Today, February 17th, the universal Church honors the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order.
In or about 1225 through 1227, seven young men, members of prominent Florentine families, joined the Confraternity of the Blessed Virgin, also known as the “Laudesi” or “Praisers”. At this time, there was great political unrest and dissension in Florence, notwithstanding the relaxation of morals, in spite of devotional practices.
The members of this group were: Buonfiglio Monaldo, Alexis Falconieri, Benedict dell’ Antella, Bartholomew Amidei, Ricovero Uguccione, Gerardino Sostegni and John Buonagiunta. Their spiritual director was James of Poggibonsi, chaplain of the Laudesi, known for his holiness and insight. All of these men came to the conclusion that it was important to live their lives in renunciation, with recourse and help through Our Lady. On the feast of the Assumption, whilst they were praying, they all saw Mary in a vision, being inspired by her to live in a solitary environment and to live for God alone.
On April 13, 1240, again while in deep prayer, they saw the Blessed Mother, wherein she had in her hand a black habit while an angel held a scroll inscribed with this title, “Servants of Mary.” Our Lady told them that she had chosen them, that she wished them to wear the black habit and that they were to follow the Rule of St. Augustine.
All of these men eventually received holy orders (except Alexis who out of humility, begged to be excused) being fully professed and ordained as priests. Their names changed to Brothers Bonfilius, Amadeus, Hugh, Sostenes, Manettus and Buonagiunta. They lived lives of prayer, work and silence while in their active apostolate, they remained engaged in parochial work, teaching, preaching and other such corporeal pastoral activities.
Their order flourished and houses for the Servants of Mary increased. In 1259, their order was recognized by Alexander IV, and in 1304, the order received the explicit and formal approbation of Bd. Benedict XI. St. Bonfilius remained as the prior general until 1256, when because of problems with old age, he asked to be replaced. He died on January 1, 1261.
St. Buonagiunta, the youngest of these men, was the second prior general, but not long after he was elected, he died. St. Amadeus was in charge of the convent of Carfaggio, but spent the last of his life in Monte Senario. St. Manettus became the fourth prior general, sending missionaries to Asia; however, he retired and St. Philip Benzi took his place. Sts. Hugh and Sostenes went to Germany and Paris respectively, finding houses there. But in 1276, they both became extremely ill and died side by side on the same night. St. Alexis, the humble lay brother, outlived all of his friends, being the only brother to see the order fully recognized. Alexis, remarkably, lived until he was 110 years of age.
Indeed and in fact, in 1852, members of the Servants of Mary order, or Servites, came to the United States from Austria, settling in New York and Philadelphia. These two American sites developed from the foundation formed by Father Austin Morini in 1870, in the State of Wisconsin.
Pursuant to the Decree on the Renewal of Religious Life, 25, it is said:
“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.”
With love and respect,
Sources: Vatican website; Butler’s Lives of the Saints, edited by Michael Walsh, Saint of the Day, edited by Leonard Foley, O.F.M.