Feast Day: February 17
These devout Florentines came from some of the most famous and prosperous families of Florence, Italy. Deeply affected by the excessive humanism, immorality, and materialism of the city, these men joined a confraternity of the Blessed Virgin and later founded a new Order of Friars, called the Servants of Mary.
As they progressed in the spiritual life, they became more and more detached from the world. With permission of the bishop they moved to a location outside the city of Florence with the intention of leading an austere eremitical life. In due time there were so many visitors that the seven founders moved to a much more solitary and natural location. They refused to accept any new members at that time.
When he visited the group, the bishop of Florence told them that their life was too rugged and their asceticism too severe. Moreover, they should admit those who wished to join them. They took the bishop’s advice and in 1240 they donned a black habit and adopted the Rule of St. Augustine. Their style of life also changed; with less emphasis on the eremitical observances, they came to resemble the mendicant friars, with greater emphasis on poverty. In due time all but one of the original seven founders were ordained to the priesthood. They adopted the name Servants of Mary and are popularly known as Servites.
In the founding of the Servite Order, humility, unanimity and poverty describe the seven holy founders. They were able to synchronize the urban life of the city, where the need for solidarity and fraternal charity is so acute, and the isolation of the mountains, which is so conducive to prayerful contemplation. They made foundations, built convents and churches, with their most famous church being the Annunziata in Florence. There were no Servite connections in England before the Reformation, but members of this Order came in the 19th century and there are currently several friaries in existence.
Today, when in many places there is tension and division between the Church and civil society, community life in fraternal charity is a challenge to form new patterns of social life based on Christian values and principles. The word communio has become a password since Vatican Council II, and those holy men who formed the first community of the Servants of Mary have left us a remarkable example of fraternal charity, which is the most essential element in communio.
The seven founders were canonized in 1888 by Pope Leo XIII. The one and same sepulcher on Mount Senario contains the relics of those who lived in a time of war and division, yet were united by the bond of fraternal charity.
Bunson, Matthew, Margaret Bunson, and Stephen Bunson. “Encyclopedia of Saints-Revised.” Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2003.
Farmer, David. “Oxford Dictionary of Saints.” New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Lodi, Enzo. “Saints of the Roman Calendar.” New York: Alba House, 1992.