It was the year 1233 A war had been raging in the Italian Province of Tuscany between the Guelphs and Ghibilenes (one supported the emperor the other the Papacy. Like all wars those who suffered the most were the less fortunate. It was a time of the emerging middle class - the merchant class. Money was to be had and made. The gulf between rich and poor was developing. Some were not enthralled by the scene around them - a scene of devastation, hardship, poverty and disease. These were mainly the fraternities who desired to change things and help alleviate the plight of their fellow country folk. These were the ones who would stand beside the poor and sick to witness to the healing presence of God among us.
Before the Servites ever existed as an official religious Order, seven prosperous men came together in the city of Florence, Italy. As a reflection of the penitential spirit of the times, it had been the custom of these men to meet regularly as members of a religious society established in honour of Mary, the Mother of God. Eventually, the seven left their comfortable homes, put aside their finery and went to live together in a ramshackle building. This event is believed to have happened in 1233 which is regarded as the foundation date of the order.
In 1233 A war had been raging in the Italian Province of Tuscany between the Guelphs and Ghibilenes (one supported the emperor the other the Papacy. Like all wars those who suffered the most were the less fortunate.
It was a time of the emerging middle class – the merchant class. Money was to be had and made. The gulf between rich and poor was developing.
Some were not enthralled by the scene around them – a scene of devastation, hardship, poverty and disease. These were mainly the fraternities who desired to change things and help alleviate the plight of their fellow country folk. These were the ones who would stand beside the poor and sick to witness to the healing presence of God among us.
The holiness and penitential lifestyle of the seven quickly attracted visitors and others who wished to join them in their newly found joy of fraternal living for the sake of the Gospel. The entire group moved to more peaceful surroundings, and established a hermitage on the summit of a nearby mountain, Monte Senario, sometimes known as the sounding mountain.
Coming to be known as the Friar Servants of Mary,others joined the first seven on Monte Senario, and as the group continued to grow, the seeds of the new religious Order took root. The Friar Servants of Mary were approved as a religious Order by the bishop of Florence sometime between the years 1240 and 1247. In the year 1304, the Order of Friar Servants of Mary received definitive approval as a religious Order in the Church by the Holy See.
Today Servite Friars are found in Europe, North and South America Africa, Asia, and Australia. From a humble beginning we have been blessed with a long and rich history. We still, like our Seven Founders, go where the needs of Gods people demand that we go. And we still seek the perfection of the Gospel way of life under the protection of Mary, the Mother and Servant of the Lord.
In addition to the Seven Founders, saints of the Order include: St Philip Benizi, St. Juliana Falconieri, St. Peregrine, St. Anthony Pucci, and St. Clelia Barbieri.
The Beginnings of the Province of the Isles
On September 23rd 1864, Fr Philip Bosio and Fr Augustine Morini left Florence on the 2:00p.m. train en route to London. Their journey would add another chapter to the history of the ancient Mendicant Order of Friar Servants of Mary, which began in that great city of Florence in 1233.
They arrived in England and eventually settled at 264 Fulham Road, where they established a Priory and Parish. This was to be the first foundation of what was later to become the English Province of the Friar Servants of Mary on 19th January 1914. Communities were also established at Bognor Regis, Begbroke, Todmorden, Kersal and Dundee in Scotland.
Meanwhile, the pilgrim spirit had touched Fr Morini yet again, so he set sail from England with three other friars to begin a foundation in the United States. This planting of the Order in the U.S. soon blossomed into two vibrant Provinces. Then, in 1947, there emerged a certain Fr James Keane OSM, a son of Chicago, who travelled to Ireland intent on establishing a Servite foundation in Ireland. He purchased a huge property encompassing the ancient historical Benburb Castle and an old manor house built by the Bruce family in the late 19th century. This was to become Benburb Priory in Tyrone, Ireland, opened in 1949. From Tyrone the Servites were to go south to Dublin where other Communities were established. Soon the Priories in Ireland were formed into a Vicariate of the Eastern Province of the U.S.A.
In 1983 the General Chapter of the Order invited the entire Order to engage in a process of renewal and re-structuring. This was a gallant attempt to re-organise and re-structure our jurisdictions to ensure a deeper sense of community, prayer, and service in our local communities.
In response to this grand invitation moves were set in motion to unite the Priories in Ireland, England, Scotland, France, Belgium, Germany and Austria, into one single Province of Northern Europe, known as ‘Serviteur’. Meetings happened and united ventures in Formation and Pastoral Congresses were established. However, in 1997 it became obvious, mainly for linguistic and cultural reasons that this new European Province would not materialise.
But the Friars in England, Scotland and Ireland remained undaunted and resolved to pursue the ideal of a new life-giving structure for the Order in these Islands. Joint Council Meetings were established and Committees formed to prepare the ground for the formation of a single Province. The Friars of Ireland, England and Scotland voted overwhelmingly for amalgamation and the new Province came into being by a decree of the General Council in June 2000, having earlier obtained the approval of the U.S.A. Chapter. The first elective Chapter of the new Province was held at London Colney, Herts., on 4-8 September 2000, the great Jubilee Year.
The Friars chose the poetic and romantic title “The Province of the Isles” for the new entity, and adopted “St Columba” as Patron Saint. He travelled from Donegal to Iona and his monks went on to Lindisfarne to establish ‘a second Iona among the English’. Who better to inspire us to travel these Isles for the sake of the Gospel and the forming of Servite Religious Communities? A beautiful bronze statue of St Columba was commissioned by the Province to mark the occasion and is now housed in the Chapel of the Priory at Benburb. As I, Fr Patrick Ryall OSM, the first Provincial of the new Province, said in my homily at the blessing of the statue on 24 June 2002, “This statue of the great Columba is indeed an appropriate symbol to capture the magnitude and enormity of the journey we undertook when we agreed to form one Province of the Isles.” Thus, the journey undertaken by the two Friars from Florence in 1864 comes to a halt for the time being with the birth of ‘The Province of the Isles’.