On the Feast of Our Lady’s Assumption, 15 August 1856, Father Paul Mary Pakenham C.P. celebrated Mass in a farmhouse not far from the City of Dublin. With the celebration of a Mass of Our Lady, exactly one hundred and fifty years ago today, he and his companion Brother Seraphim took possession of the future Saint Paul’s Retreat, Mount Argus, the first Passionist house in Ireland. Other members of the new community arrived soon afterwards and in a short time work had begun on a chapel which, when completed, was dedicated to Saint Patrick and Blessed Paul of the Cross (-Saint Paul was not canonised until 1867).
Father Paul Mary died the following year, on 1 March, at just 35 years of age, and left the community without its driving force and inspiration. His companion Father Ignatius Spencer wrote:
It must not be that this foundation, for which, it seemed, he was peculiarly adapted and called, and of which he was, as it were, the corner stone, should fail…. Instead of being disheartened, we should all take new courage, and unitedly resolve that his blessed death shall not be the blasting but the confirmation of all his hopes and ours. This is my feeling. I trust to go on with the part assigned to me in the work with only greater spirit and confidence. I believe from what I see and hear among my remaining companions, this is likewise their mind.
Within months of Paul Mary’s death, two changes would occur in the community which would shape the future of Mount Argus, but in different ways. Father Paul Mary’s vicar (or vice-rector) and friend, Father Osmund (Maguire), was appointed as the new rector and, on 9 July, Father Charles (Houben) arrived form England to join the Mount Argus community. It was Father Osmund who engaged the great Irish architect J.J. McCarthy to design a new monastery,which would also be able to take retreatants, at an estimated cost of £12,000, which at that time was an enormous sum of money.
The monastery, built in Wicklow granite, took four years to finish; Brother John (Walsh) was the Master of Works and Brother Alphonsus (Zeegers) was a very capable Clerk of Works, a role he would also have when Father Osmund moved to Glasgow in 1866 to begin the building of Saint Mungo’s Church. The building of the present church at Mount Argus was not completed until 1878, with the architect, McCarthy, seeing the job through to the end. A new apse with transepts was added to the church and a new wing to the monastery in the 1930s. Here are some photographs I took on a recent visit. Unfortunately, I don’t have one of the facade of the church. I will be at Mount Argus on 3 September for the official 150th Anniversary Mass, and will try to take one then. (I really don’t like the word sesquicentennial.)
This carving of Saint Paul of the Cross on the ambo is one of the panels from the original pulpit which was carved by James Pearse, father of Patrick Pearse and his brother Willie. The Pearse family had a long association with the Passionists and Mount Argus. James Pearse, a convert to the Catholic faith, was instructed by a Passionist (-I think by Father Pius Devine C.P.). Mrs Pearse taught the Irish language under the direction of Father Joseph Smith C.P. (founder of the magazine The Cross); the classes were held in the building at the side gate, which is now the scout hall. On Good Friday night, 21 April 1916, during the Seven Last Words, Patrick and Willie Pearse came to Mount Argus with one of their friends, looking for confession. One of the students, Leo Gribben C.P. (who told me the story before his death in 1976) suggested they should wait until after the service, but they persisted in asking for a confessor, so he brought them into the monastery by the door at the altar of Saint Mary Magdalene (the Magdalene Altar) and found a priest who heard their confessions in the duty room, near the church. On Easter Monday, 24 April, Patrick Pearse proclaimed the Irish Republic at the GPO in what is now O’Connell Street, Dublin.
Saint Gabriel’s Altar (detail)
After the death of Father Paul Mary Pakenham, Father Charles (Houben) of Saint Andrew was transferred to Dublin. Within a short time, he had made a profound impression on the people of Dublin, and indeed of Ireland, with his quiet holiness and his gift of healing. Many miracles were worked through his blessing the sick with the relic of Saint Paul of the Cross. Blessed Charles of Mount Argus, as he is now known, was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 16 October 1988. This arazzo (or banner) was made for Beatification Mass.
Here are some pictures of the tomb of Blessed Charles who, we hope and pray, will be canonised next year. The proposed miracle for canonisation has already been approved by the Medical Commission and the Theological Commission of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
Mount Argus has been home to many holy Passionists. The best known is certainly our saint-in-waiting, Blessed Charles, but Father Paul Mary Pakenham lived and died as a saint too, as have many more in the last 150 years. Because we lived so close to them, we perhaps did not always notice or accept their holiness, like the cheeky Passionist student who greeted Father Charles with the words Any miracles today? For the past month, we have had Father Juan Llorente C.P. from Madrid with us in Glasgow learning English (can you believe it?); he was speaking the other day about Father Fabian and Brother Oliver who made a deep impression on him when he visited Mount Argus several years ago. Those of us who have lived there could add other names to the list.
I wish the Passionist Community at Mount Argus every blessing as they celebrate this milestone, and I pray that the future will be just as fruitful for them as the past has been.