views updated


The Order of Friar Servants of St. Mary (OSM, Official Catholic Directory #1240) is a religious family that embraces the following forms of membership: friars (priests and brothers), contemplative nuns, religious sisters, a Secular Order and two secular institutes for unmarried women: the Servite Secular Institute founded in England and the Regnum Mariae founded in Italy. Servites lead a monastic life in the tradition of the mendicant orders and undertake various apostolic works. The friars' present habit consists of a black tunic, scapular, cowl with hood attached, and a leather belt. Some sisters and nuns have a long veil and for this reason are called Mantellates; several monasteries of nuns are discalced.

Foundation, Organization, and Growth. Servites trace their origins to a group of seven companions, cloth merchants of Florence, Italy, who left their native city, their families, and profession to retire outside the gate of Balla in an area known as Cafaggio for a life of poverty and penance. The names of only two of these men is known with certainty, although the Bull of Canonization of Leo XIII provides the following list: Bonfilius, John Bonagiunta, Gerard Sostegni, Bartholomew Amidei, Benedict dell'Antella, Ricoverus Uguccione, and Alexis falconieri. They are known collectively and venerated as the Seven Founders.

There was at first no intention of beginning an order but only an ardent desire to fulfill a common longing for a life in the spirit of the primitive Church. They wore the grey habit of the Brothers of Penance, followed their rule, and also belonged to a Marian society whose members ministered at a hospital at Fonte Viva and called themselves Servants of Mary.

During Advent and Lent (1244 to 1245), (St.) peter martyr, a Dominican, was visiting Florence, and with his help the first steps were taken toward founding an order. The seven withdrew to the heights of Monte Senario, some 12 miles from Florence, taking with them for their exclusive use the name Servants of Mary. Those members of the society who remained behind were then known as the Greater Society of Our Lady. At that time the seven began to wear a habit identical with that of the dominicans, except that it was black, and adopted the Rule of St. Augustine (see augustine, rule of st.). It was there on the mountain that they drew up their first legislation and received from Ardingus, Bishop of Florence (1231 to 1247), his approval. In 1249 the papal legate in Tuscany, Raynerius Capocci, received the Servites under the protection of the Holy See, and on March 23, 1256, Alexander IV solemnly approved them as an order of friars living in strict corporate poverty.

About 1253 (St.). philip benizi entered the order. While superior general (1267 to 1285), he brought together the various tendencies of the nascent years and gave a second legislation that provided a framework for the future. In 1274 the order was suppressed by the Second Council of Lyons, but because of the diplomatic intervention of Philip in the Roman Curia, the fact that the Servites no longer professed their original strict poverty, and their small number, the decree was not carried out. In the definitive approval of the order by Benedict XI in 1304 no mention is made of its strict mendicancy.

Servites have always followed the Roman liturgy, adding their own usages. The first chapter of the earliest constitutions (c. 1295) prescribes certain reverences in honor of the Mother of God for the choir and Mass. During the generalate of (Blessed) Lothar (1285 to 1300) the number of German priories increased to seven, but in Italy the precarious juridical position caused many to abandon the order. At the close of the 13th century there were three provinces: Tuscany, Umbria, and the Romagna, with a total of about 40 priories and some 350 friars.

The long generalate of Peter of Todi (1314 to 44) brought new vigor and growth. There was a great desire on the part of the prior general and of many in the order for a return to its primitive simplicity and poverty. Peter made many new foundations in the North of Italy and thus moved the order outside its traditional center. To effect his desire for a real poverty he alienated the possessions of various priories and incurred the wrath of the friars in Tuscany who excommunicated both him and his secretary in 1334. The earliest writing on the origins of the Servites comes from Peter of Todi; in it one can discern his ideals. Peter died at the hermitage of St. Ansan, near Bologna, in 1344. During his time numerous men and women attained renown for their sanctity. At Siena there were (Bl.) Joachim (d. 1305) and (Bl.) Francis (d.1328); at Forlì, (St.) Peregrine Laziosi; at Florence, (St.) Juliana Falconieri; and in Germany, (Bl.) John of Frankfurt (d. 1345).

Studies received little if any attention during the first century of the order because of its eremitical character; they are not mentioned in the earliest constitutions. Toward the close of the 13th century lectures were given at the priory in Bologna on the metaphysics of Avicenna, and students were sent to Paris. The general chapter of 1318 was the first to legislate regarding studies. That same year the order had its own studium at Paris, but as theological faculties were opened in Italy, the number of Servites attending Paris lessened considerably. From the priory of Bologna came the two most famous Servite scholastics of the period: Lawrence (d. 1400), called Opimus, who wrote a treatise Commentarius in quatuor libros sententiarum, and Urban (d. 1434), called Urbanus Averroista, who wrote In commenta Averroys super librum physicorum Aristotelis interpretatio.

Reform Movement. The general chapter of Ferrara in 1404 decreed the revitalization of the eremitical life at Monte Senario and sent (Bl.) Anthony of Siena there as prior with several friars. A novitiate was established in 1412, and the reconstruction of the church was completed in 1418. At the general chapter of Pisa in 1413 the hermitage was withdrawn from the jurisdiction of the Tuscan province and placed under the prior general. The renewal that took place at Monte Senario caused a rebirth in the order, both in Italy and beyond the Alps. Through the energetic support of an outstanding general, Nicholas of Perugia (1427 to 1460), the restored eremitical life at Monte Senario gave rise to the Congregation of the Observance. The year of his election the hermits made three foundations as a starting point for the new reform. Near Bologna they reentered St. Ansan and founded St. Margaret; at Modena they began the hermitage of St. Saviour. In June 1430 Francis of Florence and ten others left the hermitage of St. Margaret for Brescia.

Eugene IV in 1431 delegated Ludovico Barbo, the Abbot of St. Justina, Padua, to grant to the Servites the church and monastery of St. Alexander, which formerly belonged to the Austin Canons (see canons regular of st. augustine). In 1435 the sanctuary of St. Mary at Monte Berico, Vicenza, was relinquished by the Order of St. Saviour to the Servites. In 1439 they again replaced the Austin Canons, this time at Cremona in the church and monastery of St. Catald. Eugene IV in June 1440 granted the members of the Observance canonical approval and exemption from the authority of the Servite conventuals (the nonreformed), except that of the prior general, with permission to elect their own vicar. At this time the members of the Observance numbered about 40 friars.

In 1463 the observant friars entered the priory and shrine of St. Peregrine at Forlì, which had formerly belonged to the conventuals. This became one of their chief centers, and the saint became their special patron. There was a gradual breaking away from the hermits of Monte Senario because the observant friars tended to undertake the works of the active ministry. The influence of the de votio moderna is evident in their monastic spirit and apostolate. The fraternal character and simplicity of the Rule of St. Augustine were emphasized, poverty and common life were enforced, and preaching was the principal activity. They were devoted to the Holy Name and the crucified Savior. The observant movement continued its semi-independent existence until May 5, 1570, when Pius V reunited its members to the conventuals.

With the suppression of the observants the need was again felt for a stricter life, and in 1593 Clement VIII reestablished the hermitage of Monte Senario and decreed that the life there was to be according to the primitive observance. Several Servite friars spent a period of time at Camaldoli in order to acquire the eremitical spirit (see ca maldolese). Until this time the Servite hermits had followed the constitutions of the order with the addition of their own usages, but in October 1609 Paul V approved constitutions designed specifically for Monte Senario. A new aspect of the life was soon developed when several hermits became recluses. In 1617 an eremitical congregation was formed, and two years later the first general chapter was convoked. The hermits, custodians of the relies of the Seven Founders, propagated this cult throughout the order. In September 1778 Pius VI suppressed the hermitage at Monte Senario and two daughter hermitages for political reasons, at the request of Peter Leopold the Grand Duke of Tuscany and brother of the Emperor jo seph ii. The two remaining hermitages in the Papal States near Tolfa continued a meager existence for a short while.

Leaders of the Reform. These various reform movements were strengthened by the activity of vigorous priors general: Stephen of Borgo (1410 to 1424), Nicholas of Perugia (1427 to 1460), Christopher of Istria (1461 to 1485), and Anthony of Bologna (1485 to 1495). Some Servites renowned for holiness were: (Bl.) James Philip of Faenza (d. 1483), (Bl.) Bonaventure of Forlì (d. 1491), (Bl.) John Angelo of Milan (d. 1506), and (Bl.) Elizabeth of Mantua (d. 1486).

In 1503 the constitutions of the order were printed for the first time; this edition was followed by five others in that century. The edition of 1580 was the most important for it not only applied the legislation of Trent, but also served as the juridic norm for many years to come. Two Servite generals distinguished themselves at the Council of Trent: Agostino Bonucci (1542 to 1553) and Lorenzo Mazzochio of Castelfranco (1554 to 1557). Bonucci, the last superior general to be elected for life, is known principally for his vehement opposition to the theory that revelation is contained partly in Scripture and partly in tradition. He promoted studies in the order and adhered to the traditional attachment to the school of Augustine and Scotus (see augustinianism). Mazzocchio, a doctor from Paris, is remembered for his intervention on justification and on the Sacraments.

The eremitical spirit of the order was given prominence by Angelus Maria Montursius (1574 to 1600), who withdrew to a cell in his priory as a recluse to recall the friars of his community to a better observance. He occupied himself with the study of the Scriptures and the Fathers and wrote five volumes on the Bible entitled Elucubrationes, several volumes of spiritual exercises, and other ascetical works. He is remembered especially for his Lettera spirituale of 1596 (an admonition to a more fervent conventual life). After almost nine years of solitude, he was appointed by Clement VIII as vicar-general in May 1597, and a month later, general. After a short but effective government he died in February 1600.

Spain and France. Although the province of Spain was listed as the eighth in numerical order in 1493, there is no mention of the number of friars or priories. Later, the prior general, Giacomo Tavanti, made a concerted effort to spread the order in the Iberian Peninsula. In 1577 a Spanish Servite was sent to the region of Valencia, and another to Aragon. In 1578 an unsuccessful attempt was made to found the order in Portugal. In the 17th century Servite priories were situated mainly in Valencia and Catalonia, where the center of activity was Barcelona. At that time the friars in Spain numbered about 200. Until 1774 Spanish delegates were present at the general chapters. By the end of the 19th century only one Servite foundation remained in Spain, a monastery of nuns. The first priories in France, founded in the late 15th century, constituted the Province of Narbonne in 1533. At that time there were eight houses, all in Provence. The religious wars of the 16th century worked serious harm in the province, but the 17th century witnessed a rebirth from the few remaining foundations near Marseilles. Before the plague of 1720 the province again had eight priories and about 100 friars. In 1740 the order was forbidden by the civil government to receive novices, and several years later half of the foundations were closed, Suppression of the order in France was decreed by Louis XV in 1770.

Central Europe. In May 1611 Anna Katharina Gonzaga, the Archduchess of Austria, requested the assistance of the Servites for the monastery of nuns, St. Mary of the Virgins, which she was building at Innsbruck. Thus began the most important reform in the history of the order, Nikolaus Barchi, a Capuchin and confessor of the Archduchess, was soon clothed as a Servite at Anna Katharina's request. The Archduchess herself was received into the Servites and called Sister Anna Juliana. On the day of her profession, Nov. 21, 1613, she ordered the friars to put aside the habit of the conventuals for that of the new reform movement then taking place among the hermits of Monte Senario. The Servite general, Dionisio Bussotti, approved the Germanic reform in 1634, and Clement IX gave papal approbation in 1668. The priories of the reform in Austria, Germany, and Bohemia were erected into a province in 1657 and were ruled over by a vicar-general appointed by the general of the Servite conventuals. Clement XI approved the constitutions of the reform in 1709. In the years prior to the French Revolution the Germanic observant friars attained their greatest development and numbered about 450 in three provinces. The Revolution and the policies of Emperor Joseph II seriously affected them, for the Bohemian province disappeared completely, and the other provinces were left in a weakened state. The observants continued until 1907, when the new constitutions of the conventuals were made obligatory also in those provinces. The Germanic Servite reform contributed much to both the order and the Church, especially through the many theologians and spiritual writers at the University of Innsbruck. It was the only movement in the history of the order to have developed a school of spirituality.

Marian Devotion. During the 16th century there arose a type of devotion to Our Lady that viewed her isolated under one title and in a sense separated from the great Christological unity of a previous age. In this climate the Servite Order gradually developed its particular cult of her Sorrows. At first this devotion was encouraged by the order for the lay people frequenting its churches. From 1600 on, a rapid literary production propagated this devotion and it gradually became a principal characteristic of the Servites. The general chapter of 1660 decreed that there should be a statue of Our Lady of Sorrows in all churches of the order; the chaplet of the Seven Sorrows was ordered to be worn on the habit in 1674. The Servites received permission to celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows in 1668, and that of Passiontide in 1714. Finally, the church of Monte Senario, previously dedicated to the Assumption, was rededicated in 1717 to the Sorrows of Our Lady.

In this period of Servite history the figure of Paolo sarpi, theological advisor to the senate of the Republic of Venice and historian of the Council of Trent, is the most famous. Arcangelo Giani published the Annales Ordinis Servorum between 1618 and 1622. This valuable work is the culmination of the industry of Servite historiographers of the 15th and 16th centuries who developed into full narratives the meager and simple elements of the primitive legends of the 14th century. In 1666 a studium generale was founded in Rome in the priory of St. Marcellus under the title of henry of ghent, who was erroneously thought to have been a Servite.

Modern Renewal. In 1839 the order undertook its first mission work. This was at Aden in Arabia and at Mindanao in the Philippine Islands. Unhappily, within ten years both of these promising undertakings were abandoned. Previously, Renaissance chroniclers attributed a grand missionary expansion to Philip Benizi and his successors, along with numerous foundations in Europe, but their accounts are not true. The alleged missionary expansion might be explained by the existence of a priory in Crete in the 14th century.

The modern rebirth began in 1864 when two Italian priests left Florence for London to act as chaplains at the motherhouse of the Servite Sisters. From this developed the present English Province. In 1870 Austin Morini, with three other friars, departed from England for the United States to work in the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin, at St. Charles Church, Doty's Island, near Menasha. Early ministry centered in this area, but in the spring of 1874 Morini was invited by Bishop Thomas Foley of Chicago, Illinois, to make a foundation in that city. The result was the parish of Our Lady of Sorrows, which soon became the center and motherhouse for the order in America. The priories in the United States were under the jurisdiction of a vicar-general until 1901, when they were formed into a commissary province. In March 1909 the first province was erected with its motherhouse in Chicago, and in 1952, the second, with its motherhouse at Denver, Colorado. There are 27 foundations in the United States belonging to these provinces, and some 325 friars.

In 1964 the order counted 1,683 friars in 12 provinces: Tuscan, Roman, Bolognese, Venetian, Piedmontese, Neapolitan, Tyrolese, Hungarian, English, Our Lady of Sorrows (United States), St. Joseph (United States), and Brazilian; two rectorates, Belgium and Spain; and six commissariates, comprising the followingFrance, Germany, Sicily, Venezuela, central Chile, Bolivia, Uruguay, Argentina, and Mexico. There were also foundations in Switzerland, Ireland, Scotland, and Western Australia and missions in Africa, and in Chile and Brazil.

Following the Second Vatican Council (1962 to 1965), the order undertook a revision of its constitutions, which began with the General Chapter of 1965 under the leadership of the first American Prior General, Joseph Loftus. The new text was drawn up and authorized by the General Chapter of 1968. It was approved by the Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes in 1987. The liturgical books of the order were also revised; the Proper of Masses in 1971 and the Liturgy of the Hours in 1975.

In 1983 the Order celebrated its 750th anniversary of foundation. The General Chapters of 1983, 1989, and 1995, in the light of diminishing numbers and the aging of the friars, focused their efforts on restructuring the various jurisdictions, some of which were founded in the intervening years between 1964 and 1995. This restructuring involved also the creation of regional conferences: the North American Conference (NAC) embracing Canada, Mexico and the United States; Cono Sur comprising Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Argentina and Brazil; Serviteur involving the province of the Isles (Great Britain and Ireland), France and Belgium; the Federation of Italy, Tyrol and Spain (FITES); the Inter South African Conference (ISAC) which includes Swaziland, Zululand, Mozambique and Uganda, and, finally, the Conference of Australia and Asia (CASA) which is made up of Australia, India and the Philippines. In 2001 there were nine provinces: Brazil, Province of the Isles, Lombardo-Veneto, Romagna-Piemonte, Annunziata (Tuscany, Rome, Naples), Spain, Austria, Mexico and the United States; one vicariate: Chile-Bolivia-Peru; and seven delegations: Argentina, Australia, France-Belgium, India, Philippines, Swaziland, and Zululand. There are also foundations in Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Albania.

The motherhouse of the order is the hermitage of Monte Senario, and the generalate is at St. Marcellus, Rome. The order maintains its own Pontifical theological faculty "Marianum" in Rome with an institute for advanced studies in Mariology.

Bibliography: Monumenta Ord. Servorum S. Mariae, ed. a. morini et al. 20 v. (Brussels-Rome 18971930). a. giani and a. m. garbi, Annales Sacri Ordinis Fratrum Servorum B. Mariae Virginis, 3 v. (2d ed. Lucca 171925). Studi storici sull'Ordine dei Servi di Maria, 4 v. (Rome 193342). Bibliotheca Servorum Veneta (Vicenza 1963).

[j. m. ryska/

p. m. graffius]