“There is a good zeal which separates from vices and leads to God and to life everlasting.”
The Gilbertines were founded in 1131 by St. Gilbert of Sempringham when seven women he schooled came to him desiring an habit and rule of life. The Order would grow to include Nuns and Sisters, Brothers and Canons Regular. They were a double house that followed both the Benedictine and Augustinian Rules and was the only medieval Religious Order indigenous to the English people. St. Gilbert lived an extraordinarily long life — 106 years — and was the first to be canonised (in 1202 by Pope Innocent III) according to the more modern system of miraculous proofs etc.
The Gilbertines were popular in England and Wales but would finally come to ruin at the hands of Protestant Reformers in 1538–39 when King Henry VIII dissolved all of the Monasteries and Religious Houses. Magister Fr. Robert Holgate is credited with staving off the inevitable for a time but he eventually capitulated. St. Gilberts relics were taken from England in secrecy to a small Italian town where they remain to this day. The Monasteries were ruined though St. Gilbert’s original Church, St. Andrew’s, still stands.
A contemporary expression of Gilbertine spirituality began to take shape in the mid 1990s in South Dakota. Blue Cloud Abbey, a Swiss-American Benedictine Congregation located near the town of Marvin, had a lively Oblate programme which included many Anglicans, some of whom, in 1996, felt called to form their own Benedictine association. This association, which still exists today, came to Canada a decade later where both Fr. Robert-Charles Bengry and Fr. Sean-Patrick Beahen professed vows in Vancouver, British Columbia. Fr. Robert-Charles was ultimately elected the First Prior General of the small association of Anglican Benedictine Canons in North America.
The Fathers were asked in 2009 to relocate to Manitoba by their Prior and were directed to establish a Religious House in the Anglican Diocese of Brandon. Soon after that, the fledgling community began a long process of discernment regarding the Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum coetibus, an historic document promulgated by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, which provides a path for groups of Anglicans to become fully Roman Catholic, while retaining elements of their rich Anglican Patrimony. The culmination of the discernment ultimately resulted in the unfortunate fracture and dissolution of the community in Manitoba with a small number responding favourably to the Pontiff’s invitation to full communion.
The Fathers, one Sister, and two Companions came home to Catholicism in 2017 and were invited by Bishop Steven Lopes of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter to prayerfully consider re-establishing a Gilbertine presence within the Catholic Church — the first fruits of which will be the establishment of the Canons Regular of St. Gilbert of Sempringham (GSmp). The original members have since been joined by another Companion and a Postulant and pray for more vocations.
The Gilbertines moved from Brandon, Manitoba to serve in Calgary, Alberta on 1st July, 2017.