In 1240 seven noblemen of the prosperous and cultured Italian city of Florence decided to exchange the bustle of city life for a simple lifestyle of prayer, penance, and service of God. It is said that the Virgin Mary appeared to Bonfiglio Monaldo, Bonaiunta Manetto, Manetto Antellese, Amedeo Amedei, Uguccione Uguccioni, Sosteneo Sostenei, and Alessio Falconieri, urging them to devote themselves to her service. Upon making arrangements for their families (for two of the seven were married, and two others were widowers), the men established themselves near the city. However, their solitude was disturbed by constant visitors from Florence, so they withdrew to the slopes of Mt. Senario and established a community there.
In 1244 the group adopted a religious habit and chose to live under the rule of St. Augustine; at the same time, they named themselves the “Servants of Mary” (or “Servites”). Instead of choosing a more traditional form of monastic life, the original group and its newer members developed as mendicant (begging) friars, actively involving themselves in serving others and caring for the poor. The Order’s first leader was St. Bonfiglio Monaldo, who died in 1261; the best known was St. Alessio Falconieri, who helped establish a Servite community in Siena and in other cities. He outlived the other founders, and is said to have been 110 when he died. The Servite Order continues to be active in caring for the poor today.
1. Fellowship and mutual support can be an important part of life for Christian men, and the existence of such contemporary groups as Promise Keepers and St. Joseph’s Covenant Keepers emphasizes the need for male faith support networks or groups in today’s society.
2. As the Seven Servites discovered, holiness involves a combination of time with God (prayer and solitude) and time with one’s neighbor (community and service).