Of historical interest is the list of the English Augustinian communities which the Prior General sent to Toscano. The list, however, was incomplete. Only twenty-six houses were named, viz., London, Norwich, King's Lynn, Oxford, Cambridge, Clare, York, Bristol, Canterbury, Stafford, Tickhill, Atherstone, Stamford, Gorleston, Lincoln, Newcastle upon Tyne, Rye, Newport, Kingston upon Hull, Boston, Hereford (probably meant to be Orford), Warrington, Pearith, Shrewsbury, Northampton and Winchester.
From the list given by A. Lubin OESA, Orbis Augustinianus, Paris 1671, pp. 351-62, may be added as certain five more Austin Friaries: Grimsby, Huntington, Leicester, Ludlow and Thetford. At the time of the suppression of religious houses by King Henry VIII in 1538-39 there were also houses at Droitwich and Woodhouse, along with two houses formerly belonging to the Franciscans that had been given to the Austin Friars by Henry VIII in 1534: Newark and Southampton. This makes a total of thirty-five Austin Friars communities in England that could possibly have been returned to the Order.
One hundred and thirty-eight years after the death of King Henry VIII, the hopes of the Catholic Church ran high when James II succeeded to the throne of England on 6th February 1685. Like his brother and immediate predecessor, Charles II, James II was a convert from Protestantism. His wife and queen, Maria Beatrice of Modena, had always been Catholic. The newly-elected Augustinian Prior General, Fulgenzio Travalloni O.S.A. (1685-1693), however, was tardy in seizing this most propitious opportunity for the restoration of the Order in England.
Travalloni allowed four months to elapse before writing to the king and queen to offer his congratulations on their ascension to the English throne. Finally, he wrote not one but two letters to the king, one on 22nd September 1685 and the other four days later when he also wrote to the queen, offering congratulations and asking for help in restoring the Order in the kingdom. When a specially-selected Dutch Augustinian named Willemart presented these letters from Travalloni, the king assured him that he held the Augustinian Order in high regard and would remember it, and would promote it when the time was right. The queen, for her part, assured Willemart that she would also do her part in promoting the restoration of the order in England. The Dutch friar reported his mission to the Prior General in December 1685 as a success.
The time for action had come. Travalloni needed volunteers to join the Irish Augustinian, John Skerrett O.S.A., who recently had moved to London. On 16th March 1686 he invited seven Irish friars to help Skerrett in setting up the Order in London, but apparently none of them responded positively. Four English friars on the European continent came forward: William Coulson, Gregory Smith, John Shaw, alias John of St. Augustine, and Laurence Tool, as did two Irishmen, Augustine O'Shea and John Madden.
Although Skerrett himself was appointed by the Prior General as vicar and commissary general of the team on 2nd November 1685, the restoration of the English Province was not achieved. Hope vanished when King James II and his queen fled the country on 11th December 1688 after the king's son-in-law, the Protestant William of Orange, invaded England and succeeded to the vacant throne. Skerrett died that same year. Even so, the attempt to revive the Order in England was not abandoned for some years. The last-known English Augustinian in England before the nineteenth century, Lawrence Tool, took refuge in France. Not so John Dowdall of Ireland, who had arrived in England before the end of 1688 and was still there in 1693, when he was appointed vicar general on 17th June.
John Dowall was joined by two more Irish Augustinian friars, William Carroll and Francis Kelly, and a third, Edmund Byrne, in 1694. (Byrne in 1700 rented the John's Lane Mass site for the Order in Dublin.) An Irish Augustinian, Fulgentius Butler, was arrested in London in 1705 and spent nineteen months in prison. Unfortunately, no permanent foundation came from these efforts. In fact, despite another abortive attempt in the tenure of Pacifico Neno, Prior General from 1880 to 1889, the English Augustinian Province was not officially reinstated until 1977. Even though the Augustinians in England ceased to exist with the closure of the last Priory at Hull in 1539, some of their brothers in Ireland, however, survived by going underground during the Penal Times.
Clare Priory, Suffolk, of course, was one of the houses taken from the Augustinians by King Henry VIII. By Divine Providence and the generosity of the family selling it, however, the Order was able to buy it back in 1953 at a fraction of its real value. A Mass celebrated there on 10 May 1953 was the first Mass there since the expulsion of the Augustinians from Clare Priory over 400 years previously. The Austin Friars were re-established in England by the Irish Province during the nineteenth century. This began in 1864 when Cardinal Wiseman gave the Irish Augustinians an area of Shoreditch in the East End of London for a new parish. Thus the Parish of St Monica's, Hoxton Square began.
Augustinian parishes were later established in Hythe, Kent (1891) and at Hammersmith in London (1903). In 1948 the Order returned to Scotland to administer the Dundee parish of Saints Peter and Paul, and in July 1951 Austin Friars School was opened in Carlisle, on the English side of the border with Scotland, with a parish attached. Daily Augustinian presence at the school ended in 2005. In September 1977 when the English Province was sufficiently re-established after an absence of 458 years, Clare Priory again became the venue of an English Provincial Chapter.
In 1985 two English Augustinians joined two Australian Augustinians to establish the Order in South Korea for a number of years. After a series of withdrawals in recent years, today the English Province operates from six houses in the United Kingdom: Hoxton and Hammersmith (both in London), Clare (in Suffolk), Harbourne (Birmingham), Woodvale (Southport), and Broomhouse (Edinburgh, Scotland). The Province has about thirty professed members.
On 12 February 2008 Pope Benedict announced the appointment of Fr Michael Campbell O.S.A., pastor of the Augustinian parish of Hammersmith in London, as Bishop Coadjutor of Lancashire, England. He is the first Augustinian in England to be made a bishop in over five centuries. Before the English Reformation, over thirty Augustinians were raised to the episcopacy.
This page is placed here as relevant to the English Province, but the same Constitutional arrangement of legislative procedures was common to all Augustinian provinces.
When the Province of England was founded in 1265, a standard application of the Augustinian Constitutions then took place. The Provincial (Augustinian leader for England and Ireland) and his four councillors, called definitors, were elected at each provincial chapter. At first the Provincial Chapter was held annually, and after 1358 every two years, and after 1453 every three years.
Photos (at right).Picture 1: Employed Augustinian youth worker, London, England. Picture 2: Members of Augustinian young adults group at Hammersmith, London. Picture 3: Core team member of Augustinian Young Adults, Hoxton, London.The right to vote seems to have been reserved to the prior (local Augustinian leader) and the discrete (elected chapter delegate) of each individual house. Members who had a master’s degree had the right but not the duty to attend and to vote; although this practice lapsed at times, it was still in force until the dissolution of the Province during the time of King Henry VIII. The venue of the chapters changed, as also was the case with the Augustinian General Chapters, but usually for the convenience of the capitulars the choice was made of a large Augustinian convento in a major town.
Each capitular member had to bring from his house the pistura, a designated contribution towards the cost of holding the Chapter. Because this led to deficit, financial contributions might also be sought from the king, the local bishop and local noblemen. The provincial chapter began with the person sent by the Prior General as his delegate reading his letter of appointment and authority. No Provincial Chapter was official unless this happened. The next task at the provincial chapter was to elect the incoming provincial, his four definitors (his official councilors), the procurator (financial officer) of the province, and the two visitors.
The visitors were inspectors, obligated to visit each convento and to see that the Constitutions of the Order and the statutes of the Province were being maintained; if the situation was otherwise, they had the authority to impose penalties. Their main task, however, was to supervise the actions of the Provincial, whom they could suspend from office, and in whose place they ruled if the Provincial died while in office. The Provincial Chapter also had to confirm the prior of each local house, whose name already had been chosen by ballot in the local Augustinian house (convento).
An important responsibility of the Provincial Chapter was the promotion to academic degrees, ever conscious of maintaining the academic standards that the church and population in England could expect from an Augustinian granted a degree. It was the Chapter alone that decided if an Augustinian could seek permission to preach and to hear sacramental confessions. Any laws - called Acts - passed by a Provincial Chapter needed the approval of the Prior General before taking effect.
A Provincial could be re-elected as often as the voters chose him. Because some Provincials in various orders used illegal means to be re-elected, the Popes in 1418 and again in 1453 imposed a limit of two or three successive terms. The Provincial had to make an official visitation of every house, had to give his consent for the acceptance of a novice or of the promotion of individuals to Holy Orders. He also had obligations to attend General Chapters of the Order, and was expected to be the official channel of communication between the Augustinian General Curia and the local Province of which he was the Provincial.
Link Austin Friars House. A promptional website for the commercial building now standing on the former Austin Friars’ site. It is of interest because it has maps and aerial photographs of the area today.
For the Augnet photo gallery on the Augustinians in parts of England (including some of the above pictures), click here.
The English Austin Friars 1249 – 1538 by Francis Roth O.S.A. (Augustinian Historical Institute, New York: 1966).
A thirty-page historical booklet, The Austin Friars, was written by the late Rev. Dr. Michael Benedict Hackett O.S.A. in 1998, and published by Augustinian Press, Clare Priory, Suffolk CO10 8NX, England.Wales and ScotlandFor the Augustinian Order's brief history in Wales and Scotland, click here.