Saint John Henry Newman was hailed as a priest, a poet and a thinker who had a “profound” impact on the world as he was canonised by Pope Francis.

In front of tens of thousands of pilgrims at the Vatican’s St Peter’s Square, the Pontiff elevated the English theologian to sainthood.

The Prince of Wales, who represented the UK at the ceremony, praised the legacy of the cardinal, saying in a speech after the ceremony: “So today is a cause for celebration for us all – Anglicans, Catholics and simple admirers of Newman.

“He was a priest, a poet and a thinker ahead of his time.

“Above all, perhaps he was a fearless defender of truth, whose impact on the world was as profound as it is enduring.”

London-born Cardinal Newman, who died in England in 1890 aged 89, had been hailed by former pope Benedict XVI as a model for ecumenism.

An Anglican priest, he shocked Victorian society when he renounced an illustrious academic career at Oxford University to convert to Catholicism in 1845, convinced that the truth he sought could no longer be found in the Church of England.

The saint went on to found the Oratory at Birmingham in 1848 and through his writings spoke to many about the issues of faith, education and conscience.

One of his greatest legacies was helping to change attitudes towards the Catholic Church, raising its standing in British society.

Vatican Saints
A tapestry portraying Cardinal John Henry Newman (Alessandra Tarantino/AP)

Melissa Villalobos who was the subject of the second miracle attributed to Cardinal Newman – which confirmed his status as a saint – was in the congregation and described her journey to this point as destiny.

She recovered from a torn placenta in 2013, which threatened her unborn child’s life and her own, after praying to the revered priest for help.

The mother-of-seven said as she held the hand of her five-year-old daughter saved by divine intervention: “It’s been such a joyous day for me to see Newman become a saint.

“I feel like I’ve been waiting for this since the minute I was created, and here it is, even though I know some people have lived an entire life hoping for his canonisation and it never came.

“It’s a real blessing that I can see it, and be a part of it.”

Speaking about what attracted her to the eminent theologian, she added: “I think his tenderness and that came across when I read his letters.

“I could tell that he was not just this colossal genius, this intellectual powerhouse, but he also had a tremendous loving heart.”

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, leader of the Roman Catholic church in England and Wales, said about Newman after attending the ceremony: “I think all of those qualities that he had, of deep reflection, of experiencing great trouble, of experiencing ill health, of finding a foundation of faith that became unshakeable – it encourages all of us.”

The saint was famed for his prose and wrote the words for the hymn, Lead, Kindly Light, Cardinal Nichols said about the piece: “Even though it was written earlier in his life before some of the great dramas started, I think it expresses exactly how he lived.

“There was an encircling gloom, he didn’t know what lay ahead, ‘one step enough for me, I’ll do it step by step’ but he was walking on an ever firmer sense of what it meant to be a disciple of Christ.”

Newman has been described as the first English saint of the modern age as he is the first non-martyr saint since the reformation.

Saint John Henry Newman sainthood
Cardinal John Henry Newman, who has been canonised by Pope Francis (Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory/PA)

The last UK individual to be made a saint was John Ogilvie, the 17th century Scottish martyr, canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1976.

Four other religious figures were also canonised by the pontiff, including India mystic and founder of a religious order Mother Mariam Thresia and Swiss laywoman Marguerite Bays who dedicated her life to her community.

Mother Giuseppina Vannini, a religious sister from Rome, and Brazilian-born Sister Dulce Lopes, who set-up a foundation which is now one of the largest charitable organisations in her homeland were also honoured.

In his homily, Pope Francis called on all Christians to adopt Cardinal Newman’s definition of someone of faith, something he described as being “kindly lights”.

The pontiff told the crowds, which the Vatican said was 50,000 strong: “Today we give thanks to the lord for our new saints. They walked by faith and now we invoke their intercession.”

He went on to say: “Such is the holiness of daily life, which Saint John Henry Newman described in these words ‘The Christian has a deep, silent, hidden peace, which the world sees not…The Christian is cheerful, easy, kind, gentle, courteous, candid, unassuming, has no pretence…with so little that is unusual or striking in his bearing, that he may easily be taken at first sight for an ordinary man’.

“Let us ask to be like that ‘kindly lights’ amid the encircling gloom.”

The miraculous healing of Jack Sullivan, a deacon from Boston, Massachusetts, of a crippling spinal condition after he prayed to the cardinal in 2001, led to the beatification of Newman, the first step towards sainthood.

The deacon, aged 80, was among the congregation and described the canonisation ceremony as “amazing”.