Who we are. The Province

The visible results of the Council’s renewal in the service of the People of God

Once the post-conciliar upheavals had died down, the new face of the Province of St Nicholas of Tolentino began to emerge. The various services, ministries, and apostolic tasks are the visible face that remains from the updating process and from dialogue with today’s world. We will run through it in its different fields until we have drawn a general image of the present reality.

Missions and charitable work

The vanguard evangelization of mission territories has always been the pride of the Province of St Nicholas of Tolentino. Our web page therefore dedicates an extensive space to our missionary contribution, and to charitable work over the whole course of its history.

Bishop Gregorio Espiga, Augustinian Recollect, outside the diocesan seminary in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines. Bishop Gregorio Espiga, Augustinian Recollect, outside the diocesan seminary in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines.

Focussing on the post-conciliar stage, the most important missionary events have been the co-operation with the diocese of Kaohsiung (Taiwan); the Prelature of Ciudad Madera in the Mexican state of Chihuahua; the coming-of-age of the missions in the Philippines; assuming responsibility for the Prelature of Labrea in the Amazon region of Brazil; the real “resurrection” of the mission of Shangqiu in the People’s Republic of China following the fall of the Bamboo Curtain and the gradual reopening of communication with the gradual ending of the isolation that had been imposed; finally, the Recollect missionary achievement in Sierra Leone, begun by the Province of St Nicholas of Tolentino in 1996, continuing with the Province of St Ezekiel Moreno since then, although with several years of mutual co-operation in regard to personnel and support. (1998-1999 and 2004-2016).

Nursery School in Shangqiu (Henan, China).
The oldest of the missionary territories of the Province of St Nicholas of Tolentino, the Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Princesa (Palawan, Philippines), entrusted to the Recollects from the moment of its inception in 1910, achieved a flowering of vocations during the episcopate of the Augustinian Recollect, Gregorio Espiga. This guaranteed the pastoral care of the faithful by the diocesan clergy. The generous efforts of so many missionaries, cut off on their isolated islands, had gradually brought the Christian life to its fruition. As a consequence, from 1987 onwards this local Church has been growing and developing on its own, with very little input from the Augustinian Recollects, who nowadays have just two parishes on the island, run by the Province of St Ezequiel Moreno.

From the late 1980s onwards in particular, there was a great increase in a spirit of awareness and collaboration with the missions in colleges and parishes. This gave rise to considerable support for  projects by the missionaries, and an important programme of Education for Development. Non-Government development organizations (NGOs) appeared in Spanish civil society, such as “Haren Alde” and “La Esperanza” , and an important movement to promote working as volunteers. The Province itself created a Commission for Missions and Social Development, beginning in 2003, to help in the task of supporting this work of raising awareness and promoting social projects.

The missionary work of the Province includes ministries that because of their particular characteristics are considered to be of special importance in social evangelization, and are distinguished by their social demands and the involvement of many people in running them. In this field, the centres that stand out the most are the Ciudad de los Niños (Boys’ Town) in Costa Rica, St Monica’s Home in Fortaleza (Brazil) and the Support and Recovery Centre for Integrated Development (CARDI) in Mexico City. In addition, an important role in social work and cohesion is played within the specialized work with immigrants in the Latin American Chaplaincy in London, and in the  Chaplaincy for Chinese Catholics living in the Diocese of Madrid. In China itself, preferential care is given to those who are victims of social inequality, with a special undertaking since 1998  in the care of the youngest children in the Tse Yu nursery school, and in another kindergarten opening in 2017.

07.jpg:Bishop Gregorio Espiga, Augustinian Recollect, outside the diocesan seminary in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines.

The Educational Apostolate

The educational apostolate in the Order of Augustinian Recollects and the Province of St Nicholas of Tolentino went through its greatest development with the opening in 1941 of the first three big colleges of San Sebastian (Manila, Philippines), San Carlos (Negros, Philippines) and Fray Luis de Leon (Caracas, Venezuela). The latter passed to the Province of St Joseph on its foundation in 1948. Nevertheless, since 1976 there have been no new educational foundations.

The Philippines was where the Educational apostolate underwent an extraordinary development. The colleges of Saint Sebastian in Manila and that of San Joseph-Recollects in Cebu were established, and prospered from their very foundation in 1947. In Cebu they quickly achieved great prestige, having as many as 17,000 students. In Manila they have counted on a student population of more than 5,000. Then, they advanced upon this with the foundation of Saint Sebastian in Cavite in 1996. Meanwhile in the island of Negros this apostolate grew in Bacolod, Talisay and Valencia. Upon founding the Province of Saint Ezekiel Moreno in 1998, with ministries from the Province of Saint Nicholas of Tolentine in the Philippines, the new Province came into being with 40,000 students from infants up until University students.

San Sebastian College, Manila, Philippines.
In Spain and in Mexico, the number of religious dedicated to education became very numerous. The decline in vocations has lead to an ever stronger level of participation by lay people, firstly among the teaching bodies (1970s, 80s, and 90s) and later in the headships ( 2000 onwards). As a consequence, the great effort in this field has been to form lay people in the Recollect charism and way of thinking. The Province of St Nicholas of Tolentino’s three educational centres in Spain and Mexico today enjoy a well-deserved reputation in their local communities and are completely up-to-date, ensuring a first-rate education through their facilities, technical teams, teaching methods and educational professionals.

In Spain the educational apostolate had started in Chiclana de la Frontera (Cadiz), with a small primary school that opened its doors in October 1955 at the request of the local authority, but in precarious circumstances. In October 1998 the school expanded into a new building and with the inclusion of secondary education. This college, named after St Augustine, has had an average of some 400 students in recent years.

St Augustine College, Chiclana de la Frontera, Spain.
In 1966 the seminary of Our Lady of Consolation in Valladolid officially became St Augustine College, and accepted its first external students, a decision taken because of the educational needs of the city and the college’s splendid facilities, which had to be used to the maximum. Ten years later, it already had 2,000 students at all levels. In 1984 it became a mixed-sex college and beginning from the following year it offered the preparatory one-year course for the university entrance examination (COU, from its Spanish initials). Shortly afterwards, the total of students was to exceed 2,500, the highest enrolment in its history. From 1985 onwards, because of the laws concerning the number of pupils in a classroom, the average enrolment has remained at about 1,800.

St Augustine College, Valladolid, Spain.
In 1968, within the San José seminary in Lodosa (Navarra), facilities were opened with the intention of their being used as a college. It was a possibility offered by the government for the extension of secondary education into rural towns and villages that did not have a public educational system. For the Province, it was a question of offering to the seminarians the opportunity of official qualifications, and for carrying out the educational apostolate. Enrolment was around 250 students. Its mission came to an end in 1974 with the opening of a public secondary-level college.

In that same year of 1974, the Province opened the Romareda College in Zaragoza; firstly, with a nursery school in the buildings of the parish of St Monica, with the idea of being able to count on a group of children for the opening of the new building, which began to operate at the beginning of the 1975 school year with primary-level pupils (EGB, from its Spanish initials), joined the following year by the students for the secondary-school certificate (BUP, from its Spanish initials).

Romareda college, Zaragoza, Spain.
It was in Mexico too that a seminary -in Queretaro- opened its doors to education in general. Its student body reached a peak of 2,000, although as a consequence of various crises, numbers came down, and now total some 1,700. The facilities were expanded and improved with new infrastructure, such as an auditorium, and an educational centre for infants.

Fray Luis de León College, Querétaro, Mexico.
Since 2007, within the Ciudad de los Niños (Boys’ Town) in Costa Rica, the St Augustine Technical College has been functioning, and it has become a model for such centres in terms of the educational plans and regulations of the country. In 2015 and 2016, new facilities were opened, and it is considered to be one of the best technical education centres in the region. In addition, the instructors and the teaching staff jointly co-operate with the college in Queretaro in professional formation and in the adoption of educational and administrative systems.

St Augustine Technical College, Agua Caliente de Cartago, Costa Rica.
In England as well as in the United States there are – or there have been-   some schools within parish ministries. In practice, the religious have only exercised an oversight and support from their parish ministry, because the schools have a great tradition in the countries concerned, and their administration is determined by the diocese and they operate independently of the Order.

In many other places our religious have filled teaching posts in state schools; this has been the case in Spain, with Catholic religious formation, and teaching languages in the Amazon region of Brazil. This has enabled a very close contact with people from outside the somewhat limited scope of a specifically pastoral ministry. In other situations, the educational apostolate has been a  tangential feature, as is the case with the Centro Esperanza (Hope Centre) in the Brazilian Amazon, which combines a social project with school support and the obligation on all students to take part in the state educational system.

Ministerial Apostolate

The determination to announce the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the reason for every apostolate. This determination, which takes on different forms, takes shape most evidently in what we refer to as ministerial activity, chiefly undertaken in parishes and public places of worship. Some 84% of the Augustinian Recollects of the Province of St Nicholas of Tolentino are priests, ordained for this ministry and with an explicit vocation  to the service of the People of God. The majority of the Province’s religious communities have the care of one or more parishes of public places of worship, either as one of their responsibilities, sometimes as their principal or even only responsibility.

Ministry has faced many challenges. A good service is offered to the faithful, and an attempt is made to maintain traditional activities and to promote new ones. But the Recollects of the Province of St Nicholas of Tolentino have tended towards preserving what already exists rather than anything new. The challenges of the New Evangelisation, diocesan pastoral programmes, and the  reaching out to the “margins” so insistently called for by Pope Francis during his pontificate,  all have sometimes given rise to confusion because of their demands and they have not always had the specific implementation wished for by the religious themselves, and manifested by them in their Assemblies and Chapters.

Spain. Following the Second Vatican Council, in the Spain of the 1960s, the bishops approached the Province of St Nicholas of Tolentino, either to take care of the rapidly increasing urban population, or, later on, to compensate for the lack of diocesan priests, since the vocational crisis also hit especially hard within the secular priesthood.. The majestic church of St Rita marked a milestone when it became a parish in October 1965, and a month later the province took over the parish of SS Perpetua and Felicity in what was then the suburban neighbourhood of La Elipa, a parish run by the recollects until 2016.

St Rita’s parish, Madrid.
A powerful impulse began in the 1970s. In 1976 the Province was entrusted with the parish of Monteagudo (Navarra). In the surrounding area, the chaplaincy of the Cistercian nuns of Tulebras was taken on, and later Tulebras  parish and that of Barillas. Later on, pastoral work was done in certain parishes among small rural settlements in the neighbouring diocese of Tarazona.

In the diocese of Zaragoza the parish of St Monica was founded in 1972 and the following year they were entrusted with the parish of Sástago as well as four others in rural areas, lasting until 1995; in that year, the parish of Montañana was taken on and in 1999, that of Santa Isabel, which lasted until 2008, on the outskirts of the capital of Aragon.

In Chiclana de la Frontera (Cadiz), the Recollects served from 1954 onwards in the parish of Santisima Trinidad. In 1965 the religious began to look after the parish of El Carmen, in the fishermen’s quarter of Sancti Petri, later moved to the La Barrosa housing development, firstly to a chapel built by the community two years previously, and then in the 21st century to a new church in the same location. Finally, in 1981 the Province of St Nicholas of Tolentino was entrusted the parish of San Sebastián in the Chiclana neighbourhood of La Banda, on the opposite side of the river from the historic centre, and with the highest population density in the city.

St Sebastian’s parish, Chiclana de la Frontera, Spain.
In August 1994 the parish of Marcilla (Navarra) was accepted and that of Funes three years later, later joined  by those in the nearby towns of Caparroso, Cadreita, and Peralta. Work has also been done as assistant priests in the region, and a variety of help provided in support of diocesan parish priests, as is the case in Milagro.

From the urban community of Valladolid, several rural parishes have been served – at various times, San Cebrián de Mazote and Laguna de Duero. Recently the parishes of Alcazarén and Hornillos de Eresma have also been cared for.

The western region of America was another commitment beginning in 1994 with half a dozen parishes. Fifteen years on, in September 2009, an agreement to provide pastoral care for nine more parishes in the Alpujarra area was signed, centred on Alhama de Almeria; this service continued for three years. It was on 15th September 2013, that the Province of St Nicholas of Tolentino’s pastoral involvement in the Diocese of Almeria finally came to an end.

In England, the communities of Ivybridge (1932-2016) and Honiton (1940 to date) have served the relatively few Catholics in this historically Anglican region of the country, and this service has extended to places nearby , such as Seaton and Ottery St Mary. The presence of the Province in London dates from 1978, with the parishes of Our Lady of the Holy Souls in Kensal (until 2004) and that of the English Martyrs in Wembley (1985-2016). Since 2003, the main tasks have been centred on the parish of St Anne in the neighbourhood of Vauxhall, and on the Latin American Chaplaincy, which has its celebrations in churches across the three Catholic dioceses of London: Westminster, Southwark, and Brentwood. The chaplaincy has its office in the presbytery at St Anne’s.

St Anne’s parish, London, UK.
In the United States, although the Province had three parishes in the state of Texas from 1931 to 1941, it was not until 1973 that it was entrusted with the parish of Bayard (New Mexico). Following on from this, the Province has served in parishes in Texas (El Paso) and New Mexico (St Anthony and Las Cruces); with the exception of the last of these places, it continues its service in the other two. On the other hand, in the North West of the country, in 1974 the Archbishop of New York entrusted to the Province the parishes of St Rita, St Jean Marie Vianney, St Roque, and St Anselm’s, all located in the Bronx, a borough which the Recollects were finally going to leave in 2016. In 1998 the friars crossed the Hudson river to the Diocese of Newark, to serve in the parishes of the Holy Family (1998 onwards) and St Augustine (2004 onwards), both in Union City (new Jersey). Between 1998 and 2013 they also ran the Guadalupe Centre, for pastoral work with Hispanics, until it was closed by the diocese because of lack of funds.

Mexico. At the start of the Second Vatican Council, the Province of St Nicholas of Tolentino had three residences, an apostolic college (Queretaro), four parishes in the capital and one in Aculco (1951-1964). By 1071 there were 22 ministries looked after by 65 religious, 22 of these in the Prelature of Madera, in Chihuahua. In addition, over many years they took care of the people of God in other places with churches attended by great numbers of people, such as St Rita’s in Veracruz (1950-2016). At the present time, the friars administer six parishes in Mexico City, four in Chihuahua, one in Cuernavaca (Morelos), and a further one in Queretaro. In this country, the religious have been pioneers in the introduction of pastoral programmes and systems, as well as the small communities for evangelization.

Parish of the Crucified Christ, Avante, Mexico City.
It was also at the time of the Council, in 1963, that the Province of St Nicholas of Tolentino came to Costa Rica. There was a period of very short-term ministries, given that the intention was that Costa Rica should serve as a bridge for religious to get into Mexico, whose anti-clerical laws and confrontation with the political regime in Spain at the time made it difficult to enter directly. Having seen the pastoral needs, and following several meetings with the Central American country’s bishops, the Recollects took on the parish of El Carmen in Alajuela (1966 to date),four parishes in the Sarapiqui region bordering Nicaragua, and the parish of San Antonio de Belen, thereby showing greater intentions of remaining in the country. In addition, the parish of Christ the King in the capital, San Jose, was run by the Recollects for twelve years (1976-1988). In the province of San Jose, the parish of Pozos de Santa Ana has been a responsibility of the Recollects since 1999.

Parish of Our Lady of Mt Carmel, Alajuela, Costa Rica.

The Cultural Apostolate

In 1909 the Provincial Bulletin was established as an official organ, and this quickly opened up to a wide range of literary and artistic features. For many years it was the only regular, official publication of the Province of St Nicholas of Tolentino and the only means of expressing and preserving its particular culture and identity. Until the 70s, a decade after the Council, it was in the Bulletin that one learnt to be a Recollect and to take one’s first literary steps.

Following the appearance of OAR Al Habla (OAR Chat) as the internal magazine of the Province of St Nicholas of Tolentino in 1970, and which continues to be published, the Bulletin lost its role as news-bearer for the communities. Later on, with the appearance in 1975 of the magazine Mayeutica, which replaced Marcilla as the cultural organ of the Theologate, the ambit of the Bulletin was limited to collecting the official documents, the annual reports from the communities, and historical studies. Mayeutica magazine achieved a high standard as a specialized Philosophy and Theology magazine with its own team of contributors, but today it is chiefly outside writers who fill its pages.

In its beginnings, OAR Al Habla was a humble mimeographed family-style bulletin. Over time it has continuously modernized, as the costs of editing and digital printing have come down. It is distributed internally for the religious communities and the immediate families of the religious.

An issue of OAR Al Habla.
Canta y Camina (Sing as you walk) is a friendship bulletin that first appeared in 1986 to promote and make known the Augustinian Recollect charism. It is distributed free of charge in the ministries of the Province of St Nicholas of Tolentino in Spain. For years it has also been printed and distributed in Mexico, Costa Rica, and the United States. Its mission is to make known and to promote our particular charism, the activities of the Augustinian Recollect family, its social and missionary work, sharing its history and the Recollect cultural heritage, strengthening the identity of Secular Fraternities and youth groups and offering a “Recollect point of view” of the present-day reality of Church and society.

An issue of Canta y Camina.
Since the Second Vatican Council, the literary production of the religious of the Province of St Nicholas of Tolentino has increased, especially in the fields of theological sciences, philosophy, Augustinology, and our specific charism and history. Amongst the Recollect authors of the Province of St Nicholas of Tolentino since the Council, we can list Manuel Carceller (d.1983), Victorino Capánaga (d.1983), Serafín Prado (d.1987), José Oroz Reta (d.1996), José Luis Sáenz (d.2011), Jesús Alvarez (d.2017), Angel Martínez Cuesta, José Anoz, José Manuel Bengoa, Pablo Panedas, José Javier Lizarraga, and Enrique Eguiarte.

Mirada Azul, an anthology of poetry by Serafin Prodo, OAR.
Because of the need to coordinate and stimulate activities in the field of communications, the Province of St Nicholas of Tolentino’s  Publications Commission was set up in 2003. Since then, it has concentrated on the  task of spreading our message and social dialogue, with the publishing of books, pastoral support, and vocational material in print, as well as the design and updating of the Province’s electronic publications, the production of our own audio-visual material, the conservation of the printed and audio-visual archives of the Province, and participation in social media.

The internal life of the Province, communities, and the religious, in the light of post-conciliar events
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Augustinian Recollects Province of St. Nicholas of Tolentine.

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