The first group of Augustinians assigned to the New World went to Mexico. The first Augustinian priory (convento) in the New World began at Ocuituco in Morales State, Mexico in 1533.
These members of the Order had been sent to Mexico by the Province of Spain (later called the Province of Castile). On 3 March 1533, these seven members of the Order of Saint Augustine sailed from San Lucas de Barrameda near Seville. On 22 May 1533 they stepped ashore at the port of Vera Cruz in Mexico, and travelled to Mexico City. They soon established seven houses.
Alonso de la Vera Cruz, a young priest and professor who had travelled across the Atlantic on the same boat as the third group of Augustinians, joined the in Order on arrival in Mexico in 1536. He founded the first university in the New World in the town of Tiripetio, about 25 km southwest of Morelia. The Augustinians were involved in the establishment of the pontifical and royal University of Mexico, at which Vera Cruz taught for a number of years. Girolamo Seripando O.S.A., as the Prior General of the Order from 1539 to 1551, wrote to these men. He told them: "With Christ You do not have to wish nothing but that the salvation of the souls by which he was thirsty in the Cross". A fourth group of twelve men arrived from Spain in 1539. In 1549 the Prior General wrote again to the Order in Spain, for the second time successfully at the instigation of Emperor Charles V of Spain.
He asked that members of the Order be sent to South America in greater numbers. By February 1562 there were almost 300 Spanish Augustinians in Mexico, in fifty houses. They were distinguished by their willingness to admit local people to the Order. There was such an increase of the local vocations that after 1577 it no longer it was necessary to solicit members of the Order from Spain to serve in Mexico. Specìfic geographical areas were assigned to the Order of Saint Augustine: to the south, the present Mexican states of Morelos, Guerrero and Puebla; to the north, between the Otomis Indians of Hidalgo; and to the west, the regiòn of Michoacán inhabited by the Tarascos Indians. One region of focus was Michoacán, in the west of Mexico, where the local people had a right not to be trusting of all men from Spain.
In Mexico City in 1529, the leader of the ruling elite was the cruel bete noir of the Spanish colonial era, Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán. The reign of corruption and terror of Guzmán in Mexico City was ended by its courageous Bishop, Juan de Zumárraga. He managed to smuggle a message to the king by entrusting it to a sailor on a ship bound for Spain. Royal agents were sent to arrest Guzmán. In an attempt to avoid detention and to deflect criticism by achieving fame as a conqueror, he organised an expedition and set off to the west. His first destination was Michoacán, where he left a trail of pillage and murder in his wake. In the course of this rampage, a Tarascan king was dragged behind a horse and then burned alive because Guzmán thought he was withholding information regarding a gold treasure.
A man whom the local people came with affection to call "Tata Vasco," Vasco de Quiroga (1470? - 1565) was appointed Bishop of that province in 1537. Quiroga had a dream of an ideal community that he wished to bring into practice. Utopia, the most famous book by (Saint) Thomas More of England, had been published nineteen years earlier in 1516. Quiroga believed that applying its principles among the local Indian population would be a perfect way to counteract the memory of the cruelty of Guzmán. He developed local arts and crafts, and added additional Spanish skills to them.
The Augustinians in Michoacán supported the vision and the practices of de Quiroga. Each Augustinian priory (convento) that they built combined the principles of Spanish architecture with local decorative arts. Local artists developed their native skills, and at the same time received instruction in the Spanish styles of construction. Ancient Augustinian monasteries in Mexico still exist, although no longer in the possession of the Order. With a strong desire to arrive at the natives in its own language, the Augustinians learned the various dialects of the local native language. They also wrote books of religious instruction in these languages, and thus made many valuable contributions in linguistics. In 1576 Melchor de Vargas O.S.A composed a cathechism in the Otomi language of Mexico; Diego Basalenque O.S.A. (died 1651) and Miguel de Guevara O.S.A. compiled works in the languages of the savage Matlaltzinkas of Mexico. Manuel Perez O.S.A. translated the Roman Cathechism into the Aztec language in 1723. They were less reluctant that some other religious orders to introduce the local people to the Christian practices of receiving Penance and Eucharist. Their sense of social justice also encouraged them to guard the interests in the local people when it came to paying rent or tithes to the men from Spain who had been given usage rights over the land suitable for raising animals and for farming.
Mexico was separated from Spain (Castile) when the Province of Mexico was founded in 1568, and the Michoacán Province (in the west of Mexico) in 1602. The work of the Augustinians in Mexico was outstanding. The Order in Mexico initially had responsibility for establishing the Order in the Philippines, because this initially had been the administrative arrangement in the civil administration of the colonies of Spain by the kings Charles V and Philip II. Once a greater number of Augustinians was needed in the Philippines, their supply came from Spain, and the Philippines in 1575 became a separate Province of the Order. Even so, the original Mexican province has some claim to have been the founder of the Province of the Philippines. For general pages on Augnet about the history of the Order of Saint Augustine in Latin America, click here.