Divine Retreat Centre – St Augustine’s Abbey
Christian faith was preached in Britain for the first time in the blessed shores of Kent by St. Augustine the Benedictine monk, commissioned by Pope Gregory the Great. This “Apostle to the English” became the first Archbishop of Canterbury in 597 AD. In God’s Providence, St. Augustine’s Abbey the Vincentians bought the abbey; it was blessed and renamed the Divine Retreat Centre UK, on 16 March 2014. His Excellency Peter Smith, the Archbishop of Southwark, while blessing and inaugurating the Retreat Centre in the presence of nearly two thousand people, emphasized his hope that the Vincentian Congregation would bring a new spiritual wave into his people. It is providential that Divine came to the Ramsgate to pioneer the re-evangelization of England, which is the birthplace of Christianity in the UK.
It is quite remarkable! The arrival of the Vincentians fitted perfectly with the history of Ramsgate, as this was where the first preaching took place, and where the first retreat was made for the English. The charism of St Augustine lives on through the ministry of the Vincentian congregation, their preaching, and charitable works. As the Centre continues to flourish, it is evident that they have started the third spring of revival in the UK.
At present, retreats are held in English, Malayalam, Konkani and Tamil. Every month, there is a minimum of three residential retreats and two one-day conventions. During the weekdays, the Retreat Centre arranges outreach programs to parishes around the UK, to revive, strengthen and develop the parish community. Within the short span for 5 years, the Vincentian priests have visited over 100 parishes and have preached in nearly all the dioceses here in Great Britain.
St Augustine, Archbishop of Canterbury
St. Augustine of Canterbury was a Benedictine monk who became the first Archbishop of Canterbury in the year 597. He is considered the “Apostle to the English” and a founder of the English Church.
Augustine was the prior of a monastery in Rome when Pope Gregory the Great chose him in 595 to lead a mission, usually known as the Gregorian mission, to Britain to Christianize King Æthelberht and his Kingdom of Kent from their native Anglo-Saxon paganism. Kent was probably chosen because Æthelberht had married a Christian princess, Bertha, daughter of Charibert I the King of Paris, who was expected to exert some influence over her husband. Before reaching Kent the missionaries had considered turning back but Gregory urged them on, and in 597 Augustine landed on the Isle of Thanet and proceeded to Æthelberht’s main town of Canterbury.
King Æthelberht converted to Christianity and allowed the missionaries to preach freely, giving them land to build a monastery outside the city walls. Augustine was consecrated as a bishop and converted many of the king’s subjects, including thousands during a mass baptism on Christmas Day in 597. Pope Gregory sent more missionaries in 601, along with encouraging letters and gifts for the churches, although attempts to persuade the native Celtic bishops to submit to Augustine’s authority failed. Roman bishops were established at London and Rochester in 604, and a school was founded to train Anglo-Saxon priests and missionaries. Augustine also arranged the consecration of his successor, Laurence of Canterbury. The archbishop probably died in 604 and was soon revered as a Saint.
Origins of St Augustine’s Abbey, Ramsgate
St Augustine’s Abbey, Ramsgate was one of the Benedictine monasteries in Great Britain forming the English Province of the international Benedictine Congregation of Subiaco. The Abbey was founded as a result of the invitation made by Bishop Thomas Grant, the first Bishop of Southwark, to the Italian abbot Dom Pietro Casaretto, to send monks from St Benedict’s own monastery at Subiaco to undertake a mission at Ramsgate. By 1856 arrangements between Bishop Grant and Abbot Casaretto were concluded and the first monk, Dom Wilfrid Alcock, arrived to take charge at the Ramsgate mission which had been made possible thanks to the building of a Gothic church by the famous Gothic Revivalist architect Augustus Welby Pugin, which was donated to the Diocese of Southwark before his premature death in 1852.
In the years 1860-61, with the help of Mr Alfred Luck, a wealthy and devout benefactor, the monastery of St Augustine of Canterbury was built, the first Benedictine monastery to be built in England since the Reformation. Shortly afterwards a full monastic observance was established. The monastery gained independence from Subiaco in 1876, becoming a Priory in 1881 and was raised to the status of an Abbey by Pope Blessed Pius IX in 1896. A school was established for in 1865, which grew to provide to Catholic education for boys for well over 130 years, finally closing in 1995.