About St. Augustine Prep
History of the School
Augustine, named Aurelius Augustinus, was born in 354 A.D. to middle-class parents in the North African town of Thagaste. A brilliant and passionate scholar, he taught rhetoric in Carthage and later in Rome and Milan. He also served for a time as the official spokesperson for the Roman emperor. Yet for all his success, he remained restless in his search for something no amount of material gain could satisfy. A dramatic conversion to Christianity at the age of 32 set his life on a new course. He returned to Thagaste where he established a monastic community and devoted a joyful three years to study, dialogue, and prayer. Out of this tradition stems the emphasis on fraternal life in community that persists to this day.
The Catholic Church called on Augustine to become the bishop of Hippo Regius, present day Annaba, Algeria. Determined not to abandon the a way of life he found so fulfilling, Augustine set up a monastery for priests in his bishop’s residence and wrote his famous Rule as a guide for living in a community inspired by Christian values.
The scope of Augustine’s intellectual and apostolic achievement is staggering. He wrote many books on diverse topics, such as philosophy, theology, psychology, and history. He also composed two classics of world literature: Confessions and The City of God. Over 800 of his sermons have been preserved. As bishop, he traveled thousands of miles in the Church’s service and fought tirelessly against the people who were dividing the Catholic Church.
In the midst of these demanding activities, however, Augustine’s life had a very different side. He was, at heart, a monk. Augustine moved monasticism in a new direction. He had come to believe that a monk could, and should, lead both a contemplative life and a life of action. While Augustine felt that a monk’s first responsibility was serving the Church, he also believed study and contemplation would make that service all the more meaningful. After his death in 430, Augustine’s ideal spread to other parts of Africa and was carried to Europe by monks and clergy fleeing the persecution of the Vandals. In the eleventh century, the Rule of St. Augustine served as a basis for the reform of monasteries and cathedral chapters throughout Europe.
This house, which still serves as the monastery for the five Augustinians who currently work at the Prep, was the first school building on campus. In September 1959, 27 students, a mixture of both seminarians and traditional day students, became the Prep’s first class. The next year, the first portion of Augustinian Hall—four classrooms and a gymnasium—was opened. Further expansion of this building occurred in the ‘60s. In 1980, what is now the Spina Gym was added, with the original gym being converted into classrooms and a chapel. In 1998, the Scarpa Arts and Science Building was completed, and in 2007, the Buondonno Forum was opened. This latest renovation phase included the construction of a turf field with lights, the creation of a new baseball field, and the conversion of the dining hall in Augustinian Hall into more classrooms.
For the first four decades of its history, the Prep remained a relatively small school. The first graduating class in 1963 numbered only 15 students. While the graduating class doubled the following year, it wasn’t until the mid-1980s that a class exceeded 50 graduates. In 1995, the Augustinian Province of St. Thomas of Villanova took over ownership and direction of the school. Innovation and growth characterized the curriculum, athletic program, service orientation, and state-of-the-art facilities. During this period, the imaginative and popular Third Semester program was introduced, providing opportunities for hands-on learning and travel, both nationally and abroad. The Fine Arts programs expanded to include extensive offerings in instrumental and vocal music, studio art, and drama. Over the years, the Prep has continued to grow, with a current total enrollment of about 700 students.
St. Augustine Today
Although the look of our campus may have changed tremendously over the past half-century, what has never changed is the commitment to the Catholic and Augustinian values that have always been foundational to St. Augustine Prep. The core values of unity, truth, and love continue to permeate everything we do at the Prep, while the spiritual and moral principles found in the gospel of Jesus Christ underlie every aspect of the education offered here. The vision of a small group of Augustinians, lay faculty, benefactors, and friends has blossomed over 50 years to become the center of educational excellence in South Jersey. The Prep remains committed to carrying out its mission statement: “Setting hearts on fire with a passionate search for Truth, Unity, and Love.”