Province of Saint Thomas of Villanova

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The formal beginnings of what is now the Province of Saint Thomas of Villanova date to the year 1796 and a decree of the Prior General of the Order authorizing the establishment of a Province in the United States under the title of Our Lady of Good Counsel. The founding friars were the Irish Augustinians, Matthew Carr and John Rosseter. The first foundation was the Church of Saint Augustine in Philadelphia, which was completed in 1801. Growth in the Province was slow and challenging, as the work of the friars throughout the early years was given to assisting bishops in various places in large dioceses, making community life difficult if not impossible. The first American vocation was Fr. Michael Hurley who, for a time following the death of the two founders, was the sole Augustinian in the country. In May of 1844 anti-Catholic rioters burned the Church of Saint Augustine to the ground, together with the friary, several adjoining buildings, and the community’s valuable theological library of some 3,000 volumes. Out of this tragedy was born the second Augustinian foundation, Villanova College. In 1841 the friars had purchased a 200-acre farm ten miles outside the city, and established what was to soon become the center of Augustinian life in the Province for many years with the establishment of a novitiate and the possibility of regular common life. The college was begun in 1843. In 1848, Saint Augustine’s Church was rebuilt and additional foundations were established in the state of Massachusetts. In subsequent years, with the increase of vocations, care of parishes in Pennsylvania and New York was also given to the friars. 

On August 25, 1874 the Province was juridically established under the patronage of Saint Thomas of Villanova and the first Provincial chapter was held in December of the same year. By this time forty-four friars comprised the Province, serving more than fourteen churches in four different states. Thomas Galberry was elected the first provincial but he had to leave office shortly thereafter when he was appointed bishop of Hartford, Connecticut. In 1878, he was succeeded by Pacifico Neno, who had come to the United States to help establish a theological faculty at Villanova College for the training of friars preparing for priesthood. In 1881, while serving as Provincial, he was called to Rome by Pope Leo XIII to become Commissary General of the Order.        

The first foreign mission of the Villanova Province was begun in 1899 when William Jones and George Woolsey were sent to Cuba, where a number of foundations were laid, and where a number of friars labored until their forced expulsion in 1961. The first great expansion of Augustinian life in the United States was especially notable, however, in the 1920s when there were 17 new foundations. Five more were added in the ‘40s, and twelve in the 1950s. In 1905, a church and school dedicated to Saint Rita had been started in Chicago, and other foundations added subsequently in the Midwestern states. These formed the basis for what would eventually become the Province of Our Mother of Good Counsel in 1941. Similarly, missions begun in California in the ‘20s and added to in the following decades, flowered into the separate California Province of Saint Augustine in 1969. 

Under the provincialate of Joseph Dougherty, the Province of Saint Thomas of Villanova undertook the opening of a mission in Nagasaki, Japan in 1952. The expansion of houses in that nation and the eventual arrival of native Japanese vocations to the Order culminated in the establishment of the Japanese Vicariate. In the 1960s the Villanova Province joined with the Midwest Province in undertaking mission work in Chulucanas, Peru. In addition, several high schools were added to the Province’s ministries with the ever-increasing number of vocations to the Order into the mid-1960s. 

In 1897 three Italian friars were sent by the Prior General to begin a ministry to the Italian immigrants in the city and diocese of Philadelphia. Over the course of the following decades their efforts were expanded to parishes in several other dioceses, which resulted in 1925, in the establishment of the Italian Vice-Province of Philadelphia, a circumscription independent of the other North American jurisdictions, until its merger with the Villanova Province in 1995.

As of December, 2014, the Province comprises 174 professed members, three novices and four pre-novices, living in 27 communities in the U.S., and 5 in Japan. Seven friars live in other communities of the Order in Italy, Peru and the Czech Republic.