History of the Province

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It is difficult to say with certainty when the Augustinians came to Malta. However, we can say that their presence in Malta takes us back to the second half of the 14thcentury, because this is the period that our historical sources are certain about. In the general archives of the Order we have the first reference to a Maltese Augustinian monk, a certain Fra Frangisk of Malta (+1416) in a general register dated 1386.Other documents found in Palermo show that there was an Augustinian presence in Malta in 1412.

There is evidence to show that the Augustinians took care of the Marian sanctuary of Mellieha. They left this sanctuary probably due to the fear of attacks by corsairs. It is certain however that the Augustinians lost their monastery in Rabat, together with all their possessions, during the Turkish siege of 1429.

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The Augustinians in the 16th Century

They built another convent frontespicio contra et prope civitatem quantum est jactus lapidis (a stone’s throw away from the walls of Mdina). This convent was demolished by the Maltese in July 1551 when the Turks were about to attack Mdina. The reason for its demolition was that the convent was too close to the walls of Mdina and so the Turks could use it as siege platform that would have enabled them to enter Mdina. In this tragic episode, the Augustinians once again lost all their possessions.

The Augustinians had to wait till the 28th August 1555 to acquire from the Mdina Cathedral Chapter a small chapel dedicated to St. Mark together with a few adjoining demolished houses on Saqqajja just outside Mdina. This is an important date in the history of the Augustinians in Malta as it is considered as the new beginning of the Augustinian presence in Malta and Gozo that has continued uninterrupted to the present day.

The present convent is an architectural gem that takes to the middle of the 18th century. This magnificent baroque building was the brain child of the famous architect Andrea Belli. Slowly, slowly, the convent just outside Mdina (now in Rabat) became the very heart of the Augustinian presence. This became a house of formation and the philiosophical and theological school of the Order in Malta. It was given the title of conventus maior and for a very long time (1515-1614) the members of the community enjoyed the privilege choosing their own Prior. In 1602 the Prior General, Ippolito of Ravenna called it domus celeberrima.

Many Augustinians who dedicated themselves to scholarship and who served overseas, especially in the houses of the Order in Italy, received their studies in this convent.  Mons. Gejtanu Pace Forno, Arhbishop of Malta ta’ Malta (1858-1874), Mons. Paul Micallef, Prior General of the Order (1859-1863), Bishop of Città di Castello (1863), Administrator the the Diocese of Gozo (1866-1867) and Archbishop of Pisa and Primate of Sardinia (1871-1883), Mons. Giovanni M. Camilleri, Bishop of Gozo (1889-1924) and his Eminence Cardinal Prospero Grech are a few of the many Maltese Augustinians who distinguished themselves and who are known for their wisdom, their spirituality and their service to the Church.

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The Augustinians in Valletta and Gozo

 In 1566, just after the Great Siege of Malta, the Grand Master Jean de la Valette, decided to build a new capital city. In 1571 a contract was signed wherein the Augustinians were given a whole “quarter” so that they could build a convent and church. Later on in 1763, the old building was demolished and a new and majestic convent church was built in its stead. The church is unique in Malta in that it has the shape of a Greek cross. The whole complex was completed in 1794. During the Second World War parts of the convent and church were completely destroyed by German bombing but they were rebuilt anew.

Together with these two principal convents we need to add the one on the island of Gozo. We do not know exactly when the first convent was built in Gozo. It is known that in 1533 the building was pulled down to be replaced by a new structure that better served the needs of the community. Between 1660 and 1717 both the church and convent were enlarged.

The Augustinian monks that used to look after the chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows in Pieta’ (1617-1652) and of our Lady of Virtu’ (1659). During the French occupation, the convents of Rabat and Valletta were debuted of all their wealth and had to bow their heads to the despotic orders of the authorities that too away their religious freedom and their valuable possessions.

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The Maltese Augustinian Province

In 1788, King Ferdinand of the two Sicilies ordered that all the convents that fell under his jurisdiction should no longer be run by the Prior General in Rome. As a reaction to this, in 1790, the two convents in Malta and the one in Gozo became an autonomous province by order of the Prior General Stefano Bellesini.

Nevertheless, this decree never came into force because it wasn’t approved by the Holy See and as a consequence of this the three convents fell once again under the jurisdiction of the Province of Sicily. In 1801 the British High Commissioner sent a notice to the local bishop and to all the Religious Orders stating that the British Crown didn’t recognise foreign superiors. When the monks realised that the religious observance was at risk, the asked Pope Pius VII to accept that the three Maltese convents become an Autonomous Province.

With a decree of the 14th September 1817, Septimus Rotelli, Vicar General of the Order set up the Maltese Augustinian Province with the title of the Province of St. Mark. 

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Educational Work and New Convents

30 years after the founding of the Augustinian Province, precisely in 1848, the Provincial at that time, later on Archbishop of Malta Mons. Gaetano Pace Forno, set up a school to promote the cultural, civil and religious education of Maltese youths, especially those hailing from poor families. This first secondary school offering free tuition for Maltese boys was set up in convent of Valletta.  

From that time the Augustinians in Malta have made and are still making a significant contribution with total commitment in the educational field. The ideal of Mons. Pace Forno is still alive in St. Augustine’s College in Pieta’ and in Marsa where teaching is conducted on the principles of Augustinian education.

From that time till this very day, the Augustinians have expanded their presence in various localities. In the 20th century they opened the convents of St. Rita (St. Julian’s), that of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Paceville and the one of St. Nicholas of Tolentino in Tarxien. In 1968 Archbishop Michael Gonzi founded the Parish of St. Augustine in Valletta.

With the start of the new millennium, the Augustinians started a new pastoral project in Paceville, namely the Millennium Chapel and the WOW (Wishing Others Well) which is a spiritual and social project run by the Millennium Chapel Foundation. In addition various lay groups of Augustinian inspiration were set up. These include youth and prayer groups.

From 2015, the Augustinians are providing pastoral service in the community of Bahrija.

For the Service of the Universal Church-The Missions

The missionary spirit is an essential part of the Augustinian life and many were the monks that worked in the missions.

 

  • The First Missionary Steps

The first Maltese Augustinian that we now about, Francis of Malta, carried out his work in Sicily. Another religious brother, Mons. Emanuel Farrugia, (+1770), after completing his studies, went as a missionary in India. He was elected Apostolic Prefect for the Portuguese Indian Region and later was elected Vicar General of Maliapur.

 

  • The Missions over the Ages

At the start of the 20th century, the Irish Augustinian monks, who had founded the Augustinian Order in Australia, asked for some Maltese brothers to go and help them in this enormous continent. 

After a lot of hassle, in 1930, the servant of God, the Prior General Klement Fuhl got from the Holy See the authorisation for the Order to enter the city of Ippona. This was the land where St. Augustine served the Church as a bishop. Fuhl entrusted this mission in the hands of the Maltese Province. The first Maltese Augustinians arrive there in 1933. By the grace of God, in spite of the great changes that have taken place in this country, the Augustinian presence is still alive and active today

In 1948, The Augustinians settled also in Tunisia and remained there till 1981. Many Maltese Augustinians, especially after the Second World War, went to assist the Italian Vice-Province in Philadelphia and neighbouring areas in the USA. This collaboration continued since the 1960s.

From 1978 to the year 2006 Maltese religious brothers provided service in the convent and church in Catania.

The Augustinians also worked heartily in the missions in Brazil. It was in 1962 that the Maltese Augustinians started their mission in this huge country and from that time onwards they have endeavoured to spread the Gospel and also engaged in social work with the help of youth missionary groups that visited this country every year. This work is co-ordinated by the Augustinian Missions Secretariat.

When in 2014 the various realities of the mission in Brazil supported by different Provinces formed a single Province called Santa Monika, the Augustinian Missions Secretariat sought other places where to repeat this missionary experience. During these past years similar missionary experiences have been conducted in Mozambique and in Kenya.

Since 2010 another service is being offered ad gentes thanks to the Maltese Augustinians in Cuba.

Scholarship and Culture

The Augustinians have always been involved with culture and scholarship. Many of them have worked and are still working in universities as well as in many cultural institutions in Malta and abroad. In 1968 the Augustinian Institute was founded in order to serve as an Augustinian Cultural Centre dedicated to research and scholarship. One of the primary objectives of this institute is to spread the teachings of St. Augustine and to create an awareness of the Augustinian tradition.

Every year from September to December, the Institute organises a course for the general public. Another major contribution to the civil as well as  religious culture are the translations of the works of St. Augustine as well as specialised studies on this doctor of the Church that are being conducted by the Maltese Augustinian Province. 

In the Provincial Chapter of 2010, the Rabat Convent was entrusted with the mission to create spaces and opportunities where a dialogue can take place between faith and culture. This also took place in 2014 in the convent of Valletta.


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