The Order of St Augustine ministered in France from its beginning at the time of its Grand Union in the year 1256 until the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1798.
After the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo twenty years later, for both internal and external reasons the Order of St Augustine had difficulty in returning to France to re-establish itself in France once again. Into that Augustinian vacuum three decades later, an autonomous French equivalent to the Order of St Augustine was able to germinate and prosper.
Images (above): The “foreigners church” in Moscow, the Roman Catholic Church of St Louis. The Assumptionists staffed it in the 1920s, throughout World War II, and during the subsequent Cold War era. The inset is a picture of Fr Emmanuel d’Alzon (1810-1880), the founder of the Assumptionists.The Augustinians of the Assumption were founded in 1845 at Nîmes, southern France, by a local clergyman, Fr Emmanuel d’Alzon (1810-1880), initially approved by Rome in 1857 and definitively approved in 1864. Fr d’Alzon died on 21st November 1880 in Nîmes, and was declared Venerable by Pope John Paul II in December 1991. They are now present in thirty countries throughout the world, with the most recent foundations being established in 2006 in the Philippines, Vietnam, and Togo. They have been engaged in a variety of distinguished global endeavours including projects in numerous parts of Eastern Europe and Russia. Between 1905 and the First World War a few Assumptionists established themselves in Eastern Europe at St Petersburg, Odessa, Kiev, Moscow and Vilna.
One of the best known of these early pioneers was Fr Pius Neveu, who arrived in St Petersburg in 1906 to become chaplain at the Good Shepherd Cancer Hospital and Orphanage. From there he moved to the Donetz mining region in the Ukraine and took up work in the town of Makeyevka a year later. Fr Neveu managed to remain at his post throughout the tumultuous period leading up to the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, despite imprisonment and the threat of the firing squad. Even after the Bolsheviks assumed power in Russia, Fr Neveu continued to hold services in the church of Makeyevka, despite the Communist threat to convert his church into a movie theatre.
Because the Catholic Church in Russia was without a bishop, Pope Pius XI decided that Fr Neveu would assume that charge. He was secretly consecrated Bishop in Moscow in 1923, where he carried on his work until 1936, most of these years without an Assumptionist companion. The situation for Assumptionist missionaries in Russia was dramatically changed by President Franklin Roosevelt. After long negotiations with Mr Litvinov, the Commissar for Foreign Affairs, President Roosevelt secured the right for an American clergyman to enter Russia as chaplain to the diplomatic colony (Roosevelt-Litvinov Agreement, 16th November 1933).
Fr Leopold Braun, an Assumptionist, was the first to enter Moscow under the new agreement. He arrived there on 1st March 1934. Since the signing of the Roosevelt-Litvinov Agreement, eleven Assumptionists have held this position. Deeply influenced by their contact with the Russian people, each of these in returning home has found ways to tell the story of his experience. Through public lectures, articles, books, teaching, etc., they have expanded their own understanding of Russia and sought to instruct others about this fascinating and mysterious country. Perhaps the most tangible sign of Assumptionist involvement in Russia is a substantial collection of original Russian icons.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the decline of the Cold War, the Assumptionists have been able to revive their ministry in Russia, Romania and Bulgaria. Several students from those areas are now studying in Western Europe in preparation for future ministry in their respective homelands. The congregation has long been involved in education, the press, ecumenism, pilgrimages, and the missions. According to the Annuario Pontificio of 2005 (the “Vatican Yearbook”), the Augustinians of the Assumption number just under 1,000 male religious in 125 communities.
Photo (above): The Assumptionist leader (at right) in the Asia Pacific, wearing his Assumptionist habit and a priest’s stole, speaks at the celebration in Manila of the fifth anniversary of the arrival of the Augustinians of the Assumption in the Philippines.In the 1870s, the Assumptionists launched several magazines which have, over the years, expanded into one of the largest Catholic publishing houses in the world, Bayard Press, which publishes the award-winning daily French newspaper, La Croix, and more than 100 magazines in fifteen languages. In English its best known publication is Catholic Digest. In 1873 the Assumptionists began a series of large-scale pilgrimages both within France and to the Holy Land which developed into such current endeavors as the popular national pilgrimage to Lourdes every year on the occasion of the feast of the Assumption, gathering thousands of pilgrims.
The Assumptionist Family contains a series separate religious congregations, deriving from the same original source, i.e., the male Augustinians of the Assumption, the Brothers of the Assumption, and the following female congregations: the Religious (Sisters) of the Assumption, the Oblates (Missionary Sisters) of the Assumption, the Little Sisters of the Assumption, the Orantes of the Assumption, the Sisters of St. Joan of Arc, the Little Sisters of the Presentation of Our Lady, the Missionary Sisters of the Assumption, and the Sisters of the Cross. Beginning with Fr d’Alzon himself in 1879, there was a desire in the Assumptionists to join the Order of St Augustine, which the latter Order and also Pope Pius IX favoured. The matter was pursued until 1920 when the Augustinian General Chapter of 1920 unexpectedly added conditions to the merger that were unacceptable to the Assumptionists. The Assumptionist Constitutions were then approved by Rome in 1923.
The Augustinians of the Assumption therefore continued in their own right, and has itself become an international religious order, operating in over thirty nations and on most continents. There are five different branches within the Assumptionist family, most of them comprising female religious. The relationship between these two religious orders is fraternal and positive, The relationship between the Order of St Augustine and the Augustinians of the Assumption (“the Assumptionists”) is positive and cordial, and extends to active pastoral cooperation in a number of parts of the world. There is remarkable similarity in their range of apostolates, and even their religious habits.
Assumptionists, North American Province. http://www.assumption.us
The Assumptionists in the Philippines. http://www.assumptionists.ph
The Assumptionists in the United Kingdom: http://www.assumptionist.org.uk
The Family of the Assumptionists: Various Provinces in all parts of the world. http://assumptionist.org.uk/component/option,com_weblinks/catid,13/Itemid,7