Servants of Mary

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This title embraces various congregations of sisters who are members of the Servite Third Order (OSM) and who were known traditionally also as Mantellate by reason of the long veil worn by some of these religious (see servites). According to their tradition, they were founded in Florence, Italy, in the 13th century by (St.) Juliana falconieri. Juliana received the habit in 1284 from (St.) philip benizi, Servite prior general, who also formulated a rule of life for her and the first convent she established in 1287. Detained by the care of her aged mother, Juliana did not live with the community she had founded until after the death of her mother, Ricordata, in 1306. Juliana then entered the convent and was at once elected prioress. One of her first cares was to establish the sisters as members of the Servite Third Order Regular, for although they lived a communal life and wore a monastic habit, they were until then secular tertiaries. Juliana's uncle, Alexis Falconieri, one of the Seven Founders of the Servite Order, helped her effect this transformation.

Documentation concerning the Servite Sisters prior to the approval of the third order rule by Martin V in 1424 is practically nonexistent. Innocent VII had already given this same rule, with slight modifications, to Dominican tertiaries in 1405. New convents of Servite Sisters were founded or aggregated to the order as a result of the work of the Servite Congregation of the Primitive Observance that came into existence early in the 15th century. Very little, however, is known of these sisters, and it is often difficult to distinguish the convents of the sisters of the third order from the monasteries of the nuns of the second order.

By mid-20th century there were 24 congregations and four independent convents of Servite Sisters distributed throughout the world. Of these, 11 were pontifical institutes and 13 were diocesan institutes. Convents were located in Italy, Austria, Germany, Hungary, France, Belgium, Spain, England, Albania, Canada, the U.S., Mexico, and Brazil. Missionary work was carried on in India, Burma, the Republic of South Africa, Swaziland, Chile, and Brazil.

Four congregations of Servite Sisters are represented in the U.S., with motherhouses in Omaha, NE (Official Catholic Directory #3580); Ladysmith, WI (Official Catholic Directory #3590); Plainfield, OR (Official Catholic Directory #3572); and Blue Island, IL (Official Catholic Directory #3570) (see mantellate sisters).

The sisters of the Omaha motherhouse (Official Catholic Directory #3580) constitute an American province that pertains to the Franco-Anglo-American Servite branch with headquarters in Begbroke, Oxford, England. The first permanent foundation of this province was made by Mother Mary Gertrude in 1893 at Mt. Vernon, IN. The sisters of the Ladysmith congregation (Official Catholic Directory #3590) are a diocesan institute. They were founded in 1912 through the joint efforts of John Sheahan, a Servite priest, and Mother Mary Alphonse, first prioress general. The work of the sisters is in education, healthcare, parish ministry, social outreach and care of the aged and infirm.

[j. m. ryska/eds.]