Obituary of Fr Charles (Houben) of St Andrew
After the death of Blessed Charles, the Rector of Mount Argus wrote the customary obituary notice to send to the other Passionist communities. After giving a brief resumé of Charles' life, he went on this give this description of him:
Fr Charles was a priest of singular piety and a religious who observed our Holy Rule with extraordinary fervour and exactness. Ever prompt in obedience, rigid in the observance of poverty, pure-minded in his actions, cherishing an ardent devotion to the Passion of our Divine Lord, and faithful son of the Congregation [of the Passion] in every respect, his life was like unto that of a Saint. Loving mortification and humiliation in whatever form they presented themselves, he grew daily in holiness so that the fame of his sanctity spread far and wide. A lover of seclusion, constantly united with God in prayer, continually imploring the divine mercy for mankind, ready at all times to perform acts of charity towards his neighbour, Fr Charles was looked up to as a typical Passionist. The people who venerated him as a saint flocked daily to St Paul's to obtain the holy man's blessing which not infrequently resulted in the cure of physical as well as moral ills. Never permitting himself to be distracted, but always remembering the presence of God -- his mind unceasingly on things heavenly -- his all-absorbing thought was the Sacred Passion of our Lord and the Dolours of Mary. As time grew apace, so did the love of God fructify in his soul so that his progress in virtue was marvellous. The holy names of Jesus and Mary were his favourite ejaculations, and he repeated them with such profound reverence that he touched the hearts of those that happened to be near him. He practised devotion to the Holy Souls in a heroic degree. So great was it, that he invariably asked those with whom he came in contact to intercede for their release. During the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice he generally exhibited signs of deep emotion, and it was not unusual for him to shed abundant tears. Living such a life of self-abnegation and increasing love of God -- tending always to perfection -- it is not to be wondered at that his death was such a holy and a happy one. Fr Charles was not a preacher; but he did an incalculable amount of good for the salvation of souls by his burning exhortations to the groups who day by day came to seek his benedictions. God alone knows the benefits which have resulted to the Congregation as well as to the Church in general, from the humble prayers of this self-denying religious. Having celebrated Mass for the last time on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, he was stricken down on the following day by a painful illness, which increased daily more and more; but the holy man bore his sufferings in such a manner as to edify all. He breathed his last calmly and peacefully in the presence of his religious brethren at a quarter to six on Thursday morning, 5th of January. His death created intense sorrow, as was evidenced not only by his fellow-religious but by the public in general who came in thousands to get a last glimpse of him who during life was desirous of doing good to all without distinction of persons, and whose bright example not only excited the love of the faithful, but even won for him the admiration of those who differed from him in religion. Remembering the divine promises to the faithful religious we cannot but conclude that the reward of this devoted servant of God is 'exceeding great'.
Sermon preached by Fr Wilfrid O'Hagan C.P. at the funeral of Blessed Charles
'And Jesus went down to Nazareth and was subject to them.'
I do not know if you have carefully thought of the significance of the silent life of our Lord, how he was for thirty years living in retirement and solitude, and only appeared twice in public: the first time, at the feast mentioned in today's Gospel [the feast of the Passover], and the second time, at the marriage in Cana of Galilee. Three years and a half, alone, was he doing the work of his ministry. One of the consequences of this: it shows that many live silently in this life -- all those who are holy and come to God, who will rather stand by Divinity than scatter themselves over the earth.
This was the original spirit of the Church, which caused thousands upon thousands of men and women to bury themselves in the cloister. For they were dead to the world when the door of the cloister closed upon them. And so they thus worked alone, sleeping silently in their graves; and not until the final trumpet will it be seen or known, the work of their lives.
It is sad now for us today, to be gathered round the bier of one who loved us so long. He is a perfect saint: he lived for God alone, he thought nothing of himself, and his life was a perfect sacrifice. Upwards of forty years he has lived for God.
But to understand this thoroughly, I will give you a little information, of his mode of life. From the day he joined our Order and put on the habit he loved, he loved the observance of the sacred Rule, he loved the solitude of his cell, and solitude of his life. He never left the house, except under obedience, or on some work of charity. His work and his whole life was devoted to God; his whole charity was for anything that brought relief to the afflicted heart. His life was one of those superior beings, something to be hidden away -- he was nothing so far as he himself was concerned -- outside the room wherein he found peace and solitude, and all those superior lights of heaven, which is understood only by those within the monastery.
No matter what went wrong in the world outside -- all its changes and calamities -- with him it was no concern; I don't believe he ever looked at a newspaper. If he was told anything that was sorrowful or evil, he would sigh for it, and would rejoice on hearing anything that was good. But no matter what storms or troubles might gather round, there was peace with God always standing in his soul. He lived superior to all those things. He lived according to the Rule laid down for him, and he had no ambition with the outside, hidden as he was in retirement.
His presence shed a light amongst us; he had humbled himself for God. And, what is more, it was not only this solitude of his own life, but all that ever knew him, never knew him to be without prayer -- night and day; I almost think he prayed in his sleep. He prayed always; he prayed for those inside, and those who were outside; his whole life was a life of prayer.
He never asked for anything. His devotions were the most peculiar [i.e. particular]. He was most attentive to his religious duties and, though he might seem to have an aberration or want of recollection, I never knew him to forget anything of his religious duties. He had a special devotion to our Blessed Lady; when he was in pain, or anything troubled -- it was to Mary. And so it was on the feast of the Immaculate Conception he said his last Mass. That evening he fell off his feet; he never rose from that moment, nearly four weeks ago, and it was only then we knew he had been suffering. He must have suffered immensely, and we never knew it. And even then, when we enquired, 'Are you in pain, Fr Charles?', he would calmly answer, 'Not much.'
In the long period amongst us, he was never upbraided except for his zeal. I remember, forty years ago, he made some little mistake, and I heard the superior say, 'I have scolded that holy man, but I could now kneel down and kiss his feet.' Some men there are who seem a saint to those outside, but he was a saint to those inside. He was an example to us all.
I will not detain you; it is hard to retain ourselves when speaking of one whose charity was so much -- and given with every zeal that was possible -- if he thought he could assist in any way to comfort those who were in grief or sorrow, and brush away their tears, or do what he could to relieve their sufferings. Another thing: he was never known yet to say an uncharitable word against anyone, and that is more than can be said of the greatest saints, except St John. If he heard others speak uncharitably, he would plead an excuse in his own quiet way, so that he might turn the shafts of anger, or deaden the sound of scandal. Such a life is a curiosity in this nineteenth century. There may be holy men, beautiful priests they may be, and great scholars, but simple bodily and holy charity the Lord has taken from us. And when shall we look upon his like again!
It was not until he died, did we feel the treasure we had lost. I suppose there is not a single man or woman in Ireland who has not heard of him. He preached by the holiness of his life. He preached by his charity and by his holiness far better than all the priests in Ireland, and, I will say, he will preach better after his death. Let us pray to God to receive that holy man, after his life of solitude and suffering, to rejoice in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Account of the cure of Mrs Octavia Spaetgens Verheggen
The cure of Mrs Spaetgens took place in 1952. At that time it was investigated by the ecclesiastical authorities of the diocese of Roermond as being possibly miraculous. However their findings could not be presented to the Congregation for the Cause of Saints until Charles was declared Venerable in 1979. The documents were then investigated by the medical experts in Rome and, with their approval, the Positio super miraculo, a document of over two hundred pages of medical evidence, was presented to the Holy Father on 21 November 1987, paving the way for the Beatification of Fr Charles of Mount Argus.
The short account of the miraculous cure of Mrs Spaetgens which follows was made from the original documents by Sister May Woodall L.C.M.
Mrs Octavia Spaetgens, born in Holland in October 1880, enjoyed good health until 1950 when, during a visit to Lourdes, she suffered her fist liver colic. This was repeated about a month later, accompanied by fever.
The doctors diagnosed 'Cholecystitis with calculi' (inflammation of the gall bladder and gall stones). They advised surgical intervention.
Mrs Spaetgens was admitted to hospital on August 27 1951 and a few days later underwent surgery and a cholecystectomy was performed. Forty calculi were extracted.
Three or four days after the operation the patient complained of violent abdominal pains accompanied by alimentary and digestive problems.
The patient developed pneumonia and later became jaundiced. Medical treatment was given and Mrs Spaetgens was discharged from the hospital on 1 November. At home medical treatment was continued and was efficacious until a few days before Christmas when the patient was re-admitted to Hospital with violent pains in the upper abdomen. In spite of treatment the pains, accompanied by fever, persisted and there was a serious decline in the patient's general condition.
A barium enema was performed and showed the presence of a downward displacement of the left colic flexure caused by a mass in the left hypochondrium. The mass was easily palpable, fixed and very painful. The doctors decided against surgical intervention on account of the patient's age and general condition. Mrs Spaetgens was discharged home in a serious state on 19 January 1952. The prognosis was unfavourable and limited in time.
At home the pains, the vomiting and general decline in the patient's condition continued. ON the third night, the patient's condition became critical; she was agitated and disturbed by continuous vomiting. During that night Mrs Spaetgens invoked the intercession of Fr Charles of St Andrew. She became immediately calmer; she felt suddenly cured. The vomiting ceased and the bowel activity became normal so there was no longer need for the frequent enemas. The patient began to eat normally, enjoying some fairly indigestible foods.
Mrs Spaetgens' general condition began to improve. The doctors were informed a few days after this even occurred and were able to observe the progressive disappearance of the mass in the left hypochondrium. The lady died twenty-two years later at the age of ninety-four. She had no return of the symptoms.
Several doctors expressed their opinion as to what had occurred, but even when they felt able to explain the gradual disappearance of the mass in natural terms of reabsorption or drainage into the digestive tract, they were unanimous in considering the sudden restoration of the intestinal canalisation as an extraordinary event: 'Confirming the extraordinary nature, the cure came about rapidly, interrupting what had been the constantly unfavourable course of a state of ill-health which had lasted for months.'
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© Paul Francis Spencer, C.P. 2007 - all rights reserved
This biography, paper-published in 1988 at the time of Father Charles’ beatification, was how I became acquainted with the life of Father Charles. Although you will find the entire text at this site, I encourage you to look for the new paper edition of the book, which will be available in bookshops in mid-2007.