The Bruges Community owes much of its way of life to monastic tradition and spirituality, especially that of St Augustine. His Rule, the oldest in the West, is based on the ideal of community. It stresses the importance of love and of life in Common, ‘after the manner of the first Christians’ (St Augustine’s Rule). Those who undertake this way of life try to live 'one heart and one soul in God' in prayer and in daily living. Called from his monastery to become Bishop of Hippo in 396, Augustine inspired his communities with a strong sense of the Church, a love of the Word of God in Scripture and a deep commitment to the Liturgical prayer of the People of God, centred on the Eucharist. When down the centuries, communities of canons and canonesses came to be established they turned to the Rule of St Augustine as best expressing their vocation in the Church.
This communicty is linked to the movement known as the Devotio Moderna which was initiated largely by lay women and men, in the XIVth c. in Holland.
These Brothers and Sisters of the Common Life responded to a to a strongly felt need of the time in Christ’s Church for a return to the life according to the Gospel, a closer following of Christ as a Saviour.
After some years, six brothers of the Common life founded a “monastery” (1387) in longing to give more time to prayer; they adopted canonial life and as an apostolate, hospitality. Within a short period of time, four new monasteries were founded and formed the nucleus of the Congregation as early as 1395; among which, Zwolle community, who had as novice master Thomas a Kempis (1380-1471), the author of the inspired book, the Imitation of Christ.
The Sisters followed the same evolution and some of them became canonesses regular of St. Augustine. A monastery was founded in Louvain (1415), St. Ursula.
Through a historical coïncidence, a similar renewal had already begun in the south of the Low Countries. About 1350, John Ruusbroec with some priests friends left the cathedral St. Gudule (Brussels) and chose to live in a house in the Forest de Soigne, to dedicate themselves to their ministry. Such a fervent group called many to adopt this way of life. And in 1415, a decree united the North and the South into one Congregation of Windesheim.
In penal times, so many relatives of English martyrs going into exile entered the Louvain monastery of St Ursula that a specifically English foundation, St Monica’s Louvain, was made in 1609, under the leadership of Mother Margret Clement, daughter of Margaret Giggs, who had been adopted by St Thomas More. From this latter community sprang the Monastery of Nazareth, Bruges, in 1629.
Until 1973, education was the main activity of the communities in England as wel as in Belgium and in Switserland and in september 2009, the building formerly the Guesthouse, reverted to its original use, as a boarding School for some pupils of a diocesan College, St Leo.
We are now planning to organize Days of prayer and Spiritual refreshment focused on the celebration of the liturgy, sharing the Word of God in the mode of the Devotio Moderna. Gerard Grote’s inspiration in the 14th c., deepening the commitment to prayer and service of others, adapted to our time and our fellow travellers, has not lost its poignantcy and is still relevant in today’s society.
Our Congregation itself has always been international in character. There are communities in Holland, Belgium, England, Rwanda, France and Tanzania.
Since 2001, the English Convent has a special link with the Monastery of Our Lady of Peace, Rwamagana (Rwanda) where two Rwandan sisters and one from Burundi went as founding members.
Further afield, Sister Mary Niu, a Chinese sister who had her formation in our Community in England, returned to China in 2008 with the hope of starting an Augustinian contemplative community there: The buildings are already well advanced. Around Sr Mary there are one novice formed in England and two chinese postulants.
Thus linked to our roots and part of a living tradition we hope to continue by our prayer and our whole way of life to respond to the needs of the Church and the world of today.
“Let us love one another in Christ,
and for Christ
and for the sake of Christ
for the building up of His body, the Church”
Gerad Grote, Father of the’Devotio Moderna’.