Who Are the Augustinian Nuns?
Many of our blog posts have been focused on the spiritual journey of men discerning a vocation in the priesthood or religious life, but did you know that there is an entirely different branch of our Augustinian Family for female vocations? According to the Augustinian General Curia, "The Order of Saint Augustine is composed of the following:
friars, whether professed or novices, who are members of the various Circumscriptions of the Order,
Augustinian contemplative nuns belonging to the Monasteries of the Order,
the lay members of Augustinian Secular Fraternities, legitimately established by the Prior General."
How Were the Augustinian Nuns Formed?
Like the Augustinian friars, Augustinian nuns also follow the Rule of Augustine, which is a set of guidelines Saint Augustine wrote to instruct members how they can best live in communities together. There is evidence as early as the year 423 A.D. that communities of nuns adopted and lived by Augustine's Rule.
As the centuries progressed, communities of clergy, nuns, and other laity adopted Augustine's Rule throughout Northern Africa and Europe. In the year 1256, the pope called together the many communities that were following the Rule of Augustine to form one religious order under the jurisdiction of one Prior General; the order was named the "Hermit Brothers of Saint Augustine." The Prior General was (and still is) the elected worldwide leader of Augustinian provinces in the world; each province was also led by its own respective Prior Provincial.
The Augustinian nuns, however, were not necessarily structured under these Augustinian provinces. Many of the Augustinian convents had superiors that reported directly to the Augustinian Prior General.
Some of Our Most Prominent Saints Were Augustinian Nuns
Our Order has some exemplary nuns that have become blesseds and canonized saints and role models for our Church.
Saint Rita of Cascia
Saint Rita is now known as the "Saint of the Impossible." At an early age, Rita had wanted to be a nun, but she respected her parents' wishes in that she marry. She was happily married for 18 years with two twin sons before her husband was murdered. She had pleaded with her sons that they do not avenge their father's death; unfortunately, her sons died of natural causes shortly afterwards.
Now as a single woman, she once again sought to enter the religious life as an Augustinian nun. At first, she was denied. Not only did the nuns not want to accept her because she had already been a married woman, but some of the nuns were relatives of Rita's husband's murderers. Rita proceeded to work toward peace between the warring factions between these families and was eventually brought in to her new convent as an Augustinian nun.
Rita lived out the rest of her life as an Augustinian nun for 40 years. It is said that during her time in the convent, she received the mark of a thorn on her forehead during prayer. She died on May 22, 1457 in Cascia, Italy. Her remains are preserved there to this day and is now the patron saint of mothers and numerous schools and parishes throughout the world. Click here to read more about Saint Rita of Cascia.
Saint Clare of Montefalco
Saint Clare of Montefalco is also known as "Clare of the Cross" because of her devotion to Christ's Passion. She entered religious life at an early age, following in the footsteps of her older sister Joan. When Joan died, the community asked Clare to be their new abbess. Clare was reluctant to accept this position at first, but did so with the encouragement of her local bishop.
During her time as the community's abbess, Clare had a vision where she saw Jesus as a poor traveler being overwhelmed by the weight of His cross. Clare asked Christ, "My Lord, where are Thou going?"
Jesus answered, "I have looked all over the world for a strong place to plant this cross firmly, and I have not found any." When Clare began trying to help Christ carry His cross, He responded, "Clare I have found a place for My cross here. I have finally found someone to whom I can trust Mine cross." Click here to read more about Saint Clare of Montefalco.
Blessed Maria Teresa Fasce
Born in 19th century Italy, Maria Teresa Fasce is becoming an increasingly recognized Augustinian nun. She was very active in her parish life at Mother of Consolation Parish, which was under the pastoral care of the Augustinian friars.
Maria was about 19 years old when Saint Rita of Cascia was canonized; she said that her canonization had a profound impact on her life. She felt called to join the Augustinian convent in Cascia, much the concerns of her family. Though she was denied entry into the convent with her first application, she eventually was accepted and took the name Teresa Eletta when she professed her first vows in 1907.
Over the forthcoming years, she founded an orphanage in Cascia and a newsletter called From the Bees to the Roses to help fund the program. There is even a story told that she stood up to Nazi German troops that violently barged into her monastery and prevented them from disrupting the nuns and orphans at the convent. She died in 1947 and was declared a Blessed by Paul John Paul II in 1997. Read more about Blessed Maria Teresa Fasce here.
What Do the Augustinian Nuns Do Today?
Augustinian nuns are currently serving in several countries throughout the world. The Augustinian nuns in the United States and Canada are cloistered, contemplative nuns. The community in New Lenox, Illinois, described a cloistered nun as follows:
“As women religious dedicated to a purely contemplative life, we embrace cloister as a part of the gift of our vocation. The cloister is a significant symbol of the contemplative life and represents a privileged place for meeting God. Our search for God elicits a heartfelt desire to withdraw even from those worldly pursuits and activities, joys and pleasures, which are legitimately good. This separation allows us to give ourselves ever more intently to the One who is the source of all joy, beauty, goodness and love. Indeed, cloister aids in our search for the One who is TRUTH, GOODNESS, BEAUTY, and LOVE! — Augustinian Nuns of New Lenox