Herbert Vaughan was born at Gloucester, the eldest son of Lieutenant-Colonel John Francis Vaughan, of an old recusant (Roman Catholic) family, the Vaughans of Courtfield, Herefordshire. His mother, Eliza Rolls from The Hendre, Monmouthshire, was a Catholic convert and intensely religious. All five of the Vaughan daughters became nuns, while six of the eight sons received Holy Orders and became priests. Three were later called as bishops in addition to Herbert: Roger became Archbishop of Sydney, Australia; Francis became Bishop of Menevia, Wales; John became titular bishop of Sebastopolis and auxiliary bishop in Salford, England.
In 1841 Herbert Vaughan, the eldest, went to study for six years at Stonyhurst College, then to the Jesuit school of Brugelette, Belgium, and then with the Benedictines at Downside Abbey, near Bath, England.
In 1851 Vaughan went to Rome, in the Papal States of Italy. He had two years of study at the Collegio Romano, where for a time he shared lodgings with the poet, Aubrey Thomas de Vere. He became a friend and disciple of Henry Edward Manning. Manning, a Catholic convert, became the second Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster following the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in Great Britain in 1850.
Vaughan received Holy Orders at Lucca in 1854. On his return to England, he became Vice-President of St Edmund's College, at that time the chief seminary in the south of England for candidates for the priesthood. Since childhood, Vaughan had been filled with zeal for foreign missions. He decided to found a great English missionary college to fit young priests for the work of evangelizing non-Christians abroad. With this goal, he made a fund-raising trip to America in 1863, from which he returned with £11,000.
He succeeded in opening St Joseph's Foreign Missionary College, Mill Hill Park, London, in 1869. Vaughan also became proprietor of The Tablet, and used its columns to proclaim his message. In 1871 after the American Civil War, Vaughan led a group of priests to the US to establish a mission society to minister to freedmen in the South. In 1893 the society, based in Baltimore, Maryland, reorganized as an American institution. Among its founders was the first African-American Catholic priest trained and ordained in the US, Charles Uncles.
In 1872 Vaughan was consecrated as the second Bishop of Salford; during his tenure he established St Bede's College. Vaughan chose to live at Hampton Grange, on the St. Bede's College campus, with his own Bishop's residence on Chapel Street in Salford being given over to a Seminary. In 1892 Vaughan succeeded Manning as Archbishop of Westminster, receiving the cardinal's hat in 1893 as Cardinal-Priest of Santi Andrea e Gregorio al Monte Celio
In 1879, as the most eminent local Roman Catholic, Vaughan was chosen by the then Home Secretary, R.A. Cross, 1st Viscount Cross, to be one of the trustees of the £1,000 compensation paid to a Whalley Range farm labourer, William Habron, pardoned for the murder of PC Nicholas Cock.
Vaughan was a man of different type from his predecessor; he had none of the ultramontane Manning's intellectual finesse or his ardor for social reform. Vaughan was an ecclesiastic of remarkably fine presence and aristocratic leanings, intransigent in theological policy, and in personal character simply devout.
It was due to this theological "purity" that Vaughan assisted in scuttling an opportunity for rapprochement between Rome and the Church of England that was put into motion by a high-church Anglican, Charles Wood, 2nd Viscount Halifax and a French priest, Ferdinand Portal. Through the efforts of Vaughan and Archbishop of Canterbury Edward White Benson, this early form of ecumenism was put down. It culminated with the condemnation of Anglican Orders by Pope Leo XIII in his bull, Apostolicae curae.
It was Vaughan's most cherished ambition to see an adequate Westminster Cathedral. He worked untiringly to secure subscriptions for a capital campaign, with the result that the foundation stone for the cathedral was laid in 1895. When Vaughan died in 1903 at the age of 71, the building was so far complete that a Requiem Mass was said there. His body was interred at the cemetery of St. Joseph's College, the headquarters of the Mill Hill Missionaries in North London but it was moved back to the Cathedral and reinterred in the Chapel of St Thomas of Canterbury (the "Vaughan Chantry") in 2005.St. Joseph Foreign Missionary College, London, United Kingdom
St Bede's College
St. Joseph Society of the Sacred Heart, Baltimore, MD
In 1914, the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School was founded in his memory in Holland Park, London.