The Seven Holy Founders
of the Order of Servites
Can you imagine seven prominent men of Boston or London 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, born and raised in the city of Florence, drawn together by friendship and devotion to the Blessed Virgin, they gave themselves to common prayer and works of charity. Their desire to serve God eventually led them to leave their homes and their businesses, and to form a community outside the city walls. About the year 1245 they moved to Monte Senario where, for a time, they followed a life of prayerful seclusion. Their initial difficulty was providing for their dependents, since two were still married and two were widowers.
As others came to join them, they laid the foundations for the Servite Order, whose members would be committed to the service of the Lord and others. They promised to follow Christ and witness his gospel; they took the Blessed Virgin as their Lady; and they lived communal life according to the Rule of St. Augustine. 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. 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.
Pope Leo XIII canonized them as the Seven Founders of the Servite Order in 1888.
In this modern world, not much different than that of these seven courageous founders, all of us are faced in a new and urgent way with the challenge to make our lives decisively centered in Christ.