Adrienne von Speyr relates the following account of Newman’s prayer-life and personality in one of her numerous visions, dictated to her friend and co-worker, Hans Urs von Balthasar. These accounts are collected in The Book of All Saints (Ignatius, 2008), which includes a wide variety of persons, mostly canonized saints but also a few surprises (e.g., Joseph Haydn, Kierkegaard). Her description of Newman is, thankfully, far more kind and sympathetic than her less-than-flattering estimation of Thomas Aquinas. I thought this was a wonderful account of Newman.
I see him in prayer. He prays so carefully, with a fastidious, good love, a love that has no patience for anything that is not entirely pure and entirely righteous [rechtschaffen]. He brings everything that is troubling and occupying him into prayer with him. At first, it is all unsorted; he sorts it out in prayer. And in prayer, he receives a certainty concerning whether what he brought is really worthwhile, whether God can use it, whether God can bless it. If God blesses it, he contemplates it once again in prayer and looks to see whether God’s light is now reflecting from it. His thoughts, his concerns, his recommendations are like diamonds that were not initially polished, stones he was not entirely sure were in fact really diamonds. Then the expert, that is, God, inspects them and gives them a true polish, and in the end Newman also sees that they were in fact precious stones. But one would have to say that almost everything he brings to God is really a diamond and that he already made the selection in a holy way.
(And his work?) He loves it. He loves it, because it is God’s work. …It is often the case that he writes, as it were, with his blood and attains to insights with the last of his strength. There is much that is demanded of him personally. In fact, he stands in relation to his work the way a founder of an Order stands in relation to that which he founds.
(And people?) He loves them. It is a bit odd. He sees them as God’s creatures, but in a way that somewhat resembles an entomologist who loves his insects. He often has difficulty making the first human contact. He receives it first through the translation of God.
Adrienne von Speyr, The Book of All Saints (Ignatius, 2008), pp. 261-262.