Saint of the Day – 5 January – St Charles of Mount Argus C.P. (1821-1893) – Religious Passionist Priest, Apostle of Charity, Spiritual guide, Miracle-worker – born Joannes Andreas Houben on 11 December 1821 in the village of Munstergeleen in the Province of Limburg in the Kingdom of the Netherlands and died on 5 January 1893 at Mount Argus, Ireland from an infected leg wound received in a carriage accident.
Fr Charles of St Andrew, known in secular life as John Andrew Houben, was born on 11 December 1821 in Munstergeleen, in the diocese of Ruremond (Holland), the fourth of eleven children. He was baptised the same day with the name John Andrew. He received his First Communion on 26 April 1835 and the sacrament of Confirmation on 28 June in the same year. He began his formal education in Sittard and then in Broeksittard. In 1840 he had to interrupt his studies to enter the military. It was during this latter period that he first heard about the Congregation of the Passion. At the end of his military service he completed his studies and requested to be admitted to the Congregation. He was received by Blessed Dominic Barberi (1792-1849), Passionist and he entered the novitiate in the Belgium city of Ere, near Tournai on 5 November 1845. In December of that same year he was vested with the Passionist religious Habit and was given the name of Charles of St Andrew. Having completed the canonical year of novitiate he professed First Vows on 10 December 1850. At the conclusion of his studies he was ordained a priest by Bishop Labis, the ordinary of Tournai.
Immediately he was sent to England where the Passionists had founded three monasteries and it was here that, for a period of time, he undertook the ministry of vice-master of novices in the monastery of Broadway. He also did parochial ministry in the parish of St Wilfred and neighbouring areas until 1856 when he was transferred to the newly established monastery of Mount Argus, on the outskirts of Dublin.
Blessed Charles Houben lived almost the remainder of his life in this retreat and was greatly loved by the Irish people to point that they referred to him, a native of Holland, as Father Charles of Mount Argus. He was a particularly pious priest. He was outstanding in exercising obedience, in the practice of poverty, humility and simplicity and to an even greater degree, to devotion to the Passion of the Lord.
Due to his poor mastery of the English language, he was never a formal preacher and he never preached missions. Rather, he very successfully dedicated himself to spiritual direction, especially through the sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession).
The fame of his virtue was such that great crowds of people would gather at the monastery to seek his blessing. There are also numerous testimonies to the outstanding miraculous cures that he worked to the extent, that even during his lifetime, he was known as a miracle worker.
Precisely because of this fame that extended throughout all of Great Britain as well as in America and Australia that in 1866, in order to afford him some rest, he was transferred to England where he lived for a time in the communities at Broadway, Sutton and London. There he ministered as usual and there too, inside and outside the monastery, he was sought by the faithful, both Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
He returned to Dublin in 1874 where he remained until his death that took place at dawn on 5 January 1893.
During his very solemn funeral that was attended by people from all of Ireland there was definite proof of the popular devotion that had surrounded him throughout his life. In a newspaper of the time we read: “Never before has the memory of any man sparked an explosion of religious sentiment and profound veneration as that which we observed in the presence of the mortal remains of Father Charles.” The Superior of the monastery wrote to his family: “The people have already declared him a saint.”
The cause of his Beatification and Canonisation was introduced on 13 November 1935, and on 16 October 1988, His Holiness John Paul II proceeded with the Beatification of the one whom everyone called the saint of Mount Argus.
The miracle that led to his Canonisation was obtained through his intercession on behalf of Mr Adolf Dormans of Munstergeleen, the birthplace of the Blessed. The diocesan inquiry super miro was also undertaken in the diocese of Roermond (Holland) from 6 November 2002 until 19 February 2003 at which time the validity of the miracle was recognised by a Decree from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on 7 November 2003.
The medical consulta was convoked on 24 November 2005 and following the investigation of the matter, the members unanimously expressed that the cure of Mr. Dormans of “perforated, gangrenous appendicitis with generalised peritonitis that was multi-organically compromising and included extenuating and prolonged agony” was “not scientifically explainable”.
The theologian consultors, in the particular Congress of 21 February 2006 and the Ordinary Congregation of Cardinals and Bishops of 12 December 2006 also gave their unanimous approval of the supernatural aspect of the said healing. The Decree concerning the miracle was given in the presence of the Holy Father, Benedict XVI on 21 December 2006…and he was Canonised on 3 June 2007 by Pope Benedict XVI at Saint Peter’s Basilica, Rome, Italy…Vatican.va
During the last years of his life he had many trials. He was also in failing health, was anxious about death. His family in Holland were dying. Old injuries returned to plague him. Towards the end of 1892, it was obvious that the life of Fr Charles was coming to an end. He said his last Mass on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception 1892. Word of his illness spread through the city, crowds gathered to enquire about him. Just after Christmas he couldn’t eat, lost his sight and was like a living skeleton. At 5.30 in the morning of the 5th January 1893 he passed peacefully to his Maker.
His body was brought to the Church and lay in state for five days. Despite heavy snow, thousands filed past his coffin with the police keeping order. His funeral was said to have been bigger than Parnell’s two years before. Finally his remains were laid to rest in the cemetery beside Mount Argus Church. His grave became a place of pilgrimage where people came daily to pray. When in 1949 his remains were moved inside the Church the Shrine became the place of prayer. Today people come twice each day to be blest with the Relic of Blessed Charles.