Originally an evangelical Oxford academic, he was ordained a priest in the Church of England in 1826. He served as Vicar of St. Mary's, Oxford, for two years. As an avid student of the writings of the early Church, he was eventually led, along with others, to question the position of Scripture as the unchecked rule and standard of faith. Newman became one of the founders and leaders in the Oxford Movement within the Anglican Church, and a prolific tractarian. The Movement included noted Anglicans who wished to return the Church of England to many Catholic beliefs and forms of worship. Newman's most notable, and controversial, work was Tract 90, an attempt to reconcile the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church with the Anglican Church's 39 Articles. In 1845 Newman left the Church of England and was received into the Roman Catholic Church. He was ordained as a Roman priest in 1847, became a member of the Congregation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri [C.O.], and, despite a sometimes problematic relationship with the English Catholic Church, eventually was elevated to the rank of Cardinal in 1877 by Pope Leo XIII.
Pope Benedict XVI officially proclaimed Cardinal Newman "Blessed"on 19 September 2010, at Birmingham, during the Pope's visit to the United Kingdom.
Also a noted literary figure, Cardinal Newman's major writings include his autobiography Apologia Pro Vita Sua (1865–66), the Grammar of Assent (1870), and the poem The Dream of Gerontius (1865), set to music in 1900 by Edward Elgar as an oratorio. He also wrote the popular hymns Lead, Kindly Light and Praise to the Holiest in the Height (taken from Gerontius).