie

Sunday, May 19, 2024 – 1:30 – 4:00 Central – via zoom

Sponsored by the Portiuncula Center for Prayer – Frankfort, Illinois

Fee: Donation

For details visit: [email protected]

Weekend retreat at Villa Maria Education and Spirituality Center, Pulaski, PA
October 11-13, 2024

October 11-13, 2024

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