In post-Napoleonic France early in the nineteenth century, the Order of St Augustine – like other international religious orders who had been present in France for many centuries before the French Revolution – found it difficult to re-establish themselves in France.
This was caused by the combination of numerous factors, including their paucity of resources and personnel because of the disruption and losses caused to all religious orders by Napoleonic armies throughout the Continent, the decline in religious sentiment and interest in France during the French Revolution, the absence any longer of a large and wealthy French aristocratic class that could henceforth be benefactors to these religious orders, and the increase of national patriotism in France that was not partial to “foreign” religious orders returning to France from the conquering nations that had defeated Napoleon.
To cap it all, in the much-diminished Catholic Church in post-Napoleonic France there was no ready-made need or role in France for these Orders to fulfil. Nor, indeed, was there much of a French desire to welcome them back; the French Church was struggling to rebuild within a much more secular climate of national indifference to the Church’s problems and its plight, and even the French Church would have been likely to regard returning international religious orders as “carpet bagger” opportunists.
Some Priors General of the Order of St Augustine generated a number of initiatives to return the Order to France in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and also listened to specific invitations coming from within France to send an Augustinian community there. Some of these proposals never began.
Those that did begin in Paris in 1870, Nantes in 1891 and Tours in 1922 were generally under-resourced; the first attempt was closed by the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, and the third one – which proved to be the most promising of the three efforts - by the outbreak of World War II.
Longer-lasting efforts in the past sixty years were made by the Dutch Province of the Augustinians, but usually not with any grand vision in mind but with a more restricted and pragmatic focus of providing a base and some financial sustenance in Paris for Dutch Augustinians availing themselves of opportunities for highly-regarded postgraduate studies in theology, Scripture and church liturgy in that city. A church in the Place de la Louvre in central Paris, facing the Louvre Museum, was administered by Dutch Augustinians for a number of recent decades.
In what vacuum there was because of the reduced presence of the Augustinian Order, an autonomous French equivalent was able to germinate and prosper. The Augustinians of the Assumption were founded in Nimes, southern France, by Fr Emmanuel d’Alzon in 1845, initially approved by Rome in 1857 and definitively approved in 1864.
Beginning with Fr d’Alzon himself in 1879, there was a desire in the Assumptionists to join the Order of St Augustine, which the latter Order and also Pope Pius IX favoured. The matter was pursued until 1920 when, in a move that was subsequently regretted, the Augustinian General Chapter of 1920 added conditions to the merger that were unacceptable to the Assumptionists.
The Augustinians of the Assumption therefore continued in their own right, and has itself become an international religious order, operating in over thirty nations and on most continents. There are five different branches within the Assumptionist family, most of them comprising female religious.
The relationship between these two religious orders is fraternal and positive, The relationship between the Order of St Augustine and the Augustinians of the Assumption (“the Assumptionists”) is positive and cordial, and extends to active pastoral cooperation in a number of parts of the world. There is remarkable similarity in their range of apostolates, and even their religious habits.
The Assumptionist international web site (English language version) is: