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Seven Founders of the Order of Servites


 

DW | Holy Saints


In 1240, seven prominent noblemen of Florence mutually decided to withdraw from the city to a solitary place for prayer and direct service to God. The Blessed Mother appeared to each of them individually and urged them to begin a more perfect life. Disregarding birth and wealth, in sackcloth under shabby and well-worn clothing they withdrew to a small building in the country. It was September 8th, selected so that they might begin to live a more holy life on the very day when the Mother of God began to live her holy life.

 
 

Seven wealthy, well-known cloth merchants lived in Florence, Italy in the mid-thirteenth century: Bonfilius, Monaldi, John Bonagiunta, Gerard Sostegni, Bartholomew Amidei, Benedict dell’Antella, Ricoverus Uguccione, and Alexis Falconieri. These seven men decided to withdraw from the city and to lead lives of prayer and penance.


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.


It took great courage for these men to leave their prosperous businesses and live a life of prayer and penance. They had been leaders in society, so their decision to change their way of living caused a stir and inspired others to rethink their values and make some changes in their lives.


The aim of these seven men were 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 Mount 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, or Servites. 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.


Alexis Falconieri, with humility, traversed, as a mendicant, in quest of alms for his brethren, the streets of the city through which he had previously moved as a prominent citizen. So deep and sincere was his humility that, though he lived to the great age of hundred and ten years, he always refused to enter the priesthood, of which he deemed himself unworthy.


His duties were confined principally to the material needs of the various communities in which he lived. In 1252 the new church at Cafaggio, on the outskirts of Florence, was completed under his care, with the financial assistance of Chiarissimo Falconieri. Giuliana Falconieri, his niece, was trained in sanctity under his personal direction.


The influence exerted on his countrymen by Falconieri and his companions may be gathered from the fact that in a few years ten thousand persons had enrolled themselves under the banner of the Blessed Virgin in the Servite Order.


When their order was finally approved, Alexis was the only founder still living. He died in Monte Senario at about 110 years of age on February 17th, 1310.


His shrine and entombed body is near the Church of the Santissima Annunziata in Florence. Clement XI declared Falconieri worthy of the veneration of the faithful, December 1st, 1717, and accorded the same honor to his six companions on July 3rd, 1725.


Members of the community came to the United States from Austria in 1852 and settled in New York and later in Philadelphia and Wisconsin.

 

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