Paul Mary Pakenham, C.P. First Rector of Mount Argus, Dublin, Ireland

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by Aidan Troy, C.P.

Father Aidan Troy is a member of the Irish Province. We thank him for his contribution on the life of Father Paul Mary Pakenham, C.P. This article was written with the research assistance of Mr. A. O’Louhglin, Assistant Archivist, Mount Argus, Dublin.

Morgan P. Hanlon, C.P., Editor

Since August 1994, there has existed a most wonderful cease-fire in the North of Ireland following 25 years of horrific and relentless violence. The intertwining histories of Britain and Ireland are as sensitive as they are intricate. It is, therefore, interesting to learn something of the wonderful interconnection between Britain and Ireland that is the history of the Passionist Congregation in this part of Europe. Let us concentrate on a central character of that history, The Honourable Charles Reginald Pakenham (September 21, 1821 – March 1, 1857).

He was born in Dublin, Ireland, the fourth son of the second Earl of Longford, a distinguished Irish family whom some sources claim came from England as far back as the late 13th century. The family was given an extensive estate in Ireland which is occupied to this day by descendants of the Earl of Longford. Another interesting connection is that he was a nephew by marriage of the Duke of Wellington of the Battle of Waterloo fame.

Charles was sent to Preparatory School in the south of England; and while not yet 14 years old, he entered the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, England. He gained rapid promotion in the army and mingled freely in the society of that time. Being of a religious disposition, he must have been deeply upset by the departure of John Henry Newman from the Church of England into the Catholic Church. Following this event he began to examine his own Church of England and its teachings. This search led to his being received into the Catholic Church by Bishop (later Cardinal) Wiseman in 1850 before his twenty-ninth birthday. His mother was especially hurt by his conversion to Catholicism, as indeed were most of family, with the exception of his soldier uncle, General Lygon, whose estate was near the Passionist Church of Broadway, England. This was Charles’ first contact with the Passionists.

It was during a Holy Week retreat at Broadway in 1851 that Charles Pakenham asked to be admitted to the Congregation as a Brother Novice. The only one of the family to show him any support was the Duke of Wellington whose words of good-bye were, “Well, you have been a good soldier, Charles; strive to be a good monk.” In May 1851, Charles entered the Passionist Novitiate at Broadway as a Clerical Novice. In the community at that time was a recently arrived young Passionist whose name was Fr. Charles of St. Andrew whose shrine as Blessed Charles of Mount Argus occupies an important place in the devotional life of Dublin where Charles Pakenham was born. During his year of novitiate, his health was not good. Following his profession in May 1852, he dedicated himself to his studies. But by 1853, his poor health necessitated his transfer back to Broadway where, even though only one year professed, he was appointed Vice-Master of Novices. He had now changed to the name by which we know him, Paul Mary of Saint Michael the Archangel. After studying at Highgate, London, he was ordained a priest on September 29, 1855, at Oscott College by Bishop Ullathorn.

Less than three weeks after his ordination, Paul Mary was sent to Rome as spiritual director to a class of students on their way to complete a course of studies there. After eight months in Rome, he was recalled to England to learn that he had been designated Rector of the newly acquired retreat at Mount Argus, Dublin. On the morning of August 15, 1856, he celebrated the first Mass at the retreat of Blessed Paul of the Cross, Mount Argus, attended by just five people in a room of the house that served as the retreat. Yet within four months of this first Mass, so great were the crowds coming to Mount Argus, Paul Mary had to supervise the building of a chapel connected with the house.

However the work of preaching and the care of the many coming to the retreat took their toll on his health. On February 22, 1857, he received the Sacraments of the Sick in the presence of his heart-broken community. He may not have wished it to be so, but his last words were, “This is a nice way of a religious to die,” uttered when he realized that he was being administered, under doctor’s orders, a spoonful of champagne! When Paul Mary died on March 1, 1857, he had not yet completed his thirty-sixth year of age nor his sixth year of religious life. Present at his deathbed was Father Ignatius Spencer, C.P.

Paul Mary was laid to rest in a corner of the little chapel at Mount Argus. Thirty-seven years later, March 1894, his remains were exhumed for burial in the newly acquired community cemetery in Mount Argus. The body was found to be perfectly intact and incorrupt. These facts are attested to by Paul Mary’s biographer, Fr. Joseph Smith, C.P., who was present on that occasion.

There are still large crowds thronging to Mount Argus each day, but it is something of a pity that so little thought is spared for its founder and first superior, Paul Mary Pakenham, C.P.

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