In northern Italy in 1244 several communities of hermits living in the region of Tuscany asked Pope Innocent IV to unite them under one common Rule of life and one Superior General like other Orders that had recently been founded. The Pope gave them the Rule of Saint Augustine and asked representatives of each of their houses, gathered in chapter, to elect a Prior General who would be the sign and principal promoter of their desired unity. Not many years later in 1256, other similar groups of hermits, scattered mostly throughout central Italy and in a number of other nations, were all gathered with the friars of 1244 at what became described as the Grand Union of the Order (1256). The strong eremitical (“hermit”) background which characterized the early groups gradually began to give way to a mixed life of contemplation and pastoral ministry as the Church called the Order to form part of the Mendicant Movement and engage in the work of evangelization.
Within a century of the Grand Union there were possibly 6,000 Augustinian friars established in many countries, involved in a variety of works, as pastors, preachers, educators, scholars, theologians and missionaries – all for the proclamation of the Gospel, - as well as others engaged as carpenters, farmers, beggars and bakers, for the internal needs of the communities. All of them professed one and the same way of life according to the ideals and values upon which Saint Augustine had ordered his vision of religious community. Early in its history groups of women religious were aggregated to the Order as well, and many lay men and women shared the Order’s spirituality and liturgical customs as members of Augustinian lay fraternities.
During periods of great missionary effort in the Church, Augustinians were counted among other religious of various Orders and Congregations who ventured into foreign lands to extend the message of the Gospel and to lay the foundations for religious life. They ventured throughout Europe, as well as to North and South America, Africa, Japan, Persia, India, and China. Augustinians were among the founding fathers of the first university of the New World (in Mexico in 1553), and were the first evangelizers of the Philippine Islands. Presently, members of the Order live and minister in over 40 countries on every continent, preaching the Gospel in a wide variety of ways... Counted among the members of the Order, whose numbers reached 22,000 worldwide at the time of the Reformation, are numerous saints and martyrs, theologians, bishops and cardinals of the Church.
Presently, members of the Order live and minister in over forty countries on every continent, preaching the Gospel in a wide variety of ways, among people of every faith and no faith, of many cultures, languages and traditions, seeking to foster St Augustine’s ideal of uniting people in the communion of mind and heart for the glory of God and the service of God’s people.