During the 1840’s, Pope Pius IX had expressed a strong wish that a distinctly Catholic university be established in Ireland. In 1851, the Archbishop of Dublin acted on that desire by approaching John Henry Newman, who had recently converted to Catholicism and had been forced to resign his fellowship at Oxford. Newman accepted the position of rector of the new university, which ultimately opened in 1854.
In 1852, as part of the effort to convince Irish Catholics that they should send their children to an exclusively Catholic university rather than to Protestant Oxford, Cambridge, or the mixed-religion universities recently established in Ireland itself, Newman gave a series of lectures that later would form the foundation of his most famous written work, The Idea of a University Defined and Illustrated. Of the nine discourses eventually included, five were given publicly, while the other four were published as pamphlets. When the university finally opened, Newman presented additional lectures at the beginning of each school year, publishing ten in all in what was originally a separate volume. The original nine discourses from 1852 were revised for further publication in 1855, and in 1873 Newman published both volumes together as The Idea of a University Defined and Illustrated. This work was revised several more times until 1889, the year of Newman’s death. Ironically, Newman’s ideas were more enduring than his administration of the university he wrote about. His strained relations with the Irish Catholic hierarchy led him to resign his post in 1858, and the university he helped to establish was later made part of the University of Ireland.