Missio Conference Marking the 150 years Jubilee of the Mill Hill Missionary Society

Missio Conference Marking the 150 years Jubilee of the Mill Hill Missionary Society

Fr Robert O'Neil mhm, October 5, 2016

This the first of two conferences given by Fr Robert O'Neil mhm on October 5, 2016, at MISSIO, London to mark the 150th anniversary of the founding of Mill Hill Missionary Society.

Fr Robert O'Neil mhm is the author of a biography of Cardinal Herbert Vaughan, the founder of the Mill Hill Missioary Society.

Vaughan looks back on his life in 1903. Part One


One of the most important events in the 19th century began when twelve men met in a London printing shop in 1787 to begin a movement to end slavery. The grassroots human rights campaign that followed led to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1838. You can read about it in Bury the Chains by Adam Hochschild.

Slavery Monument Curaçao

Protestant Missionary Societies in the 19th Century

Protestant Missionary societies were already at work around the world and this new freedom for millions of enslaved people meant that there were even more willing evangelists. In Jamaica former slaves and members of the Baptist mission volunteered to return to Africa to bring the gospel to their people. For example, the first missionaries to West Africa and the Cameroons were members of the London Baptist Missionary Society. Jamaican and former slave Joseph Jackson Fuller went with a group of Baptists to Fernando Po and the Cameroon coast in the late 1840s and was on mission there for 40 years. Reminders of the exploits of English speaking Protestant missionaries like Fuller and others were in the press and at public events in England throughout the 19th century.

Even when Herbert Vaughan was thinking about a missionary college, in 1864, Nigerian and former slave, Samuel Ajaji Crowther was being ordained the first bishop of Nigeria in Canterbury Cathedral.

And in 1888, a year before he was to write to the American church to promote founding their own missionary training college, there was a centenary conference of Protestant Missions of the World held in London. At that conference there were 1,579 delegates from 139 denominations and societies from 10 countries.

Herbert Vaughan was encouraged in his work for the foreign missions knowing how much was being done by his Protestant Christian country men and women.

Roman Catholics in the 19th Century: After Emancipation and Restoration

For Roman Catholics perhaps the most important event was Catholic Emancipation in 1829 followed by the restoration of the hierarchy in 1850. Wiseman, Manning and Vaughan were leaders in this restoration and revival of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church on the Continent was involved in training missionaries and supporting the work of mission overseas. In the chapel of Missio at Eccleston Sq in London there is a small framed document dated 1879 and signed by the general of the Paris Missionary Society. On it are the names and small relics of 12 of their members who had been martyred in Korea, China, Tong King and Cochin China between 1815 and 1862. Catholics were able to read about such people and the missions of the Catholic Church in an English translation of the reports of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. The young Herbert Vaughan read and was inspired by them. He had travelled on the continent and was familiar with the work of Catholic missionary societies, especially of the Paris Mission at Rue du Bac. When he travelled to Sacramento, California, in the 1860s, local newspapers gave long reports of his public lectures on the missions of the Catholic Church. In one he spoke of the French martyrs of the Far East remembered in the Missio chapel.

This was the England and Wales that was part of Herbert Vaughan’s life, the challenge of Protestant missionaries and the need for English-speaking Catholics to join in the efforts of the Continental Church. It also helped to form the person who one described as a missionary pioneer of fervor and courage, a true patriot, who was to lead the response of the English-speaking Catholic Church to the call to the overseas missions

Herbert Vaughan

Cardinal Herbert Vaughan

Here are some names to put before you.

Peter Logue, a monk of Mt St Bernard.

Graham Irwin, Australian, Professor of History at Columbia University.

Paul Burns, Editor of Burns and Oates.

James Lloyd, Paulist priest at St Pauls, 59th St., NYC.

And a few others: Dominique Long and Mary Paul Reynolds, John Ball and Terence O’Farrell.

Names that will mean little to you but for me they have one thing in common: without them it is unlikely that I am standing before you this morning.

On the screen behind me are two photographs: one shows a young Herbert Vaughan in 1868 and the other is of a dying Cardinal Herbert Vaughan at St. Joseph’s College, Mill Hill, in 1903.

Herbert Vaughan spent the last months of his life at the seminary he had founded at Mill Hill. Each day a brother wheeled him to the burial ground or the chapel or to a veranda at the entrance.

As each of us can look back at our lives, remembering the positive and the disappointments, I have tried to imagine the names of people and some events that he thought about as he reflected on his life while in his final days.

There was his mother Eliza Rolls Vaughan who died in childbirth in 1853. She had 14 pregnancies in 23 years. Herbert was the eldest. Originally from Bermonsley in Surrey she became a Catholic at Courtfield after her marriage to John Vaughan. Her life was influenced by an aunt of her husband who was a nun and also reading about the mother of St Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard and four of his brothers chose monastic life.

Eliza Vaughan also prayed that her children would choose such a life. One of her favorite prayers was the Memorare. Five of the Vaughan daughters became nuns and 6 of 8 sons priests. She also had influence beyond her home. The vicar and his curate of the nearby Anglican church credited Mrs Vaughan for their conversion to the Roman church. The curate, Bernand Bruder became the second abbot of Mt. St Berand’s in Coalville.

Another person was the formidable Lady Elizabeth Herbert, Lady Herbert of Lea. Also a convert and a supporter of many Catholic works in the late 19th century she was asked by Cardinal Manning to help Herbert Vaughan and his effort to start a missionary training college at Mill Hill. She became a lifelong friend and confidant and was known as the Mother of the Mill because of her great generosity.

There was Bishop William Bernard Ulluthorne of Birmingham who was among the few to encourage the young Herbert to go ahead with his plans for a training college. Ulluthorne had been a missionary in Australia in the 1830s and had seen how Ireland had been blessed when her bishops turned to help the missions in 1836. In 1866 he wrote to Vaughan that “a missionary college would enrich us with a new and great spiritual element.”

It was to Cardinal Wiseman that Vaughan said he believed that “England ought to do something for the Mission”. Years before Wiseman had made a resolution to establish a college for Foreign Missions. His response to the young Vaughan is a key to Vaughan’s life of accomplishment:

“You are the first person who has offered himself for that purpose.”

Cardinal Henry Edward Manning, another convert, spoke in support of the mission project at a great public meeting in 1868. He compared the Church in England to the Church of Rome emerging from the catacombs into the noonday sun. Restoration of the hierarchy also involves the organizing an effort for the foreign missions. It was all part of the 19th century Catholic revival.

But there may also have been thoughts about the disappointments in his adult life.

Vaughan recruited two men who became missionaries. One was George Braun or Browne and the other was John Slattery.

Braun’s real name was Rimsal. He had been a priest of the AD of NY and assigned to a seminary Archbishop John Joseph Hughes started at Fordham. He left priesthood, studied law, married and then enlisted in the American army during the Civil War. After the war he had a change of heart and his Jesuit confessor directed him to a Passionist Seminary in Rome to do penance. That is where Vaughan met him and accepted him for the staff at his missionary college in Mill Hill. When Rome asked Vaughan to send missionaries to be chaplains to the British army in Afghanistan he sent four in 1879. The leader was George A.M. Browne. When the British army withdrew the Afghan mission collapsed. Browne went briefly to Madras and then disappears from the record. One rumor placed him in Scotland as a faith healer and another as a Protestant clergyman.

Afghanistan Mission

John Slattery was also from New York. Vaughan preached at Isaac Hecker’s St Paul’s on the west side of Manhattan. Slattery, a law student at Columbia University and the only son of a prosperous contractor, attended St Pauls. One of the staff directed him to Vaughan and Mill Hill. He joined, was ordained and then assigned to the first Mill Hill mission, to Baltimore in the United States to take up an apostolate to the freed slaves. The United States became a province built a minor seminary and served in many places in the southern US. Vaughan saw possibilities in the Back to Africa movement of evangelizing African-Americans and recruiting missionaries from among them to go to Africa, as Protestant churches had done. Eventually Slattery took 3 others in 1893, and separated from Mill Hill. Slattery himself left the priesthood and the Church, married and even gave lectures attacking the Roman Church.

So, Browne and the Afghan Mission, Slattery and Mill Hill’s American Province may have been in his thoughts.

Vaughan did try to provide the Catholic Church in Britain with all the institutions needed to truly be restored after the Emancipation. Certainly he was in the forefront with his vision of a missionary church reaching to the British Empire and beyond involving sacrifices that would enrich and bring maturity to his people. He had expressed frustration with the American Church for not doing likewise. In 1889 he wrote to Cardinal Gibbons on the centenary of the establishment of the hierarchy in the United States.

“Has not the time come for the American Church to take its share of the great Missionary work of the Church?”

He reminded the bishops that the “whole of the East” was being “overrun with Protestant American Missionaries.” “For energy, self-sacrifice, skill and intelligence, they are generally…outstripping the agents of the great English Protestant missionary societies.” His long letter appealing to the gathering of bishops in Washington did not result in the mission statement he hoped for. And nothing happened in his lifetime.

So we can recall some of the many people of Herbert Vaughan’s life time and a few of the disappointments, perhaps. However our thoughts underestimate the power of the spirit who Vaughan trusted throughout his life to take even the failures and make of them something great to behold.

Herbert Vaughan died at St Joseph’s College, Mill Hill, just before midnight on the 19th of June 1903. In April he was 71 years of age. They were not peaceful final days. According to Jesuit Daniel Considine he was in deep depression with thoughts that his life had been wasted: There was no God. “Terrified” was Considine’s description of Vaughan as the end neared. But finally he was calm and at peace

Lady Herbert with a family supportive of Mission at Wilton

Fr Robert O'Neil mhm

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