Newman, Jeremiah (1926–95), catholic bishop, was born 31 March 1926 in Dromcolliher, Co. Limerick, only child of Joseph Newman, farmer, and Cass (Catherine) Newman (née Kiely), shopkeeper and housewife. He was educated at the local national school, St Mary's secondary school, Dromcolliher, and St Munchin's College, Limerick. He studied for the priesthood at St Patrick's College Maynooth, where he was ordained in 1950. He obtained his doctorate in philosophy (1951) at the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, and took a course in social studies at Oxford University before spending a year lecturing in scholastic philosophy at QUB. He returned to Maynooth as professor of sociology in 1953, and was appointed vice-president of the college in 1967 and president in the following year. He remained in this post until his consecration as bishop of Limerick in 1974.
His main academic research at Maynooth was in the area of rural sociology. He was instrumental in setting up and implementing the Limerick rural survey during the period 1958–62. He enlisted the help of a Dutch specialist and travelled to various universities in the United States that specialised in this area before conducting the survey under the aegis of Muintir na Tíre and overseeing the publication of the results. This work is recognised as a pioneering study, which argued for the decentralisation of industrial development, and was to influence later government decision-making and legislation on planning. He also addressed the issue of industrial relations, particularly in his book Co-responsibility in industry (1955), emphasising the need for harmony and urging trade unions to avoid strikes.
During his six-year presidency, Maynooth College underwent radical change. Its theological school (a pontifical university) and its arts and science faculties (a recognised college of the NUI) both admitted male and female lay students for the first time. Courses, buildings, and facilities were greatly expanded to meet the needs of the increased student numbers. The success of this transformation is generally credited to his superb administrative abilities and considerable skills at balancing the often competing demands from staff, students, and the hierarchy.
After his appointment as bishop of Limerick he emerged as the most outspoken, controversial, and conservative member of the hierarchy. Many of his public pronouncements and publications were concerned with the relationship between religion, politics, and law. He remained implacably opposed to any relaxation in the prohibition of divorce, abortion, or the availability of contraceptives, and came into conflict with politicians who asserted their right to legislate for such measures in a changing society. His books Conscience versus law (1971), Ireland must choose (1983), and The post-modern church (1990) articulated his views. He rejected the premise that the rights of minorities or the need for reconciliation in Northern Ireland necessitated the dilution of the catholic ethos in Irish legislation. He frequently condemned the increasing secularism in Irish society and lamented the tendency of lay catholics to question and criticise the church.
His attitude to ecumenism was, at best, ambivalent. Though he was the first catholic bishop since the seventeenth century to preach in St Mary's cathedral, Limerick, and often had cordial personal relationships with clergy from other denominations, his rigid interpretation of the letter of canon law, and his view that catholic moral teachings should be supported by the state, created embarrassing controversies. He sometimes chose ecumenical occasions to express such sentiments, and widespread condemnation was provoked by his refusal to allow the mayor of Limerick, a member of the Church of Ireland, to read a lesson at a mass to celebrate the city's civic week. He publicly criticised the ethos of the Adelaide Hospital in Dublin and is believed to have been influential in the government decision to close the protestant Barrington's Hospital in Limerick in 1988 to ensure the survival of the catholic-run St John's Hospital.
He was critical of what he saw as unreasonable and excessive demands on government by individuals and groups lobbying on behalf of the poor. He was unsympathetic to many of the Irish agencies working in the Third World, questioning their political analysis of economic problems and their suggested solutions. An unapologetic supporter of the United States, he pointedly rejected criticism of its foreign policy, particularly in Central America, by other members of the hierarchy, notably Bishop Éamon Casey. His defence of militarism was always expressed in uncompromising Cold War rhetoric.
His publications ranged widely, embracing sociology, theology, canon law, and history. He produced twenty-nine books and numerous articles in scholarly journals. He amassed a large library, with a particular strength in Irish history and a somewhat eclectic art collection notable for the absence of any modern works, which he despised. For recreation he liked to shoot and fish, and was a connoisseur of good food and wine. His later years were dogged by periodic bouts of ill-health and he died 3 April 1995 of hepatoma. He is buried in St John's cathedral, Limerick.