VAUGHAN, Roger William Bede (1834-1883)


VAUGHAN, Roger William Bede (1834-1883)
Roman Catholic archbishop of Sydney
was born near Ross, Herefordshire, on 9 January 1834. His father, Colonel John Francis Vaughan, belonged to one of the oldest county families in England, his mother was Elizabeth Louise, daughter of John Rolls of Monmouthshire. At the age of six Vaughan was sent to a boarding-school at Monmouth for three years, but his health proved to be delicate and for some years he was privately tutored at home. In September 1850 he was sent to the Benedictine school of St Gregory's at Downside near Bath. In September 1853 he entered the Benedictine community, and in 1855 went to Rome for further study, and remained there for four years. He had taken minor orders in 1855, and passing through the various stages he was ordained priest on 9 April 1859. He returned to Downside in August, in 1861 was appointed professor of metaphysics and moral philosophy at Belmont, and a year later was elected prior of the diocesan chapter of Newport and Menevia and superior of Belmont. He held this position for over 10 years. He contributed to leading reviews and published his most important literary work, his Life of St Thomas of Aquin, on which he had spent endless pains, in 1871-2. In 1866 he met Archbishop Polding (q.v.), then on a visit to England, who was much attracted to Vaughan and several times asked that he might be made his coadjutor. It was not, however, until February 1873 that this was agreed to. Vaughan arrived at Sydney on 16 December 1873 and immediately devoted himself to two important movements, the provision of education for Catholic children and the completion of the building of St Mary's cathedral. He lived very simply at the College of St John, Sydney university; it has been recorded that his sitting-room had no carpet, and he made few personal friends. This is not to suggest that he was in any way unpopular, rather the reverse, for in all his visitations in the country he was received with enthusiasm by both the clergy and the laity. He became a doughty fighter in the controversies that raged during his period, and in 1876 came into conflict with the Freemasons in connexion with an address delivered on 9 October on opening the Catholic guild hall at Sydney, and published under the title Hidden Springs. Other publications included Christ and His Kingdom (1878), and two series of Lenten lectures Arguments for Christianity (1879) and Christ's Divinity (1882). He had become archbishop of Sydney on the death of Archbishop Polding, on 16 March 1877. He then resigned the rectorship of St John's College which he had taken over in 1874, but his interest in this college never flagged. He spoke vigorously on the education question, but his words had little effect on parliament. In 1880 Parkes (q.v.) passed an education act under which government aid to denominational education ceased at the end of 1882. Vaughan's views on this question may be found in his Pastorals and Speeches on Education, which appeared in Sydney in 1880. He worked hard for the building fund of the cathedral and himself sent out some 3000 letters asking for donations. By 1882 a portion was completed and temporarily roofed so that it was possible to hold service in it. After its opening, on 8 September, Vaughan made a visitation of the diocese, and on 19 April 1883 sailed on a visit to Europe. He went by way of America, arrived at Liverpool on 16 August, and two days later died in his sleep at Ince-Blundell Hall, the residence of his aunt. The administrator of the diocese sent a cable requesting that the archbishop should be buried at Sydney, but difficulties arose and after the body had been placed in the family vault at Ince-Blundell it was transferred to the church of St Michael at Belmont some years later. In addition to works already mentioned a collection of his Occasional Addresses was published in 1881, and other addresses were published separately.
Vaughan was a tall and commanding figure with a handsome and winning face. A somewhat solitary man whose work was his life, he did valuable work in organizing the finances of the diocese, extending educational facilities, and raising the money for the cathedral. Though scholarly and somewhat austere, his preaching attracted large congregations including many not of his own faith. He was still under 50 when he died, but he had suffered from a life-long weakness of the heart, and was really worn out at the time of his death. If he had been granted health and length of days there is scarcely any limit to what he might have attained.
H. N. Birt, Benedictine Pioneers in Australia; P. F. Moran, History of the Catholic Church in Australasia; The Catholic Encyclopaedia, vol. XIV; The Most Rev. Roger Bede Vaughan . . . Life and Labours, Sydney, 1883.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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