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Augustinians: Living in community as pictured in the Acts of the Apostles

May 1, 2015
Father Tom Whelan, OSA

Catholic San Francisco is featuring one religious congregation from the archdiocese in each installment of this periodic column marking the Vatican’s Year of Consecrated Life.

The Augustinian community is a comparatively new arrival to San Francisco, having arrived in 1969. However, the first Catholic religious documented to have set foot in Alta California was Augustinian Fray Julian Lezcano, the chaplain to the Juan Cabrillo party which landed in present day San Diego in 1542.

We Augustinians take our name and our spirit from St. Augustine of Hippo (Hippo is in present-day Algeria). Early church monk, bishop, and theologian, he lived from 354 to 430 A.D., a time of challenge and change for Christianity. Brilliant, articulate, successful; he was well on his way to achieving fame and fortune when he realized there was something terribly absent from his life – God, and real happiness. After his conversion to Christianity, Augustine gathered friends to live community life as pictured in Chapter 4 of the Acts of the Apostles. He wrote a rule of life for his community in the year 397, a rule which was used by independent monasteries throughout the Middle Ages.

The Order of Hermits of St. Augustine (known since Vatican II as the Order of St. Augustine) was founded by Pope Innocent IV in 1256, bringing together several small groups of European hermits. The pope asked the members of the new order to go and evangelize and teach in the newly growing cities of Europe. There was no specific mandate as to the kind of ministry the friars were to do. Thus, a community life of fraternity and prayer plus meeting the spiritual needs of the people where the community is located became the defining characteristic. Today there are 2,845 Augustinians ministering in 47 countries throughout the world.

The Augustinian community house at 108 Cole St. in San Francisco was purchased in 1969 to be a residential community of students. At first the students were recently vowed young friars who finished their undergraduate degrees at the University of San Francisco, a block away from the house. Through the years the community has housed students of theology studying at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley; Augustinians pursuing advanced degrees in counseling and education; men on sabbatical; and, most recently, pre-novices completing their undergraduate degrees.

In addition to studies, members of the community since 1969 have served in a variety of ministries: a youth program at St. James Parish; taught at St. Paul’s High School and St. Monica’s grammar school; ministered at Youth Guidance Center, at St. Mary’s Hospital and the UCSF hospital; served as associate at St. Anne of the Sunset Parish; done Sunday supply at St. John of God and St. Monica’s; and celebrated Masses at convents of women religious. Presently a member does supply ministry at St. Agnes, where two community members are in the choir. Four members of the community serve at St. Anthony’s Dining Room in addition to their studies and assigned ministry.


Order of St. Augustine

Founded: 1256 in Rome, Italy

Arrived: San Francisco in 1969

Original ministry: Evangelizing newly growing cities

Current ministries: Teaching, parish ministry, hospital ministry, youth ministry

Number of men in the order: 2,845

Number of brothers in the San Francisco archdiocese: 5

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