Cardinal Vaughan: the shy gifted communicator

Herbert Vaughan

True to form, our founder Herbert Vaughan renounced a considerable inheritance, a life of ease and a warm family to pursue his vocation to be a priest. He had long dreamt of being a missionary to Wales.

From a wealthy established Catholic family based near Hereford that survived penal times, and the eldest of 9 siblings, his entire life was marked by poor health. What is fascinating is that he survived at all, and greater still that he did so much.

Tall, elegant, handsome, he was by nature painfully shy, and could and did upset many by his apparent brusqueness. He was a pious and holy man, spending 2 hours a day in prayer, and painfully aware of his many faults.  He was widely known to reconcile with enemies and to ask forgiveness of those he had offended.

People knew that he spoke his mind, and with the utmost sincerity. Missionary life fascinated him from an early age – the idea of preaching the good news of the gospel.

He had devotion to St Joseph and to the Sacred Heart, and had been schooled by the Jesuits and Benedictines, and had a life-long, close association with the Carmelites. He was a man of the Victorian age with a broad international view developed by his many travels.

Vaughan was never a parish priest or even a curate, but after training in Rome became vice rector at the new seminary at Ware, during which time he investigated missionary and priestly training over many years. He co-founded a dream of Cardinal Wiseman – a missionary society of diocesan priests (Oblates of St Charles, a fairly revolutionary idea).

After widely travelling in Europe and America which involved much personal suffering and anxiety, at 34 years old he founded the Mill Hill Missionaries, a new missionary order. At 40 he was made Bishop of Salford – and remained there for 20 years, visiting all his parishes, founding the Children’s Rescue Society, St Bede’s Commercial College for Catholic children, and countless similar initiatives.

Just a few years before that he had founded the Catholic Truth Society (CTS) and after letting it flag a little, picked it up again while at Salford. He bought the Tablet and the Dublin Review and was at the heart of Catholic communications for what they were in those days since the re-establishment of the hierarchy in 1850. His working motto was essentially that the truth itself has an overwhelming attraction, and must be communicated no matter how unpopular.

He was fully engaged in the hot button issues of his day, political, social and ecclesiastical – he had strong views but was ready to change or modify them where he saw the truth was better served for doing so. One of his deepest personal, spiritual crises was triggered when he was privately criticised for the speed at which he said Mass – for several years thereafter they say he often wept during Mass.

He begged to be excused his appointment as Archbishop of Westminster in 1892, at 60, but when he could see there was no way out, he threw himself into Our Lord’s hands and gave it all his energy, despite recurring and increasing illness. He was an inspiring and gifted speaker and retreat giver all his life.

As a great fundraiser he raised funds to build Westminster Cathedral, surprising everyone by the sheer size of the project, its style and grandeur. The first liturgy in the almost finished Cathedral was his own requiem. He died at Mill Hill on 19 June 1903, the feast of the Sacred Heart, after a long illness, aged 71.

Photo Credit: Gryffindor (Wikipedia)

2018 marks the 150th Anniversary of the Catholic Truth Society. Our publishing charity has been running non-stop since its founding in 1868.

Read more about our story: And stay tuned for the anniversary’s initiatives!

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One comment on “Cardinal Vaughan: the shy gifted communicator

  1. His translation of Gaetano da Bergamo’s work on Humility is excellent!

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