Augustinian Nuns and Sisters

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In the lifetime of St. Augustine of Hippo, his monastic spirituality, especially as embodied in his Rule, was embraced by both male and female religious (see augustinian spirituality). The Rule of St. Augustine (see augustine, the rule of) has also served in later times as the basis for the religious ideals of many women's orders and congregations, such as the Augustinian Canonesses and Dominican nuns and sisters. Only those nuns and sisters who are affiliated with the Augustinian Order (O.S.A.) are considered here.

Augustinian Nuns. After the Hermits of St. Augustine, asthey were then known, were organized into the present Augustinian Order in 1256 (see augustinians), certain convents of nuns, who already followed St. Augustine's Rule, wished to associate themselves with the Augustinian Order. The first convent was that of Oberndorf am Neckar, Germany, in 1264. Seven other convents in Germany followed suit. In Italy, the first convent to come under the jurisdiction of the order was that of St. Mary Magdalene in Orvieto by 1295. In some instances Augustinian friars founded convents of nuns, such as Bl. simon fidati of cascia (d. 1348), who founded two convents in Florence. While the exact numbers remain problematic, by c. 1516 convents had been established in the area embraced by the German Provinces (20), France (6), Ireland (2), Italy (80), Portugal (1), and Spain (11). Where the Protestant Reformation prevailed, many were closed soon afterwards, but the number of convents increased elsewhere. By 1566 there were 125 convents in Italy, 24 in the Iberian peninsula (60 in the seventeenth century). During the colonial period in the New World, convents were established in Argentina, Boliva, Chile, Mexico and Peru.

Since each convent was independent, the formal relationship of the nuns to the male branch differed from time to time and convent to convent. In general, the nuns followed the style of life, discipline, and practice of the Augustinian Order. In some instances, the nuns adopted a modified version of the order's constitutions. The prior general was the superior of the nuns. The friars were expected to serve as confessors and celebrants of the liturgy for the nuns. As a result of the suppressions in the course of the 19th century, the convents of nuns associated with regulars were placed under the jurisdiction of the local bishops. This arrangement endures to the present, although in the case of a few convents, the prior general shares jurisdiction with the local bishop.

At the beginning of the third millennium, there are just over 1,000 cloistered nuns in 79 convents. In Italy, 27 convents form the Federation of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Good Counsel, which also embraces two convents in the Philippines and a new house in Romania. Of the two Spanish federations, one consists of 24 convents, including one in the United States at New Lenox, Illinois, and another in Panama, while the other federation has 21 convents, including one in Chile and two in Ecuador. In addition, seven convents in Boliva, Kenya, Malta, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, and Switzerland do not form part of any federation.

In their lives, the nuns, strive to practice the ideals of charity and community set forth in the teachings of St. Augustine within the context of the cloistered, contemplative style of life. Two canonized saints pertaining this branch of the Augustinian Order are St. clare of montefalco and St. rita of cascia. Of those nuns accorded the title Blessed by the Church, the most recent, Maria Teresa Fasce (18811947), superior of the convent at Cascia, Italy, was beatified in 1997.

Augustinian Sisters. Augustinian Sisters of Apostolic Life are those congregations of religious women who have been aggregated to the Augustinian Order. This second type of affiliation with the order originated in 1399 when Pope Boniface IX granted the use of the habit and a share in the privileges of the order to groups of women, known as oblates or mantellate. In general, their relationship with the order was less formal and structured than that of the cloistered nuns. The prior general was not the superior of these groups.

With the evolution in religious life, various groups of sisters of active life were united to the order, especially in the 20th century. In 1683 the Sisters of St. Thomas of Villanova, founded by Angel Le Proust, O.S.A., were the first to be formally aggregated to the Augustinian Order by a decree of the prior general. At the present time over 80 congregations of women are aggregated to the order. The congregations have their headquarters in Belgium, England, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Poland, Switzerland, the Congo, Indonesia, the Philippines, Benin, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Canada, and the United States.

The sisters accept the Rule of St. Augustine as the fundamental norm of their religious congregations and seek to integrate the spirituality of St. Augustine with their own proper charism. The presence of so many groups of sisters in the Augustinian Family testifies to the continuing vitality and adaptability of Augustine's Rule and spirituality to many forms of religious life.

Bibliography: "Bibliographie historique de l'ordre de Saint Augustin," (for years 194575) Augustiniana 26 (1976), 39340; (for 197075) ibid. 28 (1978), 448516; (for 197580) ibid. 31 (1981), 5159; (for 198084) ibid. 35 (1985), 5192; (for 198589) ibid. 39 (1989), 189392; (for 198993) ibid. 43 (1993), 171407; (for 19931996) ibid. 47 (1997), 1242. Catalogus Ordinis Sancti Augustini: Status Ordinis die I Ianuarii 2000 (Rome 2000). j. gavigan, o.s.a. The Augustinians from the French Revolution to Modern Times. Vol. 4 of History of the Order of St. Augustine (Villanova 1989). d. gutierrez, o.s.a. The Augustinians in the Middle Ages 12561356. Vol. 1: Part 1 of History of the Order of St. Augustine (Villanova 1984). The Augustinians in the Middle Ages 13571517. Vol. 1: Part 2 of History of the Order of St. Augustine (Villanova 1983). The Augustinians from the Protestant Reformation to the Peace of Westphalia 15181648. Vol. 2 of History of the Order of St. Augustine (Villanova 1979). b. rano, o.s.a., "Agostiniane, Monache" in Dizionario degli istituti di perfezione, 1:15590 (Rome 1973). "Agostiniane, Suore" in Dizionario degli istituti di perfezione, 1:19092 (Rome 1973).

[k. a. gersbach]

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Augustinian Nuns and Sisters

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