Via Sistina, ROME – For several decades, the current Collegio Internazionale Sant’Ildefonso e San Tommaso da Villanueva was the General Curia of the Order of Augustinian Recollects. At the moment it is the residence of the community of Augustinian Recollect religious who pursue further studies in Rome. This year 2019, it celebrates its 400th year. The main event took place last Sunday, April 7.
Like the great majority of the buildings in Rome, the edifice of the Recoletos friars located in downtown Via Sistina has witnessed the course of history. Although its simple façade cannot seem to show it, the aforementioned Collegio celebrates its Fourth Centenary. It was in 1619 when, with the approval of Pope Paul V, the residence of the Procurator General of the erstwhile Congregation of the Augustinian Recollects was established in this place, around 30 years after the Provincial Chapter of Castile in 1588.
In 1930, the so-called community of Sistina became the General Curia of the Order of Augustinian Recollects. From then until 1959, it housed the general government of the Order that had been approved in 1912 by St. Pius X, as well as the residence for the Augustinian Recollect students who would come to Rome to do their specializations.
Between Piazza di Spagna and Piazza Barberini, the small Church of San Ildefonso and Santo Tomás de Villanueva remains unnoticed. It is the external face of this piece of history of the Augustinian Recollects in Rome and that keeps, among other jewels, the first image of the Virgin of Guadalupe that arrived in the Eternal City, or the spectacular marble altarpiece of the adoration of the shepherds of the Baroque sculptor Franco Siciliano.
For the Augustinian Recollect Fray Tomás Ortega, a student of this house for several years, “the chapel as a whole has a lot of artistic value, there are great details.” He explains that in its beginnings the church was dedicated to the Virgin of Copacabana, whose image presided over the altar until it was replaced by the painting of San Ildefonso and Santo Tomás de Villanueva.
Celebration of the 400th anniversary
On its 400th anniversary, the small church of the Augustinian Recollects in Rome is recovering all its splendor. The main celebration of this event took place last Sunday, April 7, with the dedication of the new marble altar. Bp. Giuseppe Sciacca, Secretary of the Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, presided over the Eucharist. The Prior General of the Order of Augustinian Recollects, Fray Miguel Miró, was present as well as some of the Priors Provincial. In addition, the church will soon host the original painting of the Augustinian Recollect Martyrs of Japan (Pedro, Agustín, and Lorenzo).
The presence of the Provincial Superiors in this historic event symbolized the interculturality of the community that currently consists of young religious from the four provinces of the Order of Augustinian Recollects and who carry out their specialized studies in Rome. “We are ten young Augustinian Recollects from many countries and to whom the Order has given the opportunity to be here to study,” says Fray Bruno D’Andrea, OAR.
A “key” community for the Augustinian Recollects
Fray Pablo Panedas, OAR has lived in this community twice. For him, the house in Via Sistina is a “key” because “in this house those who will be formators of the religious are formed” and for its history. And to live in this community is unique. For Fray Javier Monroy, Prior of the community and a General Councilor, being in this Collegio “signifies pride because you are in a legendary place.”
During its 400 years, the historic community has witnessed transcendental events such as the one in 1809, when the Napoleonic troops who had occupied Rome expelled the Augustinian Recollects from the house and the annexed church. The period had lasted for five years, until 1814, when they regained the community, thanks to the intervention of King Charles IV of Spain and the Spanish ambassador to Rome, since the Hospice was under the protection of the Crown. From 1942 to 1949, the house was without tenants as a result of the Second World War.