February 17: Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order—Optional Memorial
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)
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
Bonfilius, Alexis, Manettus, Amideus, Hugh, Sostene, and Buonagiunta were seven successful cloth merchants from Florence, Italy. As members of a lay organization dedicated to the Blessed Mother, they were each devout in their faith. Their comradery, centered around their faith, not only united them more fully to God, but also to each other with a holy bond and a holy mission.
At that time, Florence was a bustling city wrought with conflicts, due to competition between the noble rulers and the populists who sought to govern by the will of the people. Florence’s economy was also booming, due to the new merchant class whose financial worth was counted in coins rather than in the amount of land and servants they possessed. Within this context, these seven holy men of Florence desired an escape from the lust for money and power, and from the conflict that continued to grow.
Around the year 1233, it is reported that all seven of these devout men individually experienced an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, calling them to withdraw from the world and to devote themselves entirely to the service of God. They obeyed, and on September 8, the Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, they gave up their careers and property and moved into a dilapidated house outside the city wall. They embraced the mendicant life of begging, poverty, and prayer. Many were drawn to them and found in them men of wisdom and virtue. As a result, they received many requests for spiritual counsel and moral guidance. Though they were drawn to this form of charity, they soon discovered that their first calling was to a life of prayer. Their close proximity to the city of Florence hindered the solitude to which they were called, so they moved to a dwelling eleven miles from the city on Monte Senario.
Around the year 1240, at Monte Senario, the seven received a joint vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary who appeared to them surrounded by angels. She instructed them on their mission, clothed them in their habits, presented them with their rule of life, and personally founded their order.
Central to their mission was to spread devotion to the Seven Sorrows of Mary and to be her servants. Within a decade, the order was tentatively approved by the pope and their numbers began to grow. In addition to new foundations in Italy, they quickly spread to Germany, France, and Spain. By the early thirteenth century, final papal approval was given and the order spread to Hungary, Bohemia, Austria, Poland, and modern-day Belgium. Eventually, missions were established in Crete, the Philippines, and India. Today, the Servite order has expanded to all parts of Europe, Africa, Australia, and the Americas.
These holy men were called together by our Blessed Mother as they worked and lived in a growing city. Once united by their faith, they were set apart and drawn by God to a life of prayer. From that prayer, and their commitment to poverty, chastity, and obedience, God drew many others into their companionship. And through their companions, missionaries went forth to the corners of the earth.
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.
You, too, are called to holiness and to a holiness that unites you with others who share your mission. Pray to God that you will be able to follow the example of these holy men by joining with those whom God has put in your life to strengthen your faith and expand the mission you have been given.
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.