Friendship is a central part of how character and thought are formed, students at the Catholic University of America were told at the opening of the academic year.

Addressing students and faculty at the annual Mass of the Holy Spirit, held Thursday at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Catholic University president John Garvey invoked Cardinal John Henry Newman, saying that relationships are an essential part of the educational process.

“A good education is more than books, lectures, papers, and tests. This Newman knew well. A good education gets us outside ourselves. It counteracts the tendency to stick with settled ways of thinking,” Garvey said.

“Our relations with other people do something like this. Like education, friendship broadens our perspective. Friends help us see things through other eyes. In this way they enhance our self-awareness and expand our understanding of the world.”

Cardinal Newman, who will be canonized by Pope Francis on October 13, was a 19th century theologian, poet, Catholic priest and cardinal. Originally an Anglican priest, he converted to Catholicism in 1845 and his works are considered among the most important contributions to the thought of the Church in recent centuries.

He also founded the Catholic University of Ireland, later reformed as Trinity College Dublin. His series of lectures at that school’s founding were later published under the title The Idea of a University.

Citing Newman’s sermon On Love of Relations and Friends, Garvey said the cardinal saw that “friendship is a kind of training for the practice of universal charity. Friendship challenges us to put others before ourselves in the real circumstances of the everyday.”

"The best preparation for loving the world at large, and loving it duly and wisely, is to cultivate an intimate friendship and affection towards those who are immediately about us," he quoted Newman as saying.

The Catholic University of America, in Washington, DC, is the national Catholic university, founded by the bishops of the United States after the second and third Baltimore Councils. The Mass of the Holy Spirit marks the beginning of the academic year and was presided over by Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who, as Archbishop of Washington, serves as the university’s chancellor.

Garvey told the assembly that “what education does for our intellectual powers, friendship does for our affective capacities. It expands the scope of our feelings and concern for others.”

“The real love of man must depend on practice, and therefore, must begin by exercising itself on our friends around us,” Newman wrote.

“By trying to love our relations and friends, by submitting to their wishes, though contrary to our own, by bearing with their infirmities, by overcoming their occasional waywardness by kindness, by dwelling on their excellences, and trying to copy them, thus it is that we form in our hearts that root of charity, which, though small at first, may, like the mustard seed, at last even overshadow the earth."

Ordained a Catholic priest in 1847, Newman was made a cardinal by Pope Leo XIII in 1879. His conversion was a result of years of friendship and study in with other Christian thinkers as part of the Oxford Movement. When he announced he was becoming Catholic, the news was controversial in England, and resulted in him losing many friends, including his own sister -who never spoke to him again.

Garvey said this experience formed Newman in friendship and offered a Christian example to follow. “Newman didn’t retaliate. Late in life he was able to restore some of those lapsed friendships,” he said.

“What was true for him is true for all of us. The friends we make in life influence -- to a great extent they determine -- the paths we take in life and the people we become.”

“Newman’s motto on his coat of arms was Cor ad cor loquitur [heart speaks to heart]. It’s a phrase he took from St. Francis de Sales, and it refers to prayer. The heart of man speaks to the heart of God. But I think it also refers to the bond between friends when they open their hearts to one another.”

A good education, Garvey said, opens us up to new ideas and teaches us how to think and choose well as we navigate the world. 

“Friendship helps us get beyond our natural circle of self-interest, so we can live and do well for one another. Friends also help form us, and it’s important to surround ourselves with good ones.” 

This, Garvey said, is the hope for students at the beginning of the academic year, that they find both a good education and good friends.