Augustine had a lively mind. He was unusually temperamental, excessively sensitive, and all too aware that learning came easy to him. He was able to pursue his studies only with aid from a patron, who provided money for his tuition and lodging. At sixteen, the money was no longer available to him. He had to interrupt his studies, and soon joined a group of young rowdies who made trouble throughout his hometown of Hippo in North Africa. When he went to Carthage to continue his studies, he had a mistress and fathered a son by her. He named his son Adeodatus, which means, "Given by God."
Success in studies made the young intellectual proud and arrogant. Not yet baptized, but still officially enrolled as a catechumen, he mocked his mother Monica's piety. Yet he was also driven by an inner unrest and by his quest for the meaning of life and truth. He looked to Greek and Roman philosophers and to the Christian sect of Manichaeans for answers to his questions. He even turned to the Bible, but was turned off by its mediocre translation into Latin.
Augustine experienced his definitive conversion at the age of thirty-two in Milan, Italy, where he held a professorship. His studies and his encounter with Ambrose, the renowned bishop of Milan, had prepared him. He discovered Christ as the center of his life - and after this experience he could hardly grasp why he had taken so long to break through to the truth of Divine Revelation. Looking back on his life, he wrote in his Confessions: "Too late have I loved You."
Augustine was baptized on Easter of 387 by Bishop Ambrose in the cathedral of Milan. Shortly thereafter he returned to his hometown in Hippo. He sold his property and founded a monastic community modeled after the early Christian community described in Acts 2:42ff. Other interested men, who dedicated their lives to prayer and study, joined him. The faithful soon called upon him to be their priest, and finally in 396, compelled him to be their Bishop of Hippo.
As priest and bishop, he considered himself a servant of the ordinary people. He was able to speak directly to his people and to inspire them, something we can clearly see in his many homilies that have come down to us. At the same time, he participated in the Church's internal controversies in those times as a leading theologian. In his great work, The City of God, he sought to explore the meaning, in light of faith, of the great turmoil of his age, such as the decline of the Roman Empire, the disorder of the tribal migration, and the emergence of new centers of power among the Germanic tribes. He died in 430 while the city of Hippo was under siege by Germanic Vandals.
The monastic ideal of Augustine came to full bloom centuries later when numerous religious communities adopted the Augustinian Rule and became the army of Christ, bringing the good news of the Gospel to the poor, especially in the cities, preaching in the newly discovered world, defending the faith from their pulpits and university chairs, and founding schools, orphanages, hospitals, and other charitable institutions.
To most people, Augustine is the great thinker who definitively influenced philosophy, theology and, indeed, spirituality, as well as the charitable and social outlook of the Church. One should not overlook his contribution to monastic life in the Church, for it was from this source that he drew strength for his great achievements.
Augustinians, who founded and continue to staff Saint Rita Parish, perpetuate Augustine's thinking, his spirituality, and especially his emphasis on community life and his tireless dedication to the proclamation of the Gospel.