My earliest memory of Father James Vaughan is in a crowded cafeteria, waiting for Religious Ed to begin. Children squealed as a cocker spaniel walked by. His name was Mickey and I knew then that Father Vaughan had come to greet us. Fr. Vaughan subsequently had other dogs, always a cocker spaniel and always named Mickey … and each dog loved him with the same devotion and loyalty.
When I was in third grade, Fr. Vaughan encouraged families at Sacred Heart to take part in the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary. Our family signed-up and I vividly remember the day that Fr. Vaughan visited our home. He offered Mass in our living room and blessed the images of the Sacred Heart and Immaculate Heart on our dining room buffet. Those pictures are still there today, almost twenty years later. Fr. Vaughan was always bringing Jesus into our families, into our homes.
Fr. Vaughan offered me my first job: working at Sacred Heart Rectory. Every Saturday morning when I arrived at work, I would hear click-clickety-click coming from upstairs. Fr. Vaughan was at his typewriter, writing his homily. Those homilies taught me my Catholic faith. They came from his heart and were always faithful to the Church. He also spoke with courage. I remember him preaching against abortion. Afterward he admitted to me, “Sometimes I feel like John the Baptist, calling out in the desert.”
He was a humble man. One day Fr. Vaughan, a box of chocolate in his hands, said that he was going to speak with the neighbor. This neighbor had parked in front of Fr. Vaughan’s garage. Fr. Vaughan had gotten upset and spoken angrily to him; now, he went to apologize. Humility formed a large part of his spirituality, too. Often, in his preaching, he would admit that he didn’t understand some mysteries of the Faith, such as life after death. But, “I believe it.”
He was someone you could count on. When I started my first relationship, I was over the moon excited to have a boyfriend. I was conflicted, though, because this boyfriend was an agnostic. I turned to Fr. Vaughan for advice and he said, “I can’t see you being happy with someone who doesn’t share your faith.” Those words guided me to my now husband.
Fr. Vaughan’s favorite image of Our Lord was the Good Shepherd. He was, in so many ways, to so many people, a good shepherd. My brother was often sick and Fr. Vaughan would always visit him at the hospital, bringing Holy Communion and administering Anointing of the Sick.
He always looked after his flock, a flock that extended beyond our parish to the poor and to our military men and women. Every December he faithfully participated in the Walk for Joseph’s House, trudging through the snow in downtown Troy, walking the same streets as the homeless. At every Mass Fr. Vaughan would pray for our soldiers. Patriotism was one of his strongest virtues. I remember him offering Mass on Memorial Day, leading us in singing “America the Beautiful.”
He had a particular affection for the lost sheep of his flock: one of his greatest joys was hearing confessions. I once asked Fr. Vaughan if he would hear confessions during an overnight for teens of the parish. He agreed. Then I mentioned it would be at nine o’clock at night. He smiled, a twinkle in his eye, and said, “Whenever you need me.”
These are my own stories of Fr. Vaughan, but anyone who knew him has his or her own stories. At his Mass for Christmas, Fr. Vaughan would often play Bing Crosby’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and remind us that our true homeland is heaven. I picture Fr. Vaughan finally home now and the Good Shepherd saying to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”