On the 15th August 1856, Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, the very first Mass was celebrated in Mount Argus. The Mass was celebrated by Fr. Paul Mary Packenham CP in the front parlour of the recently acquired red brick house. The house was purchased from a Mrs. Byrne with the help of Fr. Matthew Collier, a curate in the parish of Rathmines, of which the new Passionist Retreat of Blessed Paul of the Cross then became a part. There was a congregation of five people at the Mass, including Father Collier and Mrs. Byrne. The other three were Brother Seraphin Pesce CP and a Mr. & Mrs. Tully from Harold’s Cross, friends of Mrs. Byrne.
Over the next 118 years, to the day, Mount Argus functioned as a religious order church for which people developed a great love and affiliation, perhaps due in no small measure to the fact that there was a rather extraordinary priest who came to live in the community from 9th July 1857, Feast of Our Lady of Holy Hope. He was of course Fr. Charles Houben, now St. Charles of Mount Argus. But that love and affiliation with Mount Argus has continued down through the years until the present day, with those who consider Mount Argus as their spiritual home being spread far and wide.
Mount Argus has had an ever changing face over the years. In the same year of 1856 that the first Mass was celebrated a church was built on to the house and opened that December. A new and bigger church was planned and built to cope with the numbers coming, and was eventually opened and dedicated as the Church of St. Paul of the Cross in 1878, although the old church continued to be used, especially by Fr. Charles for his special ministry of blessing and healing, until his death in 1893. The new church was refurbished in 1924 and extended in 1938, and of course many of you will remember, and indeed will have been involved in the restoration of the church which led to a re-dedication in 1986.
The monastery was built and opened in 1863, the old red brick house then being demolished. What became known as the student wing was opened in 1938 at the same time as the extension to the church. This then was home to the community of Passionists comprising priests and brothers, among whom were missioners, retreat givers, chaplains, confessors, questers, teachers, students, administrators, and religious engaged in a whole plethora of other ministries rooted in the “mixed life” ethos of contemplation and action, centered on the Passion of Jesus, established by St. Paul of the Cross, founder of the Passionists, in the 18th century. Then with changing times, smaller numbers, and diminishment due to the increased age and frailty of the community members, the Passionists built a new monastery and took up residence there in December 2009.
But perhaps one of the most significant changes to Mount Argus took place once again on the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, 15th August 1974. On that day, 118 years after the first Mass was celebrated in the red brick house, Mount Argus was constituted the parish of St. Paul of the Cross in the Archdiocese of Dublin. Since 1935 Mount Argus had changed from being located in the parish of Rathmines to being located in the parish of Harold’s Cross, but now, at the request of the Archbishop of Dublin, it became a parish in its own right.
There were mixed feelings about this amongst the Passionists. St. Paul of the Cross had expressed concerns that parish ministry might dilute the religious life aspect of the Congregation and lead to a diminishment of the traditional preaching ministry. But then we already had parishes in Glasgow (St. Mungo’s) and Belfast (Holy Cross) which was in fact the first religious order parish in Ireland. The most important consideration was to keep the Passion of Jesus at the centre of the new ministries that would be associated with the running of a parish.
The Passionist Provincial at that time was careful in agreeing a contract with the then Archbishop of Dublin that took account of the religious order nature of the church and monastery at Mount Argus and the importance of being able to remain committed and faithful to our Passionist identity and charism within a parish context.
Amongst the people there were also mixed feelings. For those who fell within the newly established parish boundaries there was delight that now baptisms, weddings, funerals, and other rituals and celebrations associated with parish life, which until now had to take place elsewhere or else special permission sought, could now take place in Mount Argus. For those who fell outside the parish boundaries there was perhaps a concern that they would somehow be “lesser” members of this church and religious community that had become so much a part of their lives. But of course the love and affiliation built up during that previous 118 years could not be diminished by arbitrary boundaries.
For the Passionist community, many other ministries continued to be exercised alongside parish ministry and that remains the case to this day, even with a much smaller community. For the people, those who come to pray and worship, those who give of their time and talents in a great number and variety of ministries and activities, those who serve Mount Argus so generously and in so many ways, and those with devotion to St. Charles, continue to come from far and wide. Mount Argus is not the parish; the parish is not Mount Argus; but still the life of the parish is a vital part of whom and what we now are, and we were proud to celebrate our 40th anniversary in 2014.
When the parish was constituted on 15th August 1974, Fr. Ralph, the first parish priest, likened the process to the image in St. Paul to the Romans of a woman in labour giving birth to a child. The child is now 40 years old, still going through its various stages of life and growth in an ever changing world, society and church. During those 40 years we have been served well by good parish priests and curates, parish sisters and pastoral workers, and of course the faithful laity who will always be the heart and soul of Mount Argus. Together we have shared and celebrated many special and joyful moments; too many to mention, and also supported each other in times of discouragement, difficulty and tears, for such is life. In these past few years, as part of the changing face of the Archdiocese of Dublin, we have been developing closer friendship and co-operation with the parishes of Rathmines and Harold’s Cross – how appropriate that these were the two parishes Mount Argus parish grew out of and we value those friendships dearly.
On 14th September 2014, Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which of course reflects the Passionist charism and identity at the heart of our parish, Archbishop Martin celebrated the 11am Family Mass and joined us afterwards for an anniversary party in the monastery garden.
Other projects produced to celebrate the 40th anniversary included a re-launching of the parish website with a new look and new features; and the production of a booklet to open up the delights of our beautiful church which can be picked up by parishioners, regular patrons and occasional visitors alike.