In what follows, all that is possible is only the bare outline of the administrative history of the Order of Saint Augustine in Latin America. It would require many more words to tell of the main participants of this history, both native and foreign, and to pay respect to the great amount of generous and dedicated labour that was involved.
In the employ of the Spanish royalty, Christopher Columbus, on his second voyage to South America in 1493, took 1,200 colonists to the island of Hispaniola, which is located near Cuba. European settlement and control in Latin America had thus begun. Priests accompanied these people, but it was over thirty years before the Order of Saint Augustine was involved on this continent in any formal way.
The Augustinians were not the earliest missionaries in Latin America, nor anywhere near the most numerous religious group to be sent there and to be supported by the Spanish kings. The number of Augustinians sent to Latin America, and in their ultimate impact, the Order of Saint Augustine often followed in the footsteps of the Franciscans, Dominicans, and the Merecedians.* (See http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10197b.htm) were officially the Order of Our Lady of Mercy, founded in 1218 and given the Rule of Saint Augustine. Christopher Columbus had men of this religious order as chaplains on his voyages, as also did Ferdinand Magellan on his planned voyage around the world in 1519-1522, which neither he nor the Mercedarians lived to complete. Without intending it, some Augustinians then became the first priests to sail around the world - but that is the topic of another page of Augnet. The Society of Jesus (Jesuits) was founded in 1540 and came to South America between 1549 and 1553, twenty years after the Augustinians went there.
Photos (at right): Parish of Saint Augustine, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Picture 1: In the church. Pictures 2 & 3: At a camp for young adults.
At that time the Franciscan and Dominican orders were already established in the New World, and the Order of Saint Augustine was building up its involvement. But these orders were not destined to have the significant impact that the Society of Jesus, with its different approach, was to have on the indigenous peoples of Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Paraguay, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Guatemala and Haiti. Through their successes with the Indians taken into their care and the resulting conflicts this caused with other church authorities, the Jesuits were finally expelled from South America in 1767.
It is worth remembering that there was also a Spanish settlement in North America seventy three years after Columbus first sailed across the Atlantic to what became known as Latin America. A Spanish admiral, Pedro Menéndez de Aviles, landed at Florida, which is now one of the United States of America. He founded a colony there among the Timucua Indians, and named the place Saint Augustine on 8th September 1565.
The earliest Augustinian arrival in the Americas has sometimes been said to have been Vincent Requejada O.S.A. It has been said that he reached Venezuela between 1525 and 1527, thirty three years after the first voyage by Columbus, and remained there until his death in 1570. None of the documents of the Order of Saint Augustine indicate or substantiate this claim, therefore his presence in South America has to be seriously doubted.
The Order of Saint Augustine in Spain had begun to solicit permission to go to America as early as 1527. The first group of Augustinians assigned to that continent came from the Province of Spain (Castile). On 7th June 1533 this group of seven arrived in Mexico, and soon had formed seven houses. Alonso de la Vera Cruz, a young priest and professor who had travelled across the Atlantic on the same boat as the third group of Augustinians, joined the in Order on arrival in Mexico in 1536.
The Augustinians were involved in the establishment of the pontifical and royal University of Mexico, at which Alonso de la Vera Cruz O.S.A. taught for a number of years. A fourth group of twelve men arrived from Spain in 1539. In 1549 the Prior General wrote again to the Order in Spain, for the second time successfully at the instigation of Emperor Charles V of Spain. He asked that members of the Order be sent to South America in greater numbers. By February 1562 there were almost 300 Spanish Augustinians in Mexico, in fifty houses.
Mexico was separated from Spain (Castile) when the Province of Mexico was founded in 1543, but its status was contested by the Province of Castile for a number of years. Finally a decree was issued by the Prior General on 19th October 1588, and confirmed by Pope Clement VIII on 23 July 1592. Within Mexico, a second Province - called Michoacan Province - was established in 1602. Some of these churches and religious houses they built are still in use, although no longer in possession of the Order. (To go to Augnet's page on them, click here.) The work of the Augustinians in Mexico was outstanding. One problem, however, which probably was almost unavoidable, was the tension between the religious orders and the diocesan bishops regarding their respective rights and responsibilities; at times this dialogue became quite acrimonious. Augustinian churches and houses were built in the principal places of Mexico and became the centres of Christian religion, art, and civilisation. The patio (cloister, clausura, choistro) of the former monastery (convento) of Saint Augustine at Queretaro is one of the most beautiful examples of stone-carving in America.
Photos (at left):In the Parish of Saint Augustine, Buenos Aires, Argentina.Picture 1: Belen vivente, a "living Nativity" in the parish church. Picture 2: Sale in aid of the Augustinian Mission at Salta, northern Argentina. Picture 3: Book shop in the parish.
Constructed between 1731 and 1736, the building is now a public museum of art. Some of these churches and religious houses they built are still in use, although no longer in possession of the Order. (To go to Augnet's page on them, click here.)
During the 16th and 17th centuries when the bishops in Latin America obtained more priests, churches and houses of the Order were handed over to them. For example, between 1754 and 1782, fifty-eight houses of the Province of Mexico were handed over to the local church. In the year 1790, the Province of Mexico had eleven remaining houses, and one of these was located in Guatemala, and another in Havana, Cuba (suppressed by force in 1842) was for the training of candidates for the Order.
In the year 1859 the Reform Laws of the government suppressed all religious houses and expelled their members, and this situation lasted for about fifty years. The second province of the Order in Mexico (i.e., the Province of Michoacan) began the 19th century with 11 houses and 150 members. By a government declaration on 20th December 1827, all Spanish religious men had to leave Mexico. The Province of Michoacan thereby lost thirty-three members, and an epidemic of cholera in 1833 took another forty-seven members.
The civil war around 1858 caused a division in leadership in the Province, at a time when it was desperately required. Of the eleven houses suppressed in 1859, only two had been partially recovered by 1877. These were located at Yuriria (see link below) and Cuitzeo. There were twenty-two members in the Province in 1877. Some of them lived outside of Augustinian community. Often for reasons of distance, they lived in the house belonging to the parish that stood beside the church at which they served. Both Mexican provinces are still functioning.
(Continued on the next page.)
Click here for Augnet's general page on King Philip II of Spain.
The Augustinians wend their way Westward. By Arthur Ennis O.S.A. Augustiniana (6), April 1956: Augustinian Historical Institute of Louvain, pp 602-634.
Yuriria. Five large photographs of the Augustinian church at Yuriria. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuriria