The Augustinians in Ireland have set up a “lay forum” to advise the order on how to maintain its presence here into the future.
Provincial Fr John Hennebry OSA told The Irish Catholic that the forum was established after giving “long consideration” to the lack of vocations to the order and the aging profile of its members.
“We are aware of the fact that our numbers are decreasing and our age profile is increasing, and the future will be a very different one to the present reality,” Fr Hennebry said, noting that the order has just one student in formation and the average age of a member is now 76.
“We realised in our last chapter meeting that we need to engage with the lay people in our various communities who are already very heavily involved in either planning or preparation or delivery of ministries or whatever. We need to engage with them to see how the Augustinian spirit might be maintained into the future.
“We have experience of closing houses, and leaving places, and our experience really has been that it’s too late to do that when it comes to closing a place. There has to be a build-up and a lead into having some legacy on the ground,” he said.
Insisting his emphasis “isn’t on closure as much as maintaining of the aspect of the Augustinian charism on the ground”, Fr Hennebry said the order is currently “engaged in a process of restructuring our residences because our commitment is to community life”.
“We’re obviously not just going to maintain our presence in a place until there is just one man left on the ground, that isn’t our life. Living in community is essential to the Augustinian way of life, so in order to do that, to make sure the community is viable and life giving, both to the Augustinian way of life and also to the people with whom we work, we need to have a volume of men there,” he said.