|Cardinal Herbert Vaughan|
(Source: Solomon I have Surpassed Thee blog)
Born in 1832, Herbert Vaughan was the eldest son of Colonel John Vaughan, from Courtfield, Herefordshire, and his wife, Eliza Rolls, who was from the Hendre, Monmouthshire. Herbert's mother was a convert to Catholicism, known for her great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. In fact, Eliza would always spend an hour every day in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, begging God to call her children to serve Him as priests or religious. It seems that her prayers were answered, for all of her five daughters became nuns, whilst six of her eight sons became priests, with three of them later becoming bishops (two of whom rose to the dignity of archbishop, and one - Herbert himself - even became a cardinal)!
Not only did Cardinal Vaughan build Westminster Cathedral, but during his lifetime he also founded the Mill Hill Missionaries, the Catholic Truth Society, and was the inspirational founder of the St Joseph Society of the Sacred Heart, which sought to preach the Gospel to emancipated slaves and those suffering from racial discrimination in the United States. He also bought and ran The Tablet in 1869, which had previously gained a reputation for being, according to the Lord-Lieutenant in Ireland, "one of the most offensive and virulent newspapers in Europe." (One wonders what Vaughan would think of this publication's current incarnation.)
|Westminster Cathedral - one|
of Vaughan's great legacies
As a young priest, Herbert Vaughan had been afraid to discuss with his superiors his desire to become a missionary or to send missionaries to other nations – probably because Britain was little more than mission territory throughout the nineteenth century, even after the Restoration of the Hierarchy in 1850. One day, though, he managed to pluck up the courage to mention his dream of founding a missionary society when riding in a carriage with Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman – first Archbishop of Westminster. Herbert Vaughan recorded the incident in his diary, which makes for fascinating reading: -
I feared to speak to Cardinal Wiseman on the subject lest he should consider the idea a mere illusion; and because he was fond of me, I thought he might be displeased at my expressing a wish to go abroad.
In 1860 I was with him in the Isle of Wight. We were driving out, and he was half asleep. The idea was working within me, and at last I asked him whether he had any interest in Foreign Missions. 'Yes; why do you ask?’ said he. 'Because I have something on my mind, and I fear to tell you. You will snub me. I believe England ought to do something for the Foreign Missions,' said I. 'Then I will tell you,' he replied, 'why you need not think I will snub you. I have never yet told this to any one; but the time, I believe, has come. When I was in Rome before my consecration I had great mental troubles, and I went to a holy man, since dead and declared Venerable [St Vincent Pallotti, founder of the Pallotines, or Pious Society of Missions]. He made me sit on one side of a little table; he sat on the other. A crucifix was on the table between us. After I had opened my mind and laid bare all its trials to him, he slipped down from his chair to his knees, and after a moment's prayer said, 'Monsignor, you will never know the perfect rest you seek until you establish a College in England for the Foreign Missions.' These words fell on me like a thunderbolt; I was in no way prepared for them. I had no interest at the time in Foreign Missions, nor had the Abbate Pallotti. He gave no other answer to my difficulties. I went home and into retreat previous to my consecration. I then made a resolution to try to form a society of priests who should establish a College for Foreign Missions. On reaching England I at once explained my plans to Dr Walsh [Bishop Thomas Walsh, firstly Vicar Apostolic of the Midland District, then of the London District]. He opposed them definitively, and said that Oscott was to be my Foreign Missionary College. Being only a coadjutor, I felt that I had no choice but to obey, and that God's time had not yet come. I determined to wait till the person who should undertake it should be presented to me, and never to pass a day without praying to know God's will and His time for its execution. You are the first person who has offered himself for the purpose. I am now old and cannot hope to do much myself, but I see that God has heard my prayer, and that the work is from Him.' He then laughed about my idea of his snubbing me, and became quite bright and cheerful, rallying from his previous low spirits and depression, and returned to the subject three or four times that day and the day following. We determined to do nothing for some time but obtain prayers. He wanted to know what Dr Manning [later Cardinal Manning, second Archbishop of Westminster] thought of it. (Comments in parentheses mine; source: The Life of Cardinal Vaughan by J G Snead-Cox; published 1910; p 106)I don’t propose to go into the details surrounding the founding of the St Joseph’s Society for Foreign Missions (also known as the Mill Hill Missionaries) during the 1860s, which resulted from Herbert Vaughan’s conversation with Cardinal Wiseman on the Isle of Wight. But I would like to highlight the time Vaughan subsequently spent in America, in the early 1870's, when he decided to lead some of his missionaries from London to the US to found another missionary society, specifically aimed at helping and bringing into the Church those recently freed slaves of the South.
To say that Vaughan was shocked and angered by the way some churchmen in the Deep South were treating Americans of African descent would be an understatement. He often wrote of feeling ‘sick’ and ‘angry’ at seeing black people forced to adore the Blessed Sacrament from the back of churches in Louisiana, whilst white people were allowed to occupy the space closest to the altar rails – he simply could not countenance that such injustice had crept into parts of the Catholic Church. Vaughan could also hardly believe that some American priests didn't seem to want to convert their black countrymen, and was scandalised that those African-Americans who had personally built churches weren’t even allowed to make full use of them in certain Southern states.
Whilst visiting Memphis, Tennessee, in 1872, Vaughan was very upset by the fact that he had met some white priests there who viewed African-Americans as little more than "dogs". Soon afterwards, whilst in New Orleans, the future Archbishop of Westminster also met a wealthy black man who had married a white woman. He wrote in his diary that the man had paid for a pew in the city’s Cathedral, but “his wife sits in it, [whilst] he is obliged to go behind the altar.” Father Vaughan also kept a notebook of all the racially related ecclesiastical and social injustices he had encountered during his time in the Southern states, amongst which were the following: -
A common complaint that white and black children are not allowed to make their First Communion on the same day. A coloured soldier refused Communion by a priest at the Cathedral ... In a church just built here, benches let to coloured people which are quite low down. A lady coloured built nearly half the church, another gave the altar; both refused places except at the end of the church. A Fancy Fair coloured people allowed to work for it but not admitted to it. It is still unlawful in Alabama for coloured and whites to marry. Before the War it was unlawful not only to teach slaves, but even for coloured freemen to receive any education. During the Slavery days the priest had no chance. A bigoted mistress would flog her slave if she went to any church but her own, and if she persisted in going to the Catholic church, would sell her right away. I visited the hospital, where there were a number of negroes. Talked to many in it and in the street. All said they had no religion. Never baptized. All said either they would like to be Catholics or something to show they were not opposed to it. Neither the priest with me nor the Sisters in the Hospital do anything to instruct them. They just smile at them as though they had no souls. (source: ibid p 171)Vaughan ended this depressing litany thus: “A horrible state of feeling! How is it possible so to treat God's image!” Some of the things he witnessed during his time in post-Civil War America shocked Herbert Vaughan. Seeing how other Christians could flagrantly disregard the Gospel to such an extent that racial discrimination had entered the Church greatly upset the future Archbishop of Westminster, so he furthered his resolve to do something about it.
|Father Herbert Vaughan (seated, centre) in the United States, with fellow|
missionaries and members of the African-American Catholic community
(c) Mill Hill Missionaries Archive - published as 'fair use' (Source: 30 Days)
|Cardinal Vaughan's tomb in Westminster Cathedral|
(c) Gryffindor - published under creative commons
(source: Wikimedia Commons)
There is so much I would like to write about Cardinal Vaughan, including his extremely successful reign as third Archbishop of Westminster, during which time he both raised the funds for and built Westminster Cathedral – he died just as the building work was coming to an end, and his Requiem was the first official public Mass to be celebrated there. One of the most touching and spiritual meditations on suffering that I have ever read was written by Vaughan, which he sent to his dying father, who longed to be totally united to Christ’s Cross in his last moments. He also penned extremely witty observations – such as his diary entry, when he was Bishop of Salford, on the way the English behave when abroad (let’s just say, some things never change!). But for now, as a preparation for his anniversary tomorrow, I think it ‘right and just’ to give thanks to God for a soul so consumed with a zeal for the salvation of others that he spent so much of his life fighting the repugnant evil that is racial injustice.
May perpetual light shine upon him.
(By the way, I haven't forgotten about my promise to write another couple of posts on Vaughan's predecessor, the great Cardinal Manning - I propose to do so soon, though have so far been delayed in this venture by ill health.)