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Interview with Fr. Rocco Ronzani, new president of the Augustinian Historical Institute: "Research is fundamental to revive the awareness of the gifts received by the Augustinians"

Updated: Apr 6

The work of the Institutum Historicum Augustinianum (IHA), currently consisting of forty members religious and lay–, is an expression of love for the Augustinian Order, "which fills us with justifiable pride and profound humility", and of interest in the life of the Order, and witness of the charism of St Augustine and of his spiritual legacy.

In a talk marking the 50th anniversary of the IHA in 2019, Fr Fernando Rojo described this work as a genuine authentic challenge, continuing, "in the founding charter we were urged to preserve, study and disseminate the cultural heritage. What was asked of us then is exactly what we have been working on until now! Our timid voice at the beginning has now become a cry of joy.” 

We recently spoke with Fr Rocco Ronzani, newly elected president of the IHA, about the current challenges and opportunities facing the Institute, and his future plans.

Father Ronzani, who are the members of the Augustinian Historical Institute? 

Most are Augustinian religious who have studied or dedicated themselves over the years to the history of the Augustinian Order, or to the study of the life and work of its most illustrious friars, and to the thinking of its doctors. Right now, the Institute has about forty members, which does include some lay people, around half of whom are ordinary members and the rest are correspondents and honorary members. 

What are the main priorities of this new period of government?  

The Ordinary Assembly of the Historical Institute convened recently, at the time of the triennial congress organised this year on the theme of Augustinian hagiography through the centuries. A new Board of Directors was elected for a six-year term, comprising Fr Jesús Álvarez Fernández, councillor, Fr Josef Sciberras, secretary both of whom have long experience in the service of the Institute and me. Over these six years our work will include planning future international congresses of the Institute, publishing the latest volume of the history of the Order of St Augustine (started by Fr David Gutierrez), as well as other editorial and study initiatives suggested by the Assembly. We will also be working to strengthen the bonds of communion and cooperation among our members in any way we can, such as projects and initiatives in the field of history that can be promoted globally within the Order, or by other scholars and public academic institutions and private associations. For example, starting a newsletter to put members in touch with each other. 

Where should the Institute focus in order to secure greater international recognition? 

The activities of the Institute and its members are already highly appreciated in those academic circles where historical-religious and other related disciplines are studied. Even the Analecta Augustiniana, the journal I edit with Fr Josef Sciberras, and which in one way can be seen as an expression of the Institute, is widely regarded and in Italy has been included by the National Agency for the Evaluation of Universities and Research in the List of Class A-10 and 11 scientific journals. Let us also remember that the scientific activity of individual members of the Institute, based in various academic institutions across the world, also contributes greatly to its recognition and reputation. It would be a real pity if we forget this. And this is why the Institute members are carefully selected, and must be shown to have made a genuine contribution to the advancement of our disciplines and be recognised as such in the academic and scientific world. But this does not mean that we must not also take the opportunities that present themselves to us to promote promising young people who are not yet fully recognised as scholars. In addition, in time we hope to involve increasingly more lay scholars, allies and collaborators in the study of the history of the Order. Certainly, there is still a huge amount to be done, starting with what the Institute's Statutes entrust to the Council: to carry out the decisions of the Assembly, to plan cultural and scientific activities, and to propose to the General Council the publication of works of recognised interest for the history of the Order. We count on the esteem and support of the Prior General and the Council of the Order, while lamenting a lack of vision in those who sometimes do not appreciate the benefits of historical studies, which are essential for remembering the Order’s roots and identity, and we look not only to the past, but above all to the future with hope!

Is the Institute involved in teaching or formation?

From the outset, the Institute itself has never been involved in teaching, although over the past 50-plus years many members have regularly taught historical and related disciplines in the Order's institutes of cultural formation and elsewhere. But this is not to say that it will never happen. At our recent Assembly, the notion that in the future courses of historical training might be promoted, especially in those geographical areas of the Order lacking in specialist personnel, was raised a number of times. 

What does the Institute do in the face of this current climate of secularisation, and what value can it bring?  

As I said before, the work of the Institute - the research and teaching activity of many of our members, attention to the formation of our younger friars, and the richness of our history - are all expressions of our love for the Order,  and fill us with justifiable pride and profound humility, as are our attention to the life of the Order, and our witness to the charism of St Augustine and his spiritual legacy. For example, just one among a number of initiatives planned for the next six years will see us celebrate the reunion of the "body of the Order" with its "spiritual Head": in 1327 Pope John XXII entrusted to the Augustinians the custody of the sacred relics of St Augustine deposited in the magnificent ark of the Basilica of San Pietro in Ciel D'oro, in Pavia. So, we can be sure that research in the field of historical disciplines has its own scientific status and independent value, while at the same time it fundamentally contributes to increasing  awareness of the gifts already received by the Augustinians across almost eight centuries of history and to reinvigorate the core identity of the Augustinians who cultivate the past in order to better live the present and to walk forward towards the new goals that the Lord and the Church indicate to us today.



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