Augustinian Recollects

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Origins and Early Development. The Order of the Augustinian Recollects grew out of the Order of St. Augustine. Two movements prompted the founding of the Recollects: one was the Council of Trent that called for a renewal of the religious spirit of the Augustinian Order; the second was the spiritual fervor found in the Spanish houses of the Order of St. Augustine at the end of the sixteenth century. The document of foundation was signed on Dec. 5, 1588 at a provincial chapter in Toledo: "In order not to put obstacles in the way of the Holy Spirit, having previously consulted our very Reverend Father General and having requested his consent, we determine that in our province there are to be designated or established three monasteries of men and the same number for women, in which a more austere form of life will be practiced, as will be defined by the Father Provincial and his Council after sufficient reflection."

Fray Luis de leon developed this declaration into a longer text approved by the Province of Castilla on Sept. 20, 1589. Its 14 chapters deal with three ideas: spirit of prayer, fraternal equality, and asceticism. The Eucharist, the liturgy of the hours, and mental prayer were to enrich the daily life of the community. There was to be no room for exemptions or privileges, because all professed religious were equal by virtue of their vows. Asceticism, necessary for disciplining the passions and facilitating prayer, called for simple and rustic buildings, for small and austere rooms, and for fasts and frequent discipline.

This style of living began to be practiced on Oct. 19, 1589 in Talavera de la Reina, from which it was extended to El Portillo (1590), Nava del Rey (1591), Madrid (1596), and El Toboso (1600). In 1602 Rome formed those five convents into a Recollect Province of the Augustinian Order. In subsequent years this province was extended to other regions of Spain and to a foundation in Rome (1619). It then absorbed a similar movement that had begun in Colombia in 1604, and began its missionary history by sending fourteen missionaries to the Philippines. In 1621 the Holy See raised the province to a Congregation and entrusted its governance to a vicar general with ample autonomy from the general of the Order of St. Augustine.

Within a few years the Recollects became 1,500 religious, distributed among five provinces, 43 convents, and 20 missionary sites. Three provinces had all their convents in Spain. The other two provinces were overseas and had their houses in the Philippines, Guam, Colombia, and Panama. During the 18th century, few changes took place in the number of friars and convents, or in their location and activities.

Conventuals and Missionaries. During two centuries the Spanish provinces and, to a lesser degree, the Colombian province, in accord with their legislation, maintained a contemplative character. Their friars lived in convents dedicated to divine worship, study, and the apostolate. Divine worship had a eucharistic and Marian orientation. The entire community gathered daily for the conventual Mass. Individual priests celebrated private Mass each day, and the lay brothers received communion with a frequency that was unusual in the Church of the time (130 days each year). On the day of profession, they consecrated themselves to Mary and they promised perpetual service. Almost all of their churches were dedicated to the Virgin. All of the Recollect convents maintained public churches and almost all were obliged by foundational agreements to preach the Word of God, administer the sacraments, and take care of the sick of the region (area). Their contribution to popular missions was notable.

In the Philippines, the missionary life prevailed. Over three centuries, some one thousand religious evangelized the most remote islands of the archipelago (Mindanao, Palawan, Romblon, Mindoro, etc.). From the Philippines they went to Japan, where in 1632 four Recollects crowned their labors with martyrdom, along with more than 300 neophytes. One of them, Magdalena de Nagasaki, was canonized in 1989. From 1768 to 1908, about 70 religious worked in the Pacific islands.

The Crisis of the 19th Century. In 1835 the government of Spain confiscated 32 of the 33 Spanish monasteries and evicted their inhabitants. In 1861 Mosquera did the same in Colombia. The congregation's loss of 38 convents reduced their influence to the Philippine missions and to the one remaining convent of Monteaguado (Spain) that provided them with missionaries. This plundering of the congregation's monasteries modified the spiritual orientation of the group, forcing it to adopt a more apostolic life. For 70 years the Recollects were obliged to live in parishes, separated from one another.

In 1898 a new challenge put the congregation to the test. In just a few months, 34 religious were killed at the hands of the Filipino patriots, 80 were arrested, and 300 evacuated and left without resources. The survivors managed to overcome these difficulties and opened up new possibilities for the congregation. By mid-1899 about 100 religious were traveling through South America to explore new horizons, and new possibilities were opening in Spain. In 1904 the novitiate was reopened, and in 1908, after 79 years of interruption, the General Chapters of the congregation were resumed. In September of 1912, Pius X abrogated any ties still linking the Recollects to the original Order of St. Augustine.

Houses were established in the United States (1917), Argentina (1925), Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic (1927), England (1932), and Mexico (1941). In response to the call of Pius XI, the order increased its missionary presence in the Philippines and Colombia and took responsibility for the new territories in China and Brazil, and later in Peru, Panama, Mexico, and Sierra Leone. In 1941 the Recollects entered into the field of education. In 2000 the order had 1,250 religious in 17 countries, dedicated to the missionary, parochial, and educational apostolates.

Bibliography: Á. martÍnez cuesta, Historia de los Agustinos Recoletos, vol. 1, Desde sus orígenes hasta el siglo XIX (Madrid 1995); La orden de agustinos recoletos: Evolución carismática (Madrid 1988). j. gruben, History of the Province of St. Augustine of the Order of Augustinian Recollects (West Orange, N.J. 1997).

[Á. martÍnez cuesta]

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Augustinian Recollects

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