Lead, Kindly Light: The Hymn and Its Author

Wednesday, October 7th, 2020


Feast Day: October 9  Canonized: October 13

Lead, Kindly Light: The Hymn and Its Author presented by Fr. Ashley Harrington

John Henry Newman

Do you have a favorite hymn? Everybody has. Indeed, some people have several favorite hymns. Here is one hymn that is claimed by many as their favorite. Presidents William McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, and Franklin D. Roosevelt all identified Lead, Kindly Light as their favorite hymn. Lead, Kindly Light also exerted a powerful influence upon Mahatma Gandhi’s spirituality and India’s struggle for independence. It also assumed an important place in Gandhi’s developing understanding of religious pluralism. This beloved hymn was written by a Catholic saint, John Cardinal Newman.

John Newman lived to the age of 90. For the first 44 years of his life he was a member of the Anglican Church. For the last 45 years he belonged to the Roman Catholic Church. His faith journey became one of the most interesting conversion stories of the 19th century.

Born in London, studied at Oxford, tutored at Oriel College, and served as ordained pastor of the Anglican Church, St. Mary the Virgin. In 1833 he joined the Oxford Movement. This movement consisted of professors and scholars who were considered members of the “High Church” of Anglicanism. They suggested that the Church of England rediscover some older Christian traditions of faith that had been preserved in Catholicism. They noted that the historical study of the Church of England led them into the Catholic tradition.

As an Anglican priest John Newman took a trip to the south of Europe. He hoped that this trip would calm his soul, beset with doubts about his faith and his vocation. While traveling in Sicily he came down with a severe fever and a case of homesickness. He decided to end the trip and board a freighter carrying oranges to return him home to England. While on board the ship, he became more deeply ill. The ship became stranded on the way and, lying on the deck looking at a distant lighthouse and longing for some peace of body and soul, Newman wrote this poem, Lead, Kindly Light. The poem later became a hymn that sang of the comfort and reassurance that God leads us when we are lost in spirit. Newman soon realized the light was God and home was the ancient faith. He pleads not to see his future path but that God only show him this day the light for his next step.

By 1845 John Newman was received into the Roman Catholic Church. Three years later he was ordained a Roman Catholic priest. The story of his conversion is related in his spiritual autobiography Apologia Pro Vita Sua. Two years later he joined the Congregation of the Oratory and founded Oratory houses in Birmingham and London. During his lifetime he wrote over 40 books and served as rector of Catholic University of Ireland. The tradition of intellectual Catholicism continues to this day on many American campuses in the Newman Center movement.

In 1879 Pope Leo XIII named him a Cardinal. In 2010 John Cardinal Newman was beatified by Pope Benedict in London. Pope Francis canonized Newman on October 13, 2019.


YouTube Video Versions of Lead, Kindly Light: (1) Arundel Cathedral – Lead, Kindly Light. (2) Lead Kindly Light arr. by James Stevens.

Video Lectures: (1) 30-minute EWTN program on Saint John Newman presented by Rev. George Rutler. Rev. Rutler reviews the meaning of the lyrics to the hymn Lead, Kindly Light. Type in search engine: Stories of Hymns – Lead Kindly Light by Rev. George Rutler.

(2) 30-minute video by Carla Carmichael telling the story of the writing of the hymn. Type in search engine: The Story Behind the Hymn – Lead Kindly Light by Carla Carmichael.


Lead, Kindly Light

Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,

Lead thou me on!

The night is dark, and I am far from home,

Lead thou me on!

Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see

The distant scene—one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that thou

Shouldst lead me on.

I loved to choose and see my path; but now

Lead thou me on!

I loved the garish days, and, spite of fears,

Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years.

So long thy power hath blessed me, sure it still

Will lead me on;

O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till

The night is gone.

And with the morn those angel faces smile,

Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.

Event Signup Forms
View Signup Forms