The Catholic Defender: The Seven Founders of the Servite Order
These seven men decided to withdraw from the city and to lead lives of prayer and penance. They chose to turn their lives over to God and give witness to all that is good and true. It took great courage for these men to leave their prosperous businesses and live a life of prayer and penance.
Led by Bonfilius, the men became closely knit and devoted themselves to the Virgin Mary, who, appeared to the seven in a vision and bade them withdraw into solitude.
I have chosen you to be my first Servants, and under this name you are to till my Son’s Vineyard. Here, too, is the habit which you are to wear; its dark color will recall the pangs which I suffered on the day when I stood by the Cross of my only Son. Take also the Rule of Saint Augustine, and may you, bearing the title of my Servants, obtain the palm of everlasting life. From a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary
John Buonagiunta Monetti
Bartholomew degli Amidei
Hugh dei Lippi-Uguccioni
They joined together, living a penitential life, and were members of the Society of St. Mary at a time when Florence was in political upheaval and was being further led into darkness resulting from a persistant heresy called Cathari proclaiming that good and evil have two separate creators.
With the approval of their bishop, Ardingus (Ardingo), they moved, in 1233, outside the gates of Florence to a neighbouring area called Cafaggio, into a house dedicated to Mary.
In 1233 seven wealthy young merchants of the city of Florence, disenchanted with the worldly life of the city, wanted to live a more radical Christian life. They came together to found a religious society in honor of Mary, the Mother of God and at first were first known as Laudesi, “Praisers”. Later they went to Monte Senario outside the city where they built a hermitage and a church and began to devote themselves to a life together of prayer, penance and poverty.
On April 13, 1240, a second vision of Mary disclosed her wishes that they serve her, wear a black habit, and adopt the Rule of St. Augustine of Hippo; thenceforward they were known as the Servants of St. Mary (or Servites).
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.
As you ponder the lives of these holy men, especially consider the unity they shared by answering the call to pray and serve together. That unity flowed from their love of God and our Blessed Mother. It also flowed from their united obedience to their calling. United as one in Christ, each individual was strengthened and the fruitfulness of their labors grew exponentially.
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, after prayer and with the advice of St. Peter Martyr, the Dominican preacher who was then preaching in Florence and who was later murdered by the Cathari, they adopted Augustine’s Rule and the black habit, which became distinctive of the Servites; at this time also, they decided to retain the name of Servants of St. Mary, which they had earlier been called by the people.
In 1244, under the direction of Saint 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.
The Servite Charism is expressed in three ways: Devotion to the Mother of God, Service, and Fraternity.
When the Confraternity members underwent mystical vision of the Virgin Mary, they were convinced that their way forward was to leave everything behind, all their possessions as well as their worldly concerns and espouse a solitary life away from the business of the city.
As history tells us, the Seven Holy Founders were particularly devoted to the Seven Sorrows of Mary, and they were pivotal in introducing in the Church the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, which we celebrated on September 15th of each year. Mary’s sorrows, the piercing sword which pierced her heart, Mary’s tears which she shed as she accompanied Her Son’s passion and death, inspired the Seven Holy Founders to propagate the devotion to Mary under this widespread title.
The seven of them took with utmost seriousness the call which they felt, fasting, praying and leading lives of such intense austerity that a cardinal reprimanded them to cease living as dogs would. Slowly, slowly they came to embrace a rule, received new vocations, chose their leaders, and expanded all over Italy and beyond. Ultimately they adopted their name: the Order of Servants of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also commonly known as the Servants of Mary or, simply, Servites.
Pope Alexander IV formally approved the Servites on March 23, 1256. The exact date of birth and death and place of death of each founder is uncertain. At the beginning of the 16th century, however, it was recorded that the bodies of Bonfilius, Benedict dell’Antella, and Alexis Falconieri were buried on Monte Senario.
In 1649, when the main altar of the chapel at Monte Senario was being remodeled, the remains of seven bodies were found, and, after being moved several times, they are now enshrined in the Chapel of the Seven Holy Founders, Monte Senario.
Their penitential and communal life attracted others to join them and sometime between the years 1240 and 1247 they were approved by the bishop of Florence as a religious Order under the rule of St Augustine. Their first leader was Bonfilius Monaldi. The other six were John Bonaiuncta, Manettus dell’Antella, Amadeus degli Amidei, Hugh Uguccione, Sosthenes Sostegno and Alexis Falconieri. They came to be known as the “Friar Servants or Servites of Mary” and made other foundations at Carfaggio outside Florence, Siena, Pistoia, Arezzo and Lucca but their most famous church is the Annunziata in Florence founded in 1250, and still today in their hands.
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.
These men are known as the Seven Holy Founders; they were canonized by Pope Leo XIII in 1888. From the beginning, the members of the Order dedicated themselves to Mary under her title of Mother of Sorrows.
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.
Dearest Founders of the Servite Order, you were called and you responded. You were given direction by Our Lady herself, and you obeyed. From that obedience, God raised up an army of servants who have spent centuries sharing His love and mercy with the world. Pray for me, that I may always obey God’s will and seek to serve Him alongside those whom God has placed in my life. Seven Holy Founders, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.
Invoked to aid in the imitation of the charity and patience of Our Lady of Sorrows
Canonized January 15, 1888 by Pope Leo XIII
Liturgical Color: White (Purple if Lenten Weekday)