The Augustinians of the Assumption were founded in 1845 at Nîmes, southern France, by a local clergyman, Fr Emmanuel d’Alzon (1810-1880), initially approved by Rome in 1857 and definitively approved in 1864. Fr d’Alzon died on 21st November 1880 in Nîmes, and was declared Venerable by Pope John Paul II in December 1991.
The Assumptionists are now present in thirty countries throughout the world, with the most recent foundations being established in 2006 in the Philippines, Vietnam, and Togo.
The Assumptionists have been engaged in a variety of distinguished global endeavours including projects in numerous parts of Eastern Europe and Russia. Between 1905 and the First World War a few Assumptionists established themselves in Eastern Europe at St Petersburg, Odessa, Kiev, Moscow and Vilna.
One of the best known of these early pioneers was Fr Pius Neveu, who arrived in St Petersburg in 1906 to become chaplain at the Good Shepherd Cancer Hospital and Orphanage. From there he moved to the Donetz mining region in the Ukraine and took up work in the town of Makeyevka a year later.
Fr Neveu managed to remain at his post throughout the tumultuous period leading up to the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, despite imprisonment and the threat of the firing squad. Even after the Bolsheviks assumed power in Russia, Fr Neveu continued to hold services in the church of Makeyevka, despite the Communist threat to convert his church into a movie theatre.
Because the Catholic Church in Russia was without a bishop, Pope Pius XI decided that Fr Neveu would assume that charge. He was secretly consecrated Bishop in Moscow in 1923, where he carried on his work until 1936, most of these years without an Assumptionist companion.
The situation for Assumptionist missionaries in Russia was dramatically changed by President Franklin Roosevelt. After long negotiations with Mr Litvinov, the Commissar for Foreign Affairs, President Roosevelt secured the right for an American clergyman to enter Russia as chaplain to the diplomatic colony (Roosevelt-Litvinov Agreement, 16th November 1933).
Fr Leopold Braun, an Assumptionist, was the first to enter Moscow under the new agreement. He arrived there on 1st March 1934. Since the signing of the Roosevelt-Litvinov Agreement, eleven Assumptionists have held this position. Deeply influenced by their contact with the Russian people, each of these in returning home has found ways to tell the story of his experience.
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