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June 16, 2019 – Ruston – On this Father’s Day I will share a story with you from our past. This story is of a father’s loss and also about his deep dedication to caring for children.
Rev. Charles Campbell (“C. C.”) Weir was appointed in 1904 to be the Financial Agent of Louisiana Methodist Orphanage, an organization that existed only on paper following the 1902 session of the Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Rev. Weir raised funds sufficient to support construction of the first building on our Ruston campus. In 1908, Rev. Weir returned to the pastorate and the Reverend Dr. Robert Whitaker Vaughan was appointed as Louisiana Methodist Orphanage’s first Superintendent.
I have been curious about Rev. Vaughan’s first four years as Superintendent of Louisiana Methodist Orphanage. Rev. Vaughan’s first two years were a busy blur of activity and organization. He was successful. His writing sparkled with the excitement of his work and his worthy calling.
But after two years, something odd happened. His writing took on a dark tone. Between 1910 and 1912, Rev. Vaughan resigned three times. In December 1912, he left Ruston and moved to Mer Rouge. Then, in a September 1913 turnaround, he returned to Ruston and took up again his work as Superintendent, a work he then continued without interruption for 23 more years.
What happened halfway through Rev. Vaughan’s first four years at Louisiana Methodist Orphanage to make him seem so fickle a leader? Until I pieced together the story, I considered him a reluctant leader. But this assessment seemed skewed because, by all accounts, the Orphanage was succeeding under his leadership. What explained the ambivalence?
Eighteen months into his tenure as first Superintendent of Louisiana Methodist Orphanage, Rev. Dr. Robert Whitaker Vaughan closed the Summer issue of The Louisiana Orphanage Visitor, the monthly newsletter of Louisiana Methodist Orphanage, with these words:
“Suffering is God’s way of trying the reality of love.” – Rev. R. W. Vaughan, June 1910, The Louisiana Orphanage Visitor
What we know now is that neither Vaughan nor his wife knew the suffering they would face. Four months later in October 1910, their three-year-old daughter, Roberta Charlotte Vaughan, fell into a fire, was burned badly, and died within a few days.
Three times during the two years after his daughter’s death, Rev. Vaughan resigned from his position as Superintendent. The first two times, the Orphanage Board talked him into continuing his work.
These resignations and the Board’s response were reported in the newspapers of the day. Following his second resignation, a headline in the Alexandria Daily Town Talk on January 13, 1911, read, “Dr. Vaughn will hold the place.” The article reported, “At a meeting of the conference board of the Louisiana Methodist Orphanage Rev. R. W. Vaughn was prevailed upon to resume the office of general superintendent and financial agent, which he had resigned.”
Rev. Vaughan continued as Superintendent for an additional year before submitting his third resignation letter to the Board of the Orphanage. This third time the Board accepted his resignation.
Rev. Vaughan’s third letter was a rich tapestry of feeling weaving together his grief, his regrets, and discouragement, his gratitude and hope. His third letter was published in the Conference Journal.
“To this work I have given four years of my life. Called out of my chosen profession, just as my fondest hopes were about to be realized, the burden and care of this strange task was placed on me. I faced every possible discouragement. I wrestled and prayed with unknown burdens and responsibilities. I have failed in many respects. Many of my hopes and plans have proven futile. Yet I have done my best for the great cause. My failure has not been from lack of interest or desire, but from lack of experience and ability. Yet I believe I am laying down the task at a time when the risk from change in management will be least hurtful, when the work will go forward with the least friction. I am sure that with your honored Board, and the keen, self-sacrificing interest you take in the work, you can help the unskilled hands that may be appointed to guide and manage this difficult task, that the dangers will be reduced to the minimum.
“It is, therefore, with many regrets that I now offer you my resignation. Twice before I have placed my resignation in your hands, and twice you have prevailed on me to reconsider. You will have no disposition to ask reconsideration now, and should you have, I would not have the courage to ask you to confide this responsibility to my keeping again. My personal inclination, the great possibilities of so noble a work, the bright and hopeful future for this particular institution, very greatly appeal to me to continue in this cause. But conditions I can no longer control make imperative and irretrievable my resignation. One of the most painful features of my discontinuance with the Orphanage is the severance of the always pleasant relations with your Board. I have made no suggestion, proposed no plan, imposed no demand, but that you have cheerfully and gladly acceded to my desires. In the hours of trial, difficulties, perplexing problems, and even in the darkest grief that can tear a human heart, you have been my loyal and devoted friends. If I have made mistakes, you have been most lenient. When I have failed, you have encouraged. When success has attended my efforts you have cheered. Without you, what we have done would have been impossible. With your strong and hearty support no man worth his salt but would do his best. I leave you and your great work with sincere regret. I pray God to greatly bless you. Be sure that in whatever way I can find, I will most gladly and heartily serve you and this great cause. It will continue to have my prayers, my keenest interest, and whenever possible, my best efforts.
My resignation is in your hands to take effect at the close of the forth coming session of the Louisiana Annual Conference.”
Rev. Dr. Robert Whitaker Vaughan, Letter to the Orphanage Board, December 1912
After reading Rev. Vaughan’s final resignation letter, one feels empathy for his burden. Vaughan was torn between his “darkest grief that can tear a human heart” and the pain of leaving the Orphanage and missing “the great possibilities of so noble a work.”
In December 1912, the Board accepted his resignation and Bishop Edwin D. Mouzon appointed Rev. R. W. Vaughan to the Mer Rouge and Oak Ridge Methodist churches in Mer Rouge, Louisiana. His tenure would be brief, but on December 10, 1912, Rev. P. H. Fontaine became Superintendent of Louisiana Methodist Orphanage.
“The only serious misfortune the institution has sustained this year has been the loss by resignation of its Superintendent of the past four years. While unavoidable, it is, nevertheless, lamentable that the services of one so admirably adapted to and fitted and qualified for such work should not be secured for the active period of a lifetime.” S. D. Pearce, President of the Board of Directors, “Report of Board of Directors of the Louisiana Methodist Orphanage,” page 63, Minutes of the 67th session of the Louisiana Annual Conference, December 11, 1912.
The Orphanage Board knew what they were losing with Rev. Vaughan’s resignation. They knew him before his child’s death. They understood his strengths and his unfailing devotion to his responsibility for leading Louisiana Methodist Orphanage. Reading between the lines of the written history, one finds the foreshadowing of Vaughan’s return. You see, during those four years, the last two filled with grief, Louisiana Methodist Orphanage and the surrounding community had become Vaughan’s home. He, his wife, and his daughter are buried in Greenwood Cemetery off West Alabama Avenue in Ruston.
Within nine months of his departure, Rev. Vaughan returned to lead Louisiana Methodist Orphanage. In September 1913, Rev. Fontaine left, and the Board reappointed Rev. Vaughan as Superintendent. Vaughan then led Louisiana Methodist Orphanage without wavering through the next 23 years which encompassed World War I, and the Spanish Flu pandemic, and the Great Depression.
“Suffering is God’s way of trying the reality of love,” Vaughan wrote.
The Orphanage Board was desperate for sound leadership in those early years. During the grief of his great loss, the Orphanage Board talked and supported Rev. Vaughan into continuing as long as he could carry the burden. Then, unable to remain longer, Rev. Vaughan stepped away to a small church in Mer Rouge. There he and his wife found the peace and space required to grieve the loss of their daughter and restore their souls.
Nine months later, Rev. Vaughan returned to lead Louisiana Methodist Orphanage with a father’s tested love, informed by his suffering and sufficient for his work. His was a love that would be available for all who would be in his care until he retired in 1936.
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