Missio Conference at the Occasion of the 150 years Jubilee of the Mill Hill Missionaries. Part Two

Missio Conference at the Occasion of the 150 years Jubilee of the Mill Hill Missionaries. Part Two

Fr Robert O'Neil mhm

Vaughan looks back on his life in 1903. Part two.

The full name of Herbert Vaughan’s missionaries dedicates them to St Joseph and the Sacred Heart

Both illustrate how Herbert Vaughan entrusted the work of mission to St Joseph and the lunette to remind us that it was God’s work.

The first issue of St Josephs’ Advocate in the mid-1890s has this appeal: “Help! Help! Help! us to send priests to the 900,000,000” unbaptized. The aim of the magazine was to awaken a deeper and wider sympathy for the unevangelized.

We tried to imagine Cardinal Vaughan thoughts in 1903 as he looked back on his life and his efforts on behalf of mission in the English speaking church. Here we will look back at the life of Cardinal Vaughan from more than 100 years after his death. We can also see his achievements, his legacy, in the institutions he founded like Mill Hill, the Catholic Truth Society and others that continue to this day.

But there are surprises to be seen even in Vaughan’s projects and recruits that seemed to end in disappointment.


Lunette relief over the main door depicting Jesus as the Sacred Heart and the poor of the earth pleading with him for help

New Appreciation: Browne and the Afghan Mission.

About Fr George Browne, Mick Conroy and Jaap van de Klught wrote this appreciation: “There we leave one who endured much and accomplished much to push forward the frontiers of the Church” Out of this failure came the new mission areas of Kashmir and North India. Tom Rafferty wrote a few years ago in his history the Crimson Lily that in Browne there were “the elements of a tragic hero. The Afghan mission started with great promise. It was pursued courageously and sometimes with gallantry.” In 1887 Mill Hill returned to the Punjab and the Northern Territories and remained for more than 100 years.

Read: Crimson Lily

Slattery and the Josephites.

There has been new appreciation for John Slattery among those who have worked for racial justice in the United States and among the Josephites. “His ministry was dedicated to African Americans and he crusaded for equality for black Catholics in the Church. In 1993 the National Shrine in Washington DC was filled to honor the 483 members of the Josephites who had served their communities around the United States for 100 years. The current superior, Michael Thompson, is an African American from Port Arthur, Texas. He wrote that the solid foundation of their community continues to be the oath given Vaughan by Pius IX to promise to make themselves pastors and servants of the African American community.

Read more

The letter to the US bishops in 1889.

Herbert Vaughan’s letter to Cardinal Gibbons was found by John Tracey Ellis in the Baltimore archdiocese archives in 1944. Cardinal Gibbons, the head of the bishops of the United States in 1889, did not forget Vaughan’s letter. Years later, after Vaughn’s death, he used it to push for a seminary for the United States to train missionaries for the foreign missions. Already in 1903 James Walsh had visited Mill Hill to see what Herbert Vaughan had done. The Cardinal was dying but he did visit with the rector Fr Henry. In 1904 Herbert Vaughan’s letter and challenge as made public again. This time it led to the founding of Maryknoll in 1911 by Frs Price and Walsh.

Conclusion: Connections: Herbert Vaughan and moments of grace.

Let us consider people and a series of connections that take us from the mind of Herbert Vaughan and his restless energy in the work of evangelization through Mill Hill and his last days to a village in West Africa and a woman of great faith and gratitude.

In a 1990 Mission Outlook Fr Frank McCarthy wrote about what he called a “scramble on the part of a fractured Christianity to save souls.” Frank was writing to answer the criticism of a West African writer that missionaries had failed to bring the gospel message and rather, in Africa, had lumbered the people with a form of the Faith that was not suited to Africa. Vaughan and others of his age saw urgency in bringing the gospel to the world. But what the critics forget that each of the hundreds of thousands of Christians our predecessors baptized through a century of devoted labour had their individual hour of salvation.”

The individual hour of salvation, a moment of grace, was the result of what Herbert Vaughan set in motion, and a work that missionaries and supporters have taken up for 150 years.

We can also see now what became of what he may have considered failures in a human sense became part of his legacy as well. All of them provided moments of grace for many anonymous thousands.

If there a legacy of great value worth writing about it is in the lives of these examples.

John Campling


John Campling

One of the senior students at Mill Hill in Vaughan’s final years was John Campling. Campling was a convert from Glasgow. In London as a young adult he had been influenced by lectures given by John Vaughan for the Catholic Evidence Guild and the example of some Catholics. He went to St Joseph’s College for a visit with his sponsor and was impressed by a mission exhibit. He returned home with a determination to try to become a missionary. He joined Mill Hill and was ordained in 1903.He went out to East Africa for 16 years before returning home and then being appointed in 1922 to be the leader of the first band of missionaries to replace German missionaries expelled from Cameroon during the First World War. Campling was soon replaced by Peter Rogan in 1924. He went on to be a bishop in Uganda.

One of the early missionaries sent to Campling’s Cameroon mission was a Mill Hill Missionary John McDermott from Bradford. McDermott, although without any formal training in teacher education, became known during his nearly 60 years on the Cameroon Mission as “Father School.”


Paul Verdzekov

Among one of the teachers to complete training at Bambui TTC where McDermott was principal was Paul Verdzekov who went on to become the first bishop and archbishop of Bamenda. Throughout his time as priest and Archbishop he never failed to express his affection for Mill Hill, the College, and the many Mill Hill Missionaries he came to know, and often the memory of Cardinal Vaughan. He had a special sense of history and the timing of Mill Hill’s arrival that meant the message of Jesus reached so many who were anxious to hear.

It was Archbishop Paul who urged the support of small communities and praised the catechists, head Christians and laypeople for handing on the gospel to their environment. One was David, the head Catholic Christian at New Hope Village, a settlement for sufferers from leprosy. One young woman who arrived for treatment at the nearby hospital was Theresa from Balinyonga. It was while at the camp that she received instructions and was eventually baptized before returning home, cured, but permanently disfigured. And it was Theresa I visited each First Friday with communion in 1988.

For many years I collected the life stories of people in the countryside of the Bamenda grassfields.* One evening as I finished interviewing her in her darkened home, the room lighted only by the wood in the fireside in the center of the floor, I asked her if she was not sometimes angry with God for having suffered so much in her life especially with leprosy. Without hesitation she spread her arms towards the darkened figures about the room: “Father, how can I be angry with God? Look how God has blessed me. See my grandchildren”. The faces around the fire were those of her many grandchildren.

So a person can look at those connections as coincidence. I see miracles that show how our small efforts can provide a moment of salvation, a moment of grace, for those in need.

When we speak of the legacy of Herbert Vaughan I see his example of being a person with courage who stepped forward to offer himself for a task he was convinced was needed. For Wiseman, Ulluthorne and Manning the idea for opening a Missionary College had been in their thoughts for many years before Vaughan but as Wiseman said it was only Vaughan who offered to do something.

Like St Paul in his final moments, surely Herbert Vaughan could say to himself as Paul did in Ephesians: “Glory be to Him whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.”

And of Bishop Campling on leaving Africa for the last time quoting the psalmist: “Thou hast given me O Lord a delight in thy doings and in the working of thy hands I shall rejoice.”

Fr Robert O'Neil mhm


St Joseph's College, Mill Hill

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