In 1844, with the burning of Saint Augustine's Church and Priory at Philadelphia in the U.S.A., the tide of trouble reached across the Atlantic Ocean, where for a while the life of the Order in the U.S.A. seemed to depend on one man - Father John P. O'Dwyer O.S.A..
The year 1855 saw the suppression of the convents of the Order in Piedmont and Sardinia by the "Sicardi Laws." In eleven years, 124 Augustinian priories were suppressed in Italy. Then the two Mexican provinces were suppressed by an anticlerical government in 1860.
In 1864 the Russian government suppressed many of the Augustinian convents in Poland, and separated the remaining houses there from any contact with the jurisdiction of the Prior General at Rome.
The General Chapter of the Order which met in Rome in 1865 was indeed a memorable one; the next General Chapter did not convene until 1889. At the General Chapter held in the Convent of Saint Augustine in Rome, Fr John Belluomini was elected Prior General.
Political upheavals made the holding of General Chapters impossible for a long time after 1865, and for the crisis which the Order was about to face, Fr Belluomini, sincere and holy man though he was, was not equal to the overpowering task that lay before him.
The climax of the Prior General's fears was to come in the next decade with the invasion of Rome by the Italian Nationalists.
When Rome was invaded and occupied in 1871 by the Italian nationalists, the motherhouse of the Order, the Convent of Saint Augustine, was occupied by Italian troops. The Church of Santa Maria del Popolo, where the Grand Union of the Order was held 1256, was also lost to the Order. Likewise the famous Biblioteca Angelica, founded by the Augustinian scholar, Angelo Rocca O.S.A., in 1614, was taken from the Order and became state property, and has remained so until the present day.
The period from 1870 to 1880 seems to have been the darkest decade in the 750-year history of the Order. Prior General Fr Giovanni Belluomini, with his pessimistic outlook, continued as General, and the Chapters that should have met in 1871 and 1877 were prorogued because of the political conditions.
It is worth recalling that the last General Chapter at which the whole order was represented was held in 1786; delegates of forty-eight provinces had attended. At the General Chapter held in Rome in 1865, only twelve struggling Provinces managed to have representation, and most of these were subsequently suppressed within the next fifteen years.
Pope Pius IX, after a turbulent reign of thirty-two years, died on 2nd February 1878, at which time the Augustinian Order seemed head for extinction. With the pontificate of the new Pope Leo XIII, however, a new chapter was about to be written into the history of the Order.