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The Servite Order

This account from the website of the Order of Friar Servants of Mary in the USA is reproduced with permission.

The Order of Friar Servants of Mary traces its earliest expression to the days of political, economic and religious ferment which were the dominant atmosphere of central Italy at the beginning of the 13th century. Before the Servites ever existed as an official religious Order of the Church, seven men came together in the proud and prosperous city of Florence, Italy. It was by no means the first time that they had met. For some years a firm friendship based upon a mutual understanding of Christian ideals, had been growing among them. As a reflection of the penitential spirit of the times, it had been the custom of these seven men to meet regularly as members of a religious society established in honor of Mary, the Mother of God. Gradually, the seven had been drawing further and further away from the predominant values and concerns of the citizens, specifically the thirst for wealth, for status, for prestige.

Instead of falling in with the bitter hatred and open violence of the period (the results of political strife), the seven original Servites had been busily shaping their lives on the pattern displayed in the Gospel.

Founders arriving at Monte SenarioOne by one, Bonfilius, Alexis and their companions entered a group of penitents responsible for the running of a hospice dedicated to the care of the sick, the poor, and of pilgrims. The group was called "Society of Our Lady," and its members "Servants of Mary." Interestingly enough, in those early days of their association, the seven continued to live at home with their families, and yet with a special rule of life which outlined their spirituality; and dedicated themselves to the Mother of God, and to the service of her Son through service to the poor and those persons on the fringe of society. Penance was a key aspect of the lives of the seven from the outset. Through penance they prayed that Mary, their Lady, would reconcile them to her Son, Jesus. Living with the poor, faced with the raging injustices of the time, and forced to reject the compromised values of the society at large, the seven effected a radical change in their lives. They became poor themselves, but not by accident of birth (they were all merchants), but by choice!

The tradition and scientific history sometime differ in their presentation and interpretation of facts: historical documentation preserved in the Servite archives witnesses to a providential combination of persons and circumstances, movements and ideals, which culminated in the founding of the Order. But tradition has it that their Lady, the one to whom they had dedicated their services for the love of Christ and His poor, revealed herself to the seven merchants in the year 1233. As a result of that revelation the seven abandoned all their business interests, left their comfortable homes, put aside the finery which announced a person's standing in society, and then went to live together in a ramshackle building. But as radical a move as that was, the seven felt that it was a reasonable enough price to pay for what they gained; a life shared as brothers in search of the Lord. The holiness and penitential lifestyle of the seven quickly attracted visitors, and then others who wished to join them in their newly found joy of fraternal living for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus.

Monte SenarioFinally, the entire group decided to move to more peaceful surroundings, and established a hermitage on the summit of a nearby mountain, "Mount Senario," sometimes known as the "sounding mountain." Our tradition tells us that the sound of the first Servants' holiness went out from their "sounding mountain" to the entire countryside. Coming to be known finally as the "Friar Servants of Mary," the first Seven were joined by others on Mount Senario, and as the group continued to grow, the seeds of a new religious Order took root. The Friar Servants of Mary were originally approved as a religious Order by the bishop of Florence sometime between the years 1240 and 1247. The Servants decided to live by the Rule of St. Augustine, and added to the Rule their own expression of Marian devotion and dedication. We also know that by 1250 there were a number of Servants who were ordained to the priesthood, thus creating an Order with priests as well as brothers.

PietaBy the year 1256 the Servants had received an official approbation from Pope Alexander IV which allowed for continued expansion of the community to other places where the needy awaited. In the year 1304, the Order of Friar Servants of Mary received definitive approval as a religious Order in the Church by the Holy See.

Since the early days of the Servite Order, friars, and later Servite Sisters too, have spread throughout the world, living and sharing Christ's Gospel of peace under the special patronage of Mary, the "Lady" honored by the original seven Servants of Mary. In the year 1864, Father Augustine Morini OSM, and Father Philip Bosio OSM came to London to make an English foundation. In 1870, Father Morini went on to the USA together with two other friars to make a permanent American foundation of the Order. Today, Servites serve in nearly all the countries of North and South America. In addition, Servites are to be found in Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, Asia, and Australia. From a humble beginning we have been blessed with a long and rich history. We still, like our Seven Founders, go where the needs of God's people demand that we go. And we still seek the perfection of the Gospel way of living under the protection of Mary, the Mother and Servant of the Lord. Servite history, with its roots in the turmoil of 13th century Italy, and in the hearts, minds and souls of Seven Holy Founders, is still being lived and written in the lives of each Servite.

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