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The experience of a young Spanish community

New Augustinian Sisters

 Nuove agostiniane  DCM-002
03 February 2024

The Augustinian Sisters of the Conversion were born in Spain in 2000 as an offshoot of the trunk of the Order of Saint Augustine. “In an order with such an ancient tradition as ours”, explains their foundress, Mother Prado González, “new paths are never so new that they are something different, nor are they so old that they are no longer necessary. We know that we exist and feel we are the humble beginning of an experience that is ‘always ancient and always new’. The charisma remains intact”.

At the age of twenty, in her home town of Talavera de la Reina (a large centre in the autonomous community of Castilla-La Mancha), Prado Gonzales entered a convent of Augustinian nuns devoted to teaching. To this profession she then devoted herself over the next twenty years. Here, she began a spiritual journey with an experience of contemplation enlightened by new forms of religious life and an intimate desire to live ecumenism and a profound dialogue with the world. Listened to and encouraged by her spiritual director, she was later able to meet the General of the Augustinian Order, Father Miguel Ángel Orcasitas. It was at that moment that the project began, joined by six other sisters, hosted by the Bishop of Palencia in the Cistercian monastery of San Andrés de Arroyo and Becerril de Campos. “There, for twelve years, as a small community, we lived an experience of grace in poverty, solitude, humble and silent prayer, and in-depth study of theology, anthropology and philosophy. We wanted to discover our charism within the Augustinian charism, the spirituality, the thought, the liturgy, and the way of life that was our own”. Gradually they grew. “We were little known, we did not receive visits or applause. But this gave us the freedom to listen clearly to the voice of the Spirit”, she says.

What at first seemed to be an innovation, which was of dubious fidelity to the charism, after several years of journeying it was consolidated into a clearly Augustinian experience. “As happened to the communities that after the Council adopted constitutional enclosure in order to be able to exercise educational pastoral work or open a residence for students, interpreting the wishes of their founders”, Prado González recounts.  “We were helped by the Bishops of Palencia and our Generals: Father Robert Prèvost (now Cardinal and Prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops) and Father Alejandro Moral, as well as other priests who accompanied us with discretion and wisdom”.

The inspiring source of this young community is “the urgency of man’s return to God, to which we want to contribute our lives, to make it possible, luminous, and fruitful”. They do this within the framework of a creative fidelity to a tradition that provides security and confidence to their steps. Their keys are those of religious life: contemplation, brotherhood and apostolate, nourished in turn by the three sources of their charism: the Word of God, Augustine’s spiritual and theological heritage and the distinctive traits of the Mendicant Orders. “We live with great humility, because we know that there is still a way to go. We desire to live a profoundly human life, completely committed to the search for God, in love for Christ, his Word and the Church; a life that allows the beauty, love, truth and unity of God, our only common good, to shine through”, reveals Gonzales.

It had previously been established as the Federation of Conversion; they call themselves Augustinian Contemplative Nuns, with a new way of experiencing contemplation and the Augustinian charism. They have been recognised by the Order and the Church in their innovation and fidelity to the charism. Their singularity is an open enclosure that allows for pastoral work within the monastery and also, occasionally, beyond its walls too. Today they are present in the Monastery of the Conversion, in Sotillo de la Adrada, (Ávila); in the Monastery of the Incarnation, in Lima (Peru) and in the Monastery of Mother Good Councel, in New Lenox, Illinois (USA). They also bear witness with their presence on the Pilgrim’s Way to Santiago, in the Hostel of Santa Maria, in Carrión de los Condes, in Palencia, and are currently founding a location in Italy. As Mother Prado explains, we want “our monasteries to be a place of evangelisation commencing from apostolic brotherhood (they have taken in some Ukrainian refugees who fled the war, for example), contemplation, study and preaching; a space of prayer, conversion, communion in the midst of the world, of welcome where research and encounter, dialogue and communion, liturgy, prayer and a life committed to evangelical values are an offer, a proposal, a possibility through which they can discover the meaning of their existence, faith, the way of living it and the commitment it entails in our world for the people of today”. For this reason, every week they organise spirituality meetings, retreats, exercises, accompaniment, and campuses.

Their daily life is marked by personal and community prayer, silence, study, housework, graphic arts, pastoral work and fraternal meetings, including with all the communities of the Federation, with which they share an online space they have called the Laboratory of Faith (LABFE) and another dedicated to emerging social situations that require their attention and commitment. They support themselves with work. In addition to their pastoral work with adults, young people and children, the sisters devote themselves to leather and woodwork, bookbinding and also to artistic creation, making icons, candles, cards and small publications. Added to this is the financial contribution of the people who support and help them.

The entry of new vocations into the Federation is generally the result of encounters with the sisters of the community, in the activities they organize, on the theology courses, in the Way of St James (to which they owe the entry of sisters from abroad) or even in pilgrimages to other places, or World Youth Day. “The main motivation for entering our Community”, explains Mother Prado, “is the search for God and the encounter with an attractive religious and spiritual reality, because it promises a sincere encounter with Jesus Christ and the Church, in brotherhood. Young people today are indifferent neither to Truth nor Love, neither to the search for meaning nor to responsibility in life. For many young people this is the drama of existence, and they come to the monastery tired of a life without meaning, with many questions, shortcomings, desires, and called to give their lives for Christ and for all that comes from Him. They enter seeking and in the monastery they discover that it is He who finds them”.

As they live in the present time, they feel called to listen to the voice of the Spirit, stripping it “of some of the trappings of history that may no longer have value today or that can and should be read from different angles and experienced in different ways”, she explains.

by Ana Medina
Journalist at the Diocese of Malaga and a writer.