Around the 8th or 9th century, in Dieppe (FRANCE), in what was just a small fishing village, a few women gathered to help the poor and the sick. They fed them, cared for them, housed them, sometimes even in their own homes.
These women recognised the face of Christ those they cared for. And, in order to offer them better care, some decided to live together. To give a firm
foundation to their decision they took a vow to serve the poor and sick. They based their life-style on the rule of St Augustine, (Searching for God together and placing one’s goods in
common). They organised their life around three principals: prayer, living together in a community and service. These are still the
corner stones of the Canonical life as Augustinians of the Mercy of Jesus today.
For almost 6 centuries the Dieppe Community flourished and became an integral part of the Dieppe town, overcoming the many difficulties that faced them one by one. In 1652 they withstood a Calvinist persecution and survived being expelled from their Monastery for the first time.
The imminent Council of Trent (1563) would force them to adapt yet again. These new constraints led, a few decades later, to the text that officially constituted the Community
In 1626 the Sisters, still in Dieppe, built the Hôtel-Dieu Saint Jean-Baptiste.
A renewal occurred: the Sisters, helped by the Jesuits of Dieppe, wrote their first Constitutions, approved by the Archbishop of Rouen in 1631.
The Bishop, however, wanted the Augustinians of Dieppe to join the reform of the Sisters of Pontoise who were also in his Diocese. The Sisters of Dieppe resisted this, arguing that they wanted to care for their patients themselves. Never the less, they did keep the white habit and coat of arms of Pontoise
The Bishop of Vannes, in 1635, inspired by their way of life asked the Augustinian Sisters to serve the poor of his city. 4 Sisters left Dieppe for Vannes: this was the first foundation.
Shortly afterwards, in 1639, the Jesuits of New France received permission to found the first Hôtel-Dieu in North America. Thanks to the generosity of the Duchess of Aiguillon, the project got off the ground and 3 Augustinian Sisters left Dieppe for Quebec. They, along with 3 Ursuline Sisters, were the first women missionaries to leave Europe.
Other foundations soon followed in Brittany and Normandy, then in South Africa (1891), in England (1901), and more recently in Burkina Faso (1965) and Nigeria (1970) (see all the communities)
To strengthen the communion, mutual support, and consistency in the programme of Formation, Mother Yvonne-Aimée (1901-1951), of Malestroit Community, proposed the creation of a Federation of Communities. Her proposal was approved by Rome in 1946 and the Federation of the Augustinians of the Mercy of Jesus was formed. Today this Federation continues to oversee and inspire the Communities in France, England, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and South Africa.
The Canadian Monasteries formed their own Federation in 1957; at that time there were 12 Communities, today there are 6 and 4 of these are situated on the same property. The Generalate of the autonomous Federation of the Augustinians of Canada is located in Quebec City.
Historically each Monastery has its Autonomy and its own history, however, the family spirit that existed between them from the first foundation made by Dieppe still exists today.
Present on 3 continents, in 18 Monasteries in 2 Federations (Europe/Africa and Canadian) the Augustinians of the Mercy of Jesus remain fully aware of the misery in the world and of the needs of the Church. Conscious of the issues in society today and the need to make God’s Mercy known, concerned by evangelization and new forms of poverty, they live their mission in faith.