Augustinian Convent of Saint John the Baptist, Morelos, Mexico

The missions, social projects and solidarity actions are a constant in the action of the Augustinian Recollect Family. The Province of Saint Nicholas of Tolentine has always lived in mission, since its very birth was motivated by the opening of the first evangelization missions in the Philippines in the 17th century. Since then, he has carried out his evangelizing activity following the mandate of Jesus in the places today called “frontiers”: there where it is necessary to defend the dignity of human life, social justice, equal opportunities, the defense of the most vulnerable.

When Europeans left to find far away peoples and lands during the 16th Century the Church heard a calling to being to them the Christian faith. The Augustinians were among the first evangelizers in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

Los primeros agustinos en México. Iglesia de San Agustín, Guadalajara, México.
The first Augustinians en Mexico. Church of Saint Augustine, Guadalajara, Mexico.

In 1533, seven religious from the Province of Castilla of the Order of Saint Augustine (the same province from which would be born the Recollection fifty years later) left from Sanlúcar de Barrameda (Cadiz) for Mexico. The Father General of the Augustinians, Jerónimo Seriphando, encouraged the idea: “With Christ you should desire nothing more than the salvation of the souls of those whom He thirsted for on the Cross” he proclaimed.

In 1562 there were fifty houses and three hundred houses for the Augustinians. Travelling by foot, the friars learnt the local languages and printed catechisms. They opened reception centres and cared for the sick in the action areas. They founded new villages, built aqueducts, opened schools, started trading, imported fruit trees and vegetables from Europe and taught them to plant wheat and increase the cultivation of cereals. In their churches and monasteries they trained artists and artisans, and they catechized, baptized and were the first missionaries to give communion to the Indians and they instilled in them sacramental practices.

From 1577 onwards it was not necessary to ask for religious from Spain, for they opened their houses to native vocations. In ninety years they had extended their missionary activities through Mexico, Peru (1551), Ecuador (1573), Columbia and Venezuela (1575), Chile (1595), Cuba (1608), Guatemala (1610), Panama (1612) and Argentina (1626).

In 1565 they opened the Pacific route to the Philippines, thanks to the work of the religious navigator Andrés de Urdaneta. The Augustinians were the only religious order present in the Philippines for fifteen years. In 1584 they opened the route as far as Japan.

Jerónimo Seripando, prior general de la Orden de San Agustín.
Jeronimo Seripando, Father General of the Order of Saint Augustine.

The first Recollects appeared in a moment of maximum missionary activity in the Order of Saint Augustine, and drank from these founts. The Augustinians closest to the Recollect values and bound to its birth were promoters and organizers of the missions. It was a breeding ground which gave rise to the Augustinian Recollection, which from its first moment was firmly united to missionary work.

Three “precedents” to the Recollection had in common missionary initiatives. Tomé de Jesús stayed for many years of his own free will in the prisons of Morocco in order to attend to the prisoners; Alonso de Orozco embarked for the Mexican missions and only a strong and worsening arthritis made him return to the Spanish Peninsula from the Canary Islands; and Thomas de Villanueva, as provincial, sent two missions to Mexico, promoted them as much as he could and sent many of his disciples there.

NEXT PAGE: b. The Augustinian Recollection, missionary right from its beginning