In the year 2007 the Augustinian Recollects celebrate 75 years serving the Church in England. The Order of Augustinian Recollects had it's beginnings in the year 1588 when a chapter meeting, in Toledo, Spain, invited those Augustinians who wanted to live a more 'recollected' way of life, to set up their own house.
From those early beginnings the Order has flourished and today has about one thousand five hundred religious spread throughout the world.
75 years ago some Spanish Recollect priests sought a priory in England to flee the horrors which were leading up to the Spanish Civil War. After a relatively short search they found an ideal site at Ivybridge, in the South West of England, where they adapted a convent for their first priory, St Austin's.
It was soon full of young Spanish novices and a second house was sought. This was found in Honiton and was given, by the bishop, through a donation which had a condition that we should build a Parish Church.
This church, the Holy Family, was built despite the rigours of the Second World war which intervened. The church of St Augustine followed being built in the seaside town of Seaton, nearby.
Two more small parish churches were added to the number administered by the Recollects; Modbury, near Ivybridge and Ottery St Mary, near Honiton. The end of the war saw many of the priests ordained in England head off to the missions. Their places were taken up by other young men from the British Isles and Ireland who joined the Order.
Soon a junior seminary was established at Honiton and in 1960, a new purpose built seminary was erected, St Rita's. This foundation flourished during the 1960's but in the 1970's junior vocations dried up and the building then served as a pastoral centre which has recently been turned into a modern up-to-date Retreat Centre.
In 1970 the Order expanded into London by purchasing a house in Kensington. Further expansion followed by taking on parishes in Kensal New Town and Wembley Park. The Order has continued to do its work of pastoral care and running the Retreat Centre. At the turn of the new century the Vicariate took on a new mission, the massive task of caring for the immigrants from South America.
The Latin American Chaplaincy is now established in the Parish of St Anne's in Vauxhall in South of London. The Vicariate has always had close relationships with the Order's missions. Many from the Vicariate have served as missionaries throughout the world and still continue to do so.
While the Order continues to grow world-wide, we struggle to find new vocations in Europe but we continue to work hard and we place our trust in the Lord of the Harvest.
The second celebration was held on 25th October when we had a wonderful combined gathering in our parish of Wembley Park, North London. The day coincided with the parish visitation from Bishop John Arnold. Both the celebrations blended together perfectly.
During his sermon, Bishop Arnold thanked the Order for all its work in the dioceses. He was also able to remind us on that same day the Pope was beatifying nearly 500 martyrs in Rome who had been killed during the Spanish civil war - the precise reason why the Order came to England in the first place.
Fr Sean said a few words to round off the eucharistic celebration. We all enjoyed a buffet in the parish hall which displayed the usual Wembley hospitality.
The third celebration. A very different kind of celebration was held in our oldest parish, Ivybridge, on November 6th, a day when the Order remembers the dead of the Order. The day was one of the nicest of the year. It was a quiet affair, some members from the parish, members of Secular Recollects (SARs ) and our own community. We did, however, have one special visitor, Fr Martin Nolan O.S.A. who was once the General of the Augustinians. Fr Sean preached and reminded us of the many religious who worked in this country and how have since passed away. He also reminded us of the many priest and brother from the English Vicariate who have served in the missions, whose bodies are interred there. After the mass everyone processed to the Order's graveyard where the graves were blessed by the Prior, Fr. Hugh, and prayers were said over the graves. The day was rounded off with a banquet prepared by the parishioners of Ivybridge.
The fourth and last celebration. On 5th December 2007, we ended the year with a celebration in our newest parish of St Anne's, Vauxhall, London. This celebration was mainly for those working in the Latin America chaplaincy. The time of the celebration was mid week so that the majority of the Friars could attend but this meant the congregation was smaller than usual. The Papal Nuncio, Faustino, who is Spanish, presided and preached a wonderful and well preached sermon outlining the work of the Order during 400 years.
Fr Gerald Wilson. O.A.R. Vicar Provincial