The Augustinian Friars
The origins of the Augustinians as an order stretch back to the 13th century. At that time in northern Italy there were groups of hermits mostly living according to the Rule of St. Augustine.
These hermits formed the core of a new order of friars called into being by the Holy See in 1244 and 1256, in the wake of the other great orders of friars founded by St Francis and St. Dominic.
Up to recently the official title of the Augustinians was 'Order of Friars Hermits of St. Augustine'. Now they are known simply as 'Order of St. Augustine' (O.S.A).
St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), while not the actual founder of the order as he lived eight hundred years before its establishment, is regarded as its spiritual founder. The rule of life he wrote for those who lived with him in community in North Africa, the Rule of St. Augustine, is the basis of the way of life of every Augustinian community.
It lays great stress on the common life and the search for God together. It is the oldest monastic rule in the Western Church, older even that that of St. Benedict.
In the Middle Ages the Augustinians produced many saints, theologians and men of learning, one of the most notable of whom achieved fame after leaving the order - Martin Luther. After the Reformation, the order played a significant role in the great missionary thrust of the Church. They were the first to bring Christianity to the Philippines; many were martyred in Japan in the 17th century; and the first missionary to circumnavigate the world was a Spanish Augustinian.
At the time of the Reformation there were over thirty communities of Augustinians, or Austin Friars as they were known then, in England and Scotland. None of these survived and the order became extinct. But the order did survive in Ireland, and it was from there that the Augustinians returned to England in the second half of the nineteenth century.
In 1977 an independent province for England and Scotland was formed. A significant step in this movement towards the re-establishment of the Augustinians in this country was the return to Clare Priory in 1953, when it became the first house in England to receive novices since the Reformation.
Today, Augustinians of many nationalities are to be found as parish priests, teachers, missionaries and servants of the Church in over forty countries. A more detailed account of the activities of Augustinians in England and Scotland can be found on the work and vocations pages. A brief history of the Augustinians at Clare can be found here.