The first Augustinians arrived in Japan in 1602 and quickly drew many people not only to the Catholic faith but also to the Augustinian way of life as religious, tertiaries and confraternity members. In January, 1614, a Decree of Extinction ordered the suppression of Christianity, however, and several years later, fierce persecution of the Christians began. Among those who suffered martyrdom were members of the Order from Spain, Portugal and Mexico as well as many native Japanese. Fr. Ferdinand of Saint Joseph, the Augustinian protomartyr of Japan, along with Andrew Yoshida, a catechist who worked with him, were beheaded in 1617. Fr. Peter Zúñiga, a Spaniard from Seville, who grew up in Mexico but later joined the Order in his native country, was burned to death in 1622. Br. John Shozaburo, Oblates Michael Kiuchi Tayemon, Peter Kuhieye, Thomas Terai Kahioye, and tertiaries Mancio Scisayemon and Lawrence Hachizo were beheaded in 1630. Fr. Bartholomew Gutiérrez, Fr. Vincent of Saint Anthony Simoens, Fr. Francis of Jesus Terrero, Fr. Martin of St. Nicholas Lumbreras and Fr. Melchior of St. Augustine Sánchez were burned to death in 1632.
Thomas of St. Augustine, who was the first Japanese Augustinian to be ordained a priest, was born in about 1602. He was educated by the Jesuits, becoming proficient in Latin and public speaking. He later moved to Macao to continue his studies, returning five years later to work as a catechist and preacher, often forced to flee from place to place to do his work. In 1622 he went to Manila to join the Order for the great admiration he had for the Augustinians and their work in Japan. He was professed at Intramuros in 1624 and was ordained in Cebu. After several attempts he was able to return to Nagasaki in 1631. Being Japanese he was able to keep his priesthood secret and even obtained a position in the governorship of Nagasaki with the name Kintsuba. On All Saints Day, 1636, after being arrested for being a Christian, he then revealed to his captors, “I am Father Thomas of Saint Augustine Jihioye, of the Order of Saint Augustine.” He was tortured for several months with excruciating punishments but would not renounce the faith. On August 21, 1637 he was taken with 12 others, men and women, some of whom were tertiaries, some members of the Confraternity of the Cincture, to be subjected to the torture of the pit in which they were suspended by their feet in a hole in the ground. Finally, on Thursday, November 6th he was taken to the pit for the last time together with four others, and died, as witnesses recalled, one of the greatest martyrdoms of the period. In November 1982 he was included in a list of 188 martyrs whom the Japanese bishops proposed for canonization.
The death of these Augustinians, religious and laity, men and women, natives of Japan and missionaries from foreign lands, bears witness to the universality and unity of the Order and of the Church. The grace of Christ and the bonds of fraternity inspired and sustained the faith and fidelity of our brothers and sisters under horrendous circumstances.