Part 5 – The Foundation at Mill Hill

Once back in England, Vaughan began to look for suitable property for his college.  His friend, William George Ward and his wife, Frances Wingfield proved invaluable collaborators in financial support and house-hunting.  While Mrs. Ward searched for a suitable building, Vaughan went to Ireland in search of candidates.  In the autumn of 1865, Mrs. Ward was able to report that she had found the ideal place, Holcombe House in Mill Hill, a hay-producing area eleven miles from London. 

However, the house was not for sale and in the face of opposition, Vaughan began a novena to Saint Joseph.  He reinforced his prayers, however, with a ‘spiritual prank’.  Knowing he was unwelcome, he called at Holcombe House and, before being ejected, and giving the householder no chance to refuse, asked if he might leave a parcel to be collected later.  The parcel contained a statue of Saint Joseph.  On the last day of the novena, Vaughan received news that the leasehold would be transferred to him. The new lease having been signed, it was found that a clause forbade the use of the house as a seminary, upon which Vaughan attempted, unsuccessfully, to buy the freehold.  Undeterred, and quite illegally, he prepared to open his missionary college.

On 5 February 1866, the feast of the Martyrs of Japan, Herbert Vaughan published a letter to the Catholics of England entitled A Statement on Behalf of the College for Foreign Missions.  In it he appealed for young men of any nationality with generous apostolic hearts who would work in mission areas until a good native clergy was established.  He urged the struggling English Church that sacrifice for the foreign missions would not go unrewarded.

On 28 February 1866, Vaughan with another Oblate and his first student, Henry Osmond arrived at Holcombe House.  Two weeks later, the freehold was sold to Vaughan for the sum of five thousand pounds. On 19 March 1866, Archbishop Manning of Westminster declared that St. Joseph’s College of the Sacred Heart had now opened. 

As the workload increased, and no additional help from the Oblates was forthcoming, Vaughan began to petition other societies to accept the task of training his candidates.  His efforts proved fruitless so that by 1869 it had become clear to him that his newborn company of missionaries would have to provide for itself.

The charitable and missionary activities in which Vaughan became involved from 1866 onwards owed much of their success to his partnership with Lady Mary Elizabeth Herbert, widow of Lord Sidney Herbert of Lea, who was directed to the College by Archbishop Manning.

St. Joseph’s College

On the Feast of St. Joseph 1868, Archbishop Manning was again at Holcombe House for the blessing of a new chapel.  On his way from London he had conceived the idea of organizing a public meeting in support of the college, and with Vaughan’s agreement he announced the same in the course of his sermon.   The meeting took place at St. James Hall, Piccadilly on 24 April 1868 with ten bishops, distinguished laymen and a great crowd of Catholics attending.  Manning reminded them, as members of the British Empire and English speakers, of the unique advantage they had for the spreading of the faith.  Vaughan, in his turn, emphasized the American generosity that had founded the college at Holcombe House and appealed for English generosity to promote its success.  What was needed was a sum of six thousand pounds for a new building that would be called St. Joseph’s College of the Sacred Heart for Foreign Missions.  The meeting was followed by the publication of a pamphlet that was distributed in the British Isles and abroad, and the formation of an organization, ‘St. Joseph’s Society of the Sacred Heart for Foreign Missions’, that enabled the active cooperation of the laity in missionary work.

On the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, 29 June 1869, Archbishop Manning blessed the foundation stone of the new College, on Hill Field adjacent to Holcombe House.  In the procession were twelve students bearing statues of the Apostles and members of the nobility and gentry with images of Our Lady and Saint Joseph, followed by clergy and bishops.
Vaughan employed the architect George Goldie for the design of the College, and for the building which began in August, the Dutch contractor James Bueyssen with his team of twenty-seven Dutch bricklayers, carpenters and painters.

There were already four nationalities represented in the student body, and while the building got underway, Vaughan traveled through Belgium, France, Alsace, Switzerland, Tyrol and the Netherlands, appealing for seminaries for missionary candidates and for professors to teach them. On 27 December 1869, the first missionary priest from St. Joseph’s College, Cornelius Dowling from Fermoy in County Cork, was ordained at St. Thomas’ Seminary in Hammersmith by Bishop William Morris.

On 1 March 1871, the completed portion of St. Joseph’s College was opened free from debt with a community of thirty-four students, among them refugees from the seminary of the Congregation of African Missions in Lyons.  A statue of St. Joseph was carried for the blessing of each room, and mass was offered in the temporary chapel at an altar donated by Lady Herbert and dedicated to St. Francis Xavier.  Holcombe House was then occupied by the Dutch builders.

So successful were appeals on behalf of St. Joseph’s College that the foundation stone for a memorial chapel in honour of St. Joseph was laid on 19 March 1871 by Archbishop Manning in the presence of a great crowd that included the Lord Chancellor of Ireland.  The building of the church was an expression of thanks from English Catholics for the intercession of St. Joseph, and on the tower Vaughan planned a statue of ‘the first foreign missionary’ with the Child Jesus displaying his heart to the world.