St Joseph's College Chapel

Part 2: The Society

 

Statue of St Joseph at College Mill Hill

When Herbert Vaughan first established St. Joseph’s College, what did he have in mind?  It is evident that a number of models influenced him.  He looked at non-catholic missionary societies such as the SPG (Society for the Propagation of the Gospel), the CMS (Church Missionary Society) and the LMS (London Missionary Society).  He was aware of the Irish initiatives taken by Maynooth College and Fr. Hon Hand’s All Hallows College.  He saw in all of these much that was admirable.  Yet his first instinct was to hitch his wagon to the Parish Foreign Missions., the Spiritans or the Lazarists.   Between 1869 and 1875, his public statements seem to suggest that he was going in all sorts of directions at once.  Yet he did have a not too precise idea of what he was trying to do,  The lay society mentioned above was on the CMS model and was established first.  This was constituted in such a way as to embrace the clerical members.  By 1875, the clerical missionary society had become a separate entity.  This was formulated in its first General Chapter, at Baltimore, in February 1875.

At first, this fellowship was understood as purely clerical.  The lay society and the clerical society were seen to follow parallel, but different paths. The freshman student of St. Joseph’s College was known as a postulant.  After between six months and a year, he would be invited to join the Society.  His application was then submitted to the vote of the members.  If the vote was favourable, he was admitted to temporary membership.  The temporary member, just before being eligible for major orders, had to apply for perpetual membership.  If the vote of the community granted him permission to take perpetual membership, he could then be accepted an advanced to holy orders.

It was not until later that it became clear that there was scope in the society for non-priest missionaries.  The first such candidate was accepted in 1882.  The 1884 General Chapter requested that this 1882 initiative be sanctioned, that lay brothers be admitted into the Society and that a special rule be written for them.  Vaughan provided this in 1885.  They were seen, however, as extensions and auxiliaries to the priest members.  The Society’s clerical ideal remained dominant.  The admission of lay brothers demanded that the college provide training for them. 

The involvement of Sisters in the Society was initiated early, but took longer to develop.  There were two groups involved.  The first was a group of Anglican nuns whom Vaughan had received into the Church at Hammersmith.  When Holcombe House became redundant to the college’s needs, he offered it to these Sisters.  They accepted.  Vaughan’s private agenda in this was that they might take charge of the college’s domestic needs.  Their reaction to this proposal was point-blank refusal.  Later, they did agree to become involved in the overseas work of the Society.  They worked alongside the Mill Hill Missionaries, first in Baltimore and then in Uganda. 

The involvement of the second group of Sisters came about in a much more indirect manner.  In 1872, Vaughan was nominated Bishop of Salford.  This appointment caused him serious personal distress.  He wrote to Pope Pius IX, begging release.  He cited his responsibilities at St. Joseph’s as the main reason for his being passed over.   The Pope instructed him to remain superior, but appoint a vicar for day-to-day affairs.  He obeyed and invited Peter Benoit, Canon Provost of Salford, to be his vicar at Mill Hill. Benoit agreed, joined the Society and remained rector of the college from 1872 until his death in August 1892.

In the Diocese of Salford, a group of ladies under the leadership of Alice Ingham, had been trying to establish themselves as a religious congregation.  Vaughan helped them achieve this aim, and they became known as the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of St. Joseph.  In 1883, Vaughan persuaded Alice Ingham to bring her Sisters to St. Joseph’s and to take care of the domestic needs of the college.  In 1884, Mgr. Jackson persuaded her to send some Sisters to the Borneo mission.  Thus began the close association of the MHM and the FMSJ, which survives to this day.