He next considered how best to secure a regular supply of candidates for Holy orders. He knew that among the poorer classes there were always boys who, having all the required dispositions for the clerical state, lacked the funds necessary for their education. To meet the difficulty, the bishop endeavoured to secure the foundation of a number of burses for the education of ecclesiastical students. In the case of students whose parents were in easy circumstances the difficulty seemed to take another form. With the principal Catholic secondary schools in Lancashire in the hands of the religious orders, an undue proportion of those youths who had vocations for the priesthood would join the regulars and so lessen the ranks of the secular clergy. The bishop thought this difficulty was incidentally met when he had made up his mind to open a commercial college in Manchester.
The humble beginnings of a commercial college were made, under the patronage of Saint Bede at the beginning of 1876 to ensure a proper supply of candidates for holy orders. St. Bede’s would provide an appropriate secondary education not only for Catholics aspiring to a commercial career, but also for young men called to the priesthood. The existence of a college administered by diocesan priests would both offer them an alternative to the secondary education provided almost exclusively by religious orders and promote vocations to the secular priesthood. Soon after opening St. Bede’s he acquired the Manchester Aquarium, and converted it into a central hall and museum for the college. Four years after this purchase the south wing of the college was opened, and the central block was completed in 1884. St. Bede’s has long since taken its place as one of the recognized and permanent centres of Catholic life in England, and at the time of the cardinal’s death 2000 boys already had been educated within its walls.
The Rescue Society
Towards the end of 1884, Vaughan began to suspect that a considerable number of children were being lost to the Church, not merely through parental neglect, but also from the operation of the workhouse system, and through the proselytizing of non-catholic charitable agencies. A Board of Enquiry was formed at the beginning of 1885 and reported that the so-called “leakage” was more serious than at first suspected. Vaughan reproached himself bitterly for having spent twelve years in Salford without recognizing or remedying the situation. He now threw all the resources of the diocese into a campaign to save its “life-blood”. The Bishop ordered his clergy to conduct a census of the diocese that would identify not only “practical” Catholics, but every Catholic family and every child. A house-to-house census of the whole Catholic population of Manchester and Salford was at once undertaken, and every child in every family had to be traced and accounted for, in whatever part of the country it might have migrated. The bishop instructed his clergy to throw aside all other occupations that were not imperative, for the sake of this work. By May, 1886, the census was complete. Out of an estimated Catholic population of 100,000 in Manchester and Salford, 74,000 persons were individually registered. Of the children under sixteen no less than 8445 were reported as in danger of losing their faith, and of these 2653 were described as being in extreme danger. Bishop Vaughan, in a pamphlet entitled The Loss of Our Children, publicized and justified the establishment of the Catholic Protection and Rescue Society.
Then the Rescue and Protection Society was started. The bishop gave 1000 to its funds on the spot, and the episcopal income for the same object, during the time he remained in Salford. His example was contagious and the people gave generously in money and service. At the outset the bishop issued a public challenge to the Protestant philanthropic societies of the city. Their plea for accepting and detaining Catholic children in their institutions was that the children were destitute. Bishop Vaughan himself boldly undertook to maintain every destitute Catholic child in Manchester and Salford. Public opinion instantly sided with the bishop. In some cases, however, the societies were obdurate, and time after time the law courts had to vindicate the right of poor Catholic parents to recover the guardianship of their own children. One by one the Protestant institutions were emptied of their Catholic inmates.
A greater task remained. The whole workhouse system of Lancashire had to be changed. In the year 1886 it was found that there were over 1000 catholic children in the fourteen workhouses of Manchester and the neighborhood and that, on the average, 103 Catholic children left the workhouse schools every year. The bishop’s report showed that 80 per cent of these were lost to the Catholic church. It was not part of the duty of the Lancashire guardians when they placed these children out in service to take care that they were placed in Catholic families. The bishop did not blame the guardians. The faith of a workhouse child, always part of a timid minority, was generally weak and was easily lost amid new Protestant surroundings. At that time London was far ahead of Lancashire in the fairness of its treatment of Catholic Poor Law children. In Middlesex it was already the custom to hand over Catholic children to Catholic Certified Homes with an agreed sum for their maintenance. In Lancashire there were no Catholic Certified Homes for the children. To create such homes the bishop knew would require a vast sum, but his faith in the inexhaustible charity of his people was once more justified. Two great homes were quickly provided and in each case the certificate of the Local Government Board was obtained. There remained the task of persuading the Boards of Guardians to utilize the opportunity now brought to their doors. It was a strong card in the bishop’s hand that he could promise that every child handed over to a Catholic Home should cost the guardians considerably less than if it stayed in the workhouse. The more economical working of the Catholic Homes was, of course, due to the fact that the members of the religious orders who managed them gave their services without payment. By 1890 seven Catholic Homes, two of them certified schools, had been bought or built. Finally, homes were provided for Catholic waifs and strays of whatever sort, whether they came within the reach of the Poor Law or not. Wealthy friends of the Bishop gave generously, but the poor gave more, both in the annual collection made in all churches and the house-to-house collections made once a month on “Rescue Saturday”.