Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fr. Joseph Anthony Vaughan, S.J.

EVERY COLLEGE, IT SEEMS, is blessed with certain families that give freely of themselves generation after generation. At the Mount, the Vaughan family is one of those.

It was announced this week that the 2011 Commencement speaker will be the renowned Sister Judy Vaughan '68, CSJ, founder of Alexandria House, a transitional residence for women and children in need. Sister's blood sister is the also-renowned Sister Kieran Vaughan '64, CSJ, of our education faculty. Their parents, J. Robert and Margaret Vaughan, were long-time supporters of the College and recipients in 2005 of the Carondelet Medal.

I've encountered another Vaughan in the College Archives: Father Joseph Vaughan, a Jesuit who served as Mount chaplain and chair of the philosophy department for many years beginning in the early 1930s. Father, it turns out, was the great-uncle of Sisters Kieran and Judy, and a legend in his own right.

Most of what I know about him I've gleaned from a Los Angeles Times column written many years ago, and stories from a couple of the older CSJs who knew him back in the day. With doctorates in economics and philosophy his academic credentials were superb, and in addition to Greek and Latin he was fluent in Spanish and French. He studied and taught on two continents. His services as a labor negotiator were much sought after. He set up the first radio station at the Vatican. Nothing but a stellar scholar would do for the new College in Brentwood Heights.

According to the Sisters, though, Father Vaughan arrived at the Mount in something of an emergency. The original road climbing to the Chalon Campus was reputedly so treacherous (it collapsed altogether during construction in 1930) that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles forbade any of its priests from making the drive. That left the Mount without access to the sacraments, so in stepped the Jesuits from Loyola University -- one of them being Father Vaughan. Not only did he brave the winding, slippery dirt road above Sunset Boulevard, he helpfully leaned on the horn of his Model A Ford as he shot past Brady Hall to make sure the students would be wide awake for the 7 a.m. daily Mass.

He founded the Mary's Day tradition, drilled two generations of Mount students in the finer points of philosophy, celebrated their liturgies, spoke at their Commencements, comforted them through the trials of higher education. He was lenient and exacting, funny and scholarly, and very, very smart.

In a Feb. 10, 1975, essay, Zan Thompson, the Los Angeles Times columnist and an alumna of the Class of 1940, immortalized her former teacher and old friend Father Vaughan, who died in 1961, in a hilarious reminiscence about his gifts. She concluded,
How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Oh, lots of us, honey. And see that one over there leading the Irish round? That's the boyo himself, Father Joseph Anthony Vaughan, who loved corned beef, conversation, and teaching a gawky girl at Mount St. Mary's to lift her eyes unto the hills.
Eight decades of Vaughans at MSMC... now that's a legacy.

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