The most recent Augustinian presence in Benin happened from 1998 until 2003.
The missionary activities of Portuguese Augustinians in the sixteenth century in Eastern Africa, and particularly in Warri, was the first Augustinian presence in areas now in Nigeria and Benin. Those missions did not survive but the Augustinians in 1998 returned to Warri in the Republic of Benin, and until 2003 conducted an active parish there.
An initial happy relationship with the Portuguese, begun in 1486 or before, led to a mission in 1515 by some unnamed priests, who baptized the son of the chieftain, Oba, and some other prominent men. In 1517 a friar from São Tomé, probably an Augustinian, and three other priests, one of them named Beanies, a native of Benin who had gone to São Tomé, came to continue the work of evangelisation. It is not known how long this mission lasted, but a Franciscan mission visiting there in 1538 reported that he found the situation greatly deteriorated. Local Christians were made to suffer, and foreign Christians not welcome. In 1540 the Oba was again on good terms with the Portuguese, but no mission immediately ensued. In the following century the Faith was preached in Dahomey (as the present Republic of Benin was previously named) in the year 1660, when certain French residents introduced Franciscan missionaries. Against this Catholic enterprise the English traders successfully combined with native priests of fetishism. In 1674 Father Gonsalvez, a Dominican, with two companions, was poisoned; an Augustinian, who visited the coast in 1699, escaped death by flight. No further attempt to plant the Faith in Dahomey is then recorded until 1860.
Four hundred years lapsed before Augustinians returned to what is now called the Republic of Benin. This happened when in 1998 David Fitzgerald O.S.A. and Joel Awanyi O.S.A., an Augustinian of Nigeria, opened an Augustinian priory (house) in this French-speaking republic. There they assisted at the National Marian Shrine and an adjoining parish. It is the largest Marian shrine in Africa, and is located in the Dassa-Zoume diocese in the southeast of the Republic Benin.
The tradition is that the Virgin Mary appeared in a cave in this area. Since then, an annual pilgrimage has been organized at this place to commemorate this event. Each year in August, during the time of the Catholic festival of the Ascension, many Catholics from all parts of West Africa attend, making this one of the major annual events of Benin. The Marian shrine seats 3.000 persons, and has room for 1,000 more people in an external covered area, and 500 more in each of two side terraces. With a reallocation of resources of the Augustinian Province of Nigeria, the two Augustinians in Benin were withdrawn on 8 December 2003. Since that time the Augustinian Province of Nigeria has assisted in Benin with practical help to the poor.
Maps of the Republic of Benin. The first site gives a large map of Benin that includes Dassa (Zoume) where the Augustinians ministered until 2003. The second web site shows Benin's location within the African continent. http://www.supertravelnet.com/maps/index.php?action=showmap&country=118_0_4 and http://www.zum.de/whkmla/region/westafrica/xbenin.html