Two of these Priors General are unique in having been appointed for life. The first of them was Agostino Gioia O.S.A. of Giovinazzo, Italy.
Elected in 1745, he died unexpectedly in 1751. Even so, in this brief period he began construction of the remarkable monastery of Sant’Agostino in Rome, which still stands today (in possession of the Italian Government) as an admirable example of how the baroque love of magnificence was expressed even in the mendicant orders of the Church.
The second Prior General for life served for a record term of thirty-two years. He was Francisco X. Vazquez O.S.A. (1703 – 1785), who has been the only Peruvian-born Prior General. He served in that role from 1753 until his death in 1785.
What the Order of Saint Augustine suffered at the hands of absolutist rulers of the 1770s and 1780s was not the fault of the central government of the Order.
If any blame is placed on Augustinians, it would require examination of Augustinian leadership at the Provincial (i.e., “national”) level, and of how much the actual Augustinian spirit and discipline was in fact generally lived in the Augustinians houses of each Province.
For it was at the local level of the individual Augustinian convento – the “front line” of any religious order – that was most vulnerable to the growing hostility that came with the emergence of absolutist and nationalistic rulers.
Provinces. In the mid-eighteenth century, the Order of Saint Augustine had 43 provinces and 13 semi-autonomous observant congregations. As to how many members lived in these Augustinian houses at that period, the estimates from reputable twentieth-century Augustinian historians have variously numbered from 12,000 to 15,000 or more.
This great numerical differences here dramatically highlight the amount of speculation required because of incomplete statistics and historical records. As with the medieval numerical tallies of other religious orders in this regard, the tendency now is to favour the acceptance of the more conservative estimations.
Whatever was the actual number of Augustinians in the eighteenth century, it was certainly below the Order’s pre-Reformation numbers, when there had been an estimated 22,000 Augustinians.
With the birth of new religious orders during the Counter Reformation (such as the Jesuits), the older mendicant orders were receiving a smaller proportion of the men joining community life and the priesthood.
As well, some Latin Americans had begun to be accepted into the Order from Mexico, Peru, etc.
Photos (at right).
Picture 1: The University of Maria Cristine. Within the Escorial, Madrid. Conducted by the Augustinians.
Picture 2: The Augustinian Rector of Maria Cristina, with two of the 600 students.
Picture 3: Two students of business and law at Maria Cristina, Madrid, Spain.
For the Augnet photo gallery of Augustinian ministry in Spain: Escorial (see photos at right), click here.