The Oxford University Newman Society is one of Oxford University's oldest student societies, and is the University's oldest Catholic institution. Founded as the Catholic Club in 1878, the society counted among its first members the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ, and the Papal chamberlain Hartwell de la Gard Grissell. In 1888 the club voted to rename itself as the Newman Society, in tribute to John Henry Cardinal Newman. Newman had done a vast amount to advance the cause of Catholicism in Oxford, both as an Anglican striving to recover Anglicanism's Catholic roots, and subsequently as a convert to Catholicism. At least once a year the society tends to hold a talk on some aspect of Newman's life or work, seeking also to inform Oxford students of the ongoing cause for his canonization.
Meetings of the society originally took place at the parish church of St Aloysius Gonzaga or in members' rooms. When the Catholic Chaplaincy to the University was established in 1896 the society found a natural home there.
The society has been addressed by prominent and influential Catholics, as well as non-Catholics of interest to a Catholic audience, throughout its history. Notable speakers from the past include well-known authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Evelyn Waugh, and G.K. Chesterton. Recent terms' speakers of note have included Fr Thomas Weinandy, Fr John Saward, Professor Geza Vermes (in debate with Dom Henry Wansbrough), Ann Widdecombe MP, Sir Anthony Kenny, Baroness Williams of Crosby, Edward Fitzalan-Howard, 18th Duke of Norfolk, and George Cardinal Pell.
Today, the society continues to provide a place for Oxford's Catholics to meet, while also striving to promote Catholic faith, learning and culture within the University of Oxford. The average term involves a drinks party, six weekly speaker meetings ("Ordinary Meetings"), and an end-of-term Mass and black-tie dinner with guest speaker; the specific form of any given term is, however, ultimately determined by the society's President and Committee. In addition to the President, the Committee includes a Senior Member (who must be a Don), a Treasurer, a Secretary, a Publicity Officer, various Junior Officers, and those Past-Presidents who are resident in Oxford.