Seven Founders of the Servite Order
Feastday: February 17
Can you imagine seven prominent men of Boston or Denver banding together, leaving their homes and professions, and going into solitude for a life directly given to God? That is what happened in the cultured and prosperous city of Florence in the middle of the 13th century. The city was torn with political strife as well as the heresy of the Cathari, who believed that physical reality was inherently evil. Morals were low and religion seemed meaningless.
In 1240 seven noblemen of Florence mutually decided to withdraw from the city to a solitary place for prayer and direct service of God. Their initial difficulty was providing for their dependents, since two were still married and two were widowers.
Their aim was to lead a life of penance and prayer, but they soon found themselves disturbed by constant visitors from Florence. They next withdrew to the deserted slopes of Monte Senario.
In 1244, under the direction of St. Peter of Verona, O.P., this small group adopted a religious habit similar to the Dominican habit, choosing to live under the Rule of St. Augustine and adopting the name of the Servants of Mary. The new Order took a form more like that of the mendicant friars than that of the older monastic Orders.
One of the most remarkable features of the new foundation was its wonderful growth. Even in the fourteenth century, the Order had more than one hundred convents in several nations of Europe, as well as in India and on the Island of Crete. The Rosary of the Seven Sorrows is one of their regular devotions, as is also the Via Matris, or Way of the Cross of Mary.
They had a devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows and they saw their vocation as one of penance, in atonement for the sins of the world, through contemplation of the sufferings and death of Our Crucified Lord. They wanted to conform themselves to Christ in His most intimate action of love, and to be in communion with Him in His suffering and death, was to share in the central act of His mission.
As weak and sinful men themselves they sought communion with the suffering Lord through His Sorrowful Mother. These holy men came to grasp some of the deepest truths about the Cross and about our relationship with the Cross. They teach us that in this life, God establishes a union with us through the passion and death of His Son, one could say that our lives are lived in the shadow of the cross, or at the foot of the Cross, and perhaps even on the Cross. Our Lord Himself says, ““If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23; cf: Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34).
Members of the community came to the United States from Austria in 1852 and settled in New York and later in Philadelphia. The two American provinces developed from the foundation made by Father Austin Morini in 1870 in Wisconsin.
Community members combined monastic life and active ministry. In the monastery, they led a life of prayer, work and silence while in the active apostolate they engaged in parochial work, teaching, preaching and other ministerial activities.
“Let all religious therefore spread throughout the whole world the good news of Christ by the integrity of their faith, their love for God and neighbor, their devotion to the Cross and their hope of future glory.... Thus, too, with the prayerful aid of that most loving Virgin Mary, God’s Mother, ‘Whose life is a rule of life for all,’ religious communities will experience a daily growth in number, and will yield a richer harvest of fruits that bring salvation” (Decree on the Renewal of Religious Life, 25).