St. Charles of Mount Argus: To Heal the Broken Hearted

By Paul Francis Spencer, C.P.

To Heal the Broken Hearted: The Life of Saint Charles of Mount Argus by Paul Francis Spencer, C.P. was first published during the year of Charles’ beatification in 1988. A second edition has now been released. Here are a few words from Father Spencer’s introductions to the editions.

CharlesAt the end of Saint Mark’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Go out into the whole world and proclaim the Good News.” On first reading, we might think that this is about preaching the Gospel in the sense of standing up and talking about Jesus. But words are not the only way of proclaiming the Good News.

Saint Charles of Mount Argus knew about another kind of proclamation. Although no great preacher, he was able to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ in a different way. His life was a life of service to those in need of God. He was always ready to respond to the sick and the suffering, the lonely, the poor and broken-hearted. Charles knew how to communicate the compassionate love of Christ and the healing blessing of the presence of God. While his hours in the monastery were spent in silent communion with God, he was prompt to answer the call of the distressed. The people who still come to Mount Argus to seek his intercession, more than a hundred years after his death, testify to the effectiveness of his proclamation of the Good News.

Preaching the Healing Love of the Cross

“Preach the Gospel; use words when necessary,” said Saint Francis of Assisi. It was not by words but by his way of living that Saint Charles preached his message. As a Passionist, he had vowed to keep alive in his own heart and in the hearts of others the memory of the life-giving Passion of Jesus. He carried that memory in his own heart through daily meditation. He brought the remembrance of Christ’s Passion to others by giving them hope in their sufferings. Not all the people he blessed were cured physically; the healing love which flows from the Cross can work on different levels.

CharlesAlthough hundreds of people were cured in his lifetime, and others after his death, in many cases the healing which God gives through Charles’ intercession was and is of a quieter kind, though no less real: the grace to accept a terminal illness; the strength to keep going in the face of disability; the power to forgive one who has hurt us deeply; the courage to accept help in overcoming an addiction; the sense of God’s closeness in difficult times. right: Charles’ crucifix

By a happy coincidence, the year of Charles’ canonization, 2007, is also the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of his first arrival in Ireland. John Andrew Houben, the Dutchman, became Charles of Saint Andrew, the Passionist. He is known to us as Saint Charles of Mount Argus; the name of what was then the newly-founded Passionist monastery has become firmly linked to his. Saint Paul’s Retreat, Mount Argus was his home and the centre of his apostolate for more than thirty years. It was also to be his final resting place.

The paper publication the first edition of this biography coincided with the Beatification of the man usually known as Father Charles of Mount Argus. Born in Limburg, Holland, in 1821, John Andrew Houben entered the Passionist Novitiate in 1845, receiving the name Charles of Saint Andrew; in the official documents of the Cause this is the name we find, but for most people the name Blessed Charles is linked indissolubly with that of the monastery in which he lived for almost thirty years and in whose church his body lies: St Paul’s Retreat, Mount Argus.

One of the difficulties confronting the biographer of Saint Charles is the scarcity of information, particularly for the early years of his life as a religious and a priest. It is only in the last twenty years of his life that we find an abundance of documentation. One of his contemporaries described his life as “quiet and hidden for the sake of Him for whom alone he lived.” The truth of this statement is reflected in the archives of many of the houses in which he lived. This biography, the content of which is taken from primary sources, reflects in its structure the material available.

CharlesBiography Based on Witness

My intention in writing this biography of Saint Charles has been to allow the story to be told by those who were there: Charles himself and those who knew him. To this end, I have tried to intrude as little as possible, letting the documents speak for themselves. In the pages which follow I have spoken of our subject as Charles, rather than Blessed Charles; knowing that he used to refer to himself as Charlie; I feel sure he won’t mind.

It is my hope that the reader will be helped to see Saint Charles as he was, a man of God seeking to do the will of God, but at the same time a human being living in a very human situation. It was my own experience that, as I came to know him better through reading the various documents, I felt drawn to him not by the extraordinary aspects of his life but simply by the love and compassion which were so clearly expressed in all his activities. I hope you will have that same experience.

Like Saint Patrick, he learned to love the Irish as his own people; they in turn took him to their hearts. The old Irish tradition is that the stranger should be welcomed as we would welcome Christ. In Charles’ case, the presence of Christ was easy for people to recognise, as he, who lived always in the awareness of God’s loving presence, touched the lives of so many with the healing grace of a loving God.

May Charles’ silent preaching continue to be Good News for us all.

Paul Francis Spencer C.P. edited Letters of Father Charles and translated with Martin Coffey C.P. In the Heart of God: The Spiritual Teaching of Saint Paul of the Cross. As a Seal Upon Your Heart: The Life of Saint Paul of the Cross, Founder of the Passionists was published in 1994. On the Web, visit

in this issue
The Passionists

Paul Zilonka, C.P.
Mary Ann Strain, C.P.
Kevin Dance, C.P.
Suzanne Thomas
James Fitzgerald
Joseph Jones, C.P.,
Eastern Province
Cover by
Mary Ann Strain, C.P.

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