Augustinians are, first and foremost, a community. Saint Augustine believed that God could be best discovered in the company of friends, and that is how we have chosen to serve God.
Our community life is built on the same qualities as friendship: mutual acceptance and respect, a willingness to listen to others and to open oneself to them, kindness and concern, a spirit of forgiveness. It is a way of life that puts far less emphasis on rules and regulations than on personal responsibility and decisions made together.
Part of our life is spent in contemplation and prayer, and part in ministry. We go where the needs of the Church call us-to the inner city, to rural and remote areas, to the campus, to foreign lands-and we serve in many ways: as preachers of the word and presiders at the sacraments, as pastoral ministers and missionaries, as chaplains and social workers, as teachers and scholars, as writers, professional counselors, musicians and artists.
Whatever form our work takes, we bring with us our identity as Augustinians. Among those we serve, we try to create what we seek in our Order's own houses: a community of love and respect, where the presence of God can be recognized in each member. Our hearts strive to be on fire with the experience of God's love, and we desire always to share that fire with others.
The Province of Saint Thomas of Villanova
The Province of Saint Thomas of Villanova, the first of three Augustinian provinces in the United States, was founded 1796 and was formally established in 1874. Saint Augustine Church in Philadelphia, PA, the first foundation in the United States, was established by Irish friar Matthew Carr, O.S.A., upon his arrival in the city in 1796.
Today, about 500 members of our Order live and work in the United States. The Villanova Province consists of nearly 225 Augustinians, living in communities in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Washington, DC, North Carolina and Florida, and as missionaries in Japan, Peru and South Africa.
Education, always central to Augustinian ministry, is a particularly prominent part of our work in the Villanova Province. Many of us teach, and the Order has five schools in its care: Villanova University (PA); Merrimack College (MA); Washington Theological Union (DC); Malvern Preparatory School (Malvern, PA); and Saint Augustine Preparatory School (Richland, NJ).
Augustinians are the spiritual descendants of Saint Augustine of Hippo, who is generally regarded as the greatest thinker of Christian antiquity and Western intellectual thought.
Among his many accomplishments, he wrote 113 books, including two classics of world literature: Confessions and The City of God. Over 800 of his sermons have been preserved. His teachings revolutionized monasticism, expanding the monk’s way-of-life from one of contemplation to one that also include pastoral duties, and his Rule on how to live in a religious community, from which the Augustinian tradition of fraternal life stems, persists to this day.
Since its beginnings in the thirteenth century, the Augustinian Order has been characterized by a style of life that is, like Augustine's, both active and contemplative. For Augustinians, it is perhaps the most distinctive feature of our community and the challenge for us Augustinians and society at large.
The Rule of Saint Augustine
One of Saint Augustine's most important legacies is his Rule: a brief set of principles, fewer than a dozen pages in length, for the guidance of those living in a religious community.
Augustine advised his followers to "See yourselves in this little book, as in a mirror." The oldest of its kind in the Western world, the Rule has been chosen by the Augustinians-and by more than a hundred other religious orders and congregations-as the pattern for their daily lives.
The Rule's most fundamental message is this: Love-love of God, love of neighbor-is the center of Christian life. By their love for one another, by their ability to live together in harmony, a religious community's members embody the truth of Christ's teachings. They make Christ's love visible to others.
The Rule addresses, concisely and in the plainest of language, what Augustine saw as the major elements of monastic daily life: prayer, moderation and self-denial, chastity, the sharing of goods, the care of the sick, obedience to authority and friendship. Though the occasional detail reminds us that Augustine was speaking at a different moment in history, the Rule's lessons are timeless. For Augustinians, this "little book'" is as powerful a model of conduct as it was when Augustine wrote it more than sixteen centuries ago. The challenge for those who wish to follow Augustine is twofold: we seek God not in philosophical speculation alone, but in careful observance of the guiding presence of a loving, personal God always at work in our life's journey. While, at the same time, we strive to be dedicated servants of the Church in the ministries of word, sacrament and justice.
Charism, a word and a concept of special importance to Augustinians, means gift-the gift, or gifts, that are given to us through the power of the Spirit.
In a religious community, charism is the particular contribution that each religious order, congregation or family and its individual members embody. Normally, such a charism originates with the community's founder, or with its founding document or rule. While charisms differ among religious groups, there is a sameness to all, for all follow the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The charism of Augustinians is love of God and love of neighbor, which are the foundation of the gospel of Christ and which Saint Augustine enunciates time and again in his writings, especially in his Rule. For Augustine and Augustinians, the interior manifestation of this charism is the life that his followers lead in common and the bonds of friendship that hold them together. It is externalized by the hospitality that Augustinians extend to others, our service to the world, recognizing that each member of our community and each person with whom we come in contact is a temple of God. Dii estis, "You are gods," (Pslam 82:6) is Augustine's famous phrase.
And so the gospel imperative of love of God and neighbor-which Augustine sees as one, since we love our neighbor in God and our God in our neighbor-becomes for the followers of Augustine their particular charism in friendship and hospitality. No human being is a stranger to an Augustinian.