To the city of Florence belongs the glory of giving to the Church the seven youths who formed the nucleus of the order: Buonfiglio dei Monaldi (Bonfilius), Giovanni di Buonagiunta (Bonajuncta), Bartolomeo degli Amidei (Amideus), Ricovero dei Lippi-Ugguccioni (Hugh), Benedetto dell' Antella (Manettus), Gherardino di Sostegno (Sosteneus), and Alessio de' Falconieri (Alexius); they belonged to seven patrician families of that city, and had early formed a confraternity of laymen, known as the Laudesi, or Praisers of Mary.
While engaged in the exercises of the confraternity on the feast of the Assumption, 1233, the Blessed Virgin appeared to them, advised them to withdraw from the world and devote themselves entirely to eternal things. They obeyed, and established themselves close to the convent of the Friars Minor at La Camarzia, a suburb of Florence. Desiring stricter seclusion than that offered at La Camarzia, they withdrew to Monte Senario, eleven miles north of Florence. Here the Blessed Virgin again appeared to them, conferred on them a black habit, instructed them to follow the Rule of St. Augustine and to found the order of her servants (15 April, 1240). The brethren elected a superior, took the vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty, and admitted associates. In 1243, Peter of Verona (St. Peter Martyr), Inquisitor-General of Italy, recommended the new foundation to the pope, but it was not until 13 March, 1249, that the first official approval of the order was obtained from Cardinal Raniero Capocci, papal legate in Tuscany. About this time St. Bonfilius obtained permission to found the first branch of the order at Cafaggio outside the walls of Florence. Two years later (2 Oct., 1251) Innocent IV appointed Cardinal Guglielmo Fieschi first protector of the order. The next pope, Alexander IV, favoured a plan for the amalgamation of all institutes following the Rule of St. Augustine. This was accomplished in March, 1256, and about the same time a Rescript was issued confirming the Order of the Servites as a separate body with power to elect a general. Four years later a general chapter was convened at which the order was divided into two provinces, Tuscany and Umbria, the former of which St. Manettus directed, while the latter was given into the care of St. Sostene. Within five years two new provinces were added, namely, Romagna and Lombardy. After St. Philip Benizi was elected general (5 June, 1267) the order, which had long been the object of unjust attack from jealous enemies, entered into the crisis of its existence. The Second Council of Lyons in 1274 put into execution the ordinance of the Fourth Lateran Council, forbidding the foundation of new religious orders, and absolutely suppressed all mendicant institutions not yet approved by the Holy See. The aggressors renewed their assaults, and in the year 1276 Innocent V in a letter to St. Philip declared the order suppressed. St. Philip proceeded to Rome, but before his arrival there Innocent V had died. His successor lived but five weeks. Finally John XXI, on the favourable opinion of three consistorial advocates, decided that the order should continue as before. The former dangers reappeared under Martin V (1281), and though other popes continued to favour the order, it was not definitively approved until Benedict IX issued the Bull, "Dum levamus" (11 Feb., 1304). Of the seven founders, St. Alexis alone lived to see their foundation raised to the dignity of an order. He died in 1310.
We must here make mention of St. Peregrine Laziosi (Latiosi), whose sanctity of life did much towards increasing the repute of the Servite Order in Italy. Born at Forli in 1265, the son of a Ghibelline leader, Peregrine, in his youth, bitterly hated the Church. He insulted and struck St. Philip Benizi, who, at the request of Martin V, had gone to preach peace to the Forlivese. Peregrine's generous nature was immediately aroused by the mildness with which St. Philip received the attack and he begged the saint's forgiveness. In 1283 he was received into the order, and so great was his humility it was only after much persuasion he consented to be ordained a priest. He founded a monastery in his native city, where he devoted all his energies to the restoration of peace. His humility and patience were so great that he was called by his people a second Job. He died in 1345. His body remains incorrupt to the present day. He was canonized by Benedict XIII in 1726, and his feast is celebrated on 30 April. One of the most remarkable features of the new foundation was its wonderful growth. Even in the thirteenth century there were houses of the order in Germany, France, and Spain. Early in the fourteenth century the order had more than one hundred convents including branch houses in Hungary, Bohemia, Austria, Poland, and Belgium; there were also missions in Crete and India. The disturbances during the Reformation caused the loss of many Servite convents in Germany, but in the South of France the order met with much success. The Convent of Santa Maria in Via (1563) was the second house of the order established in Rome; San Marcello had been founded in 1369. Early in the eighteenth century the order sustained losses and confiscations from which it has scarcely yet recovered. The flourishing Province of Narbonne was almost totally destroyed by the plague which swept Marseilles in 1720. In 1783 the Servites were expelled from Prague and in 1785 Joseph II desecrated the shrine of Maria Waldrast. Ten monasteries were suppressed in Spain in 1835. A new foundation was made at Brussels in 1891, and at Rome the College of St. Alexis was opened in 1895. At this period the order was introduced into England and America chiefly through the efforts of Fathers Bosio and Morini. The latter, having gone to London (1864) as director of the affiliated Sisters of Compassion, obtained charge of a parish from Archbishop Manning in 1867. His work prospered: besides St. Mary's Priory at London, convents were opened at Bognor (1882) and Begbroke (1886). In 1870 Fathers Morini, Ventura, Giribaldi, and Brother Joseph Camera, at the request of Rt. Rev. Bishop Melcher of Green Bay, took up a mission in America, at Neenah, Wisconsin. Father Morini founded at Chicago (1874) the monastery of Our Lady of Sorrows. A novitiate was opened at Granville, Wisconsin, in 1892. The American province, formally established in 1908, embraces convents in the dioceses of Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Superior, and Denver. In 1910 the order numbered 700 members in 62 monasteries, of which 36 were in Italy, 17 in Austria-Hungary, 4 in England, 4 in North America, 1 in Brussels. Devotions: manner of life
In common with all religious orders strictly so called, the Servites make solemn profession of the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The particular object of the order is to sanctify first its own members, and then all men through devotion to the Mother of God, especially in her desolation during the Passion of her Divine Son. The Servites give missions, have the care of souls, or teach in higher institutions of learning. The Rosary of the Seven Dolours is one of their devotions, as is also the Via Matris. The fasts of the order are Advent, Lent, and the vigils of certain feasts. All offices in the order are elective and continue for three years, except that of general and assistant- generals which are for six years. The canonized Servite saints are: St. Philip Benizi (feast 23 Aug.), St. Peregrine Latiosi (30 April), St. Juliana Falconieri (19 June), and the Seven Holy Founders (12 Feb.). Affiliated associations
Connected with the first order of men are the cloistered nuns of the second order, which originated with converts of St. Philip Benizi. These sisters have convents in Spain, Italy, England, The Tyrol, and Germany. The Mantellate, a third order of women founded by St. Juliana (see SERVANTS OF MARY), have houses in Italy, France, Spain, England, and Canada. In the United States they are to be found in the dioceses of Sioux City and Belville. There is also a third order for seculars, as well as a confraternity of the Seven Dolours, branches of which may be erected in any church.
The Catholic Encyclopedia