A Brief History of the Servite Order
The Order of Servants of Mary (Ordo Servorum Mariae) was founded in Florence, Italy in the 13th Century by a group of seven rich merchants (the Seven Holy Founders) who on behalf of Mary decided to leave their present ways of life and became servants of Mary, the Mother of God. They founded their first monastery on Monte Senario near Florence. After a certain period, as the group continued to grow, the order spread to other parts of Italy and Europe and eventually to all continents in the world. The Servites belong to so called Mendicant orders and follow the rule proposed by St. Augustine. The fundamental pillars of the spirituality of the Servites are: Service, Fraternity, Marian Inspiration and Mercy.
- „Servants of the Lord and their brothers and sisters following the model of Mary, the Mother of God“
This motto of the Seven Holy Founders is the central message of the Order of Servites. The order does not place emphasis on individuals but on fraternal community. In their commitment of service, the figure of Mary at the feet of the Cross of her suffering Son is their model. Since the Son of Man is still being crucified in his brothers and sisters, the Servants of his mother, wish to be with her at the foot of those countless crosses in order to bring comfort and redemptive co-operation.
In their ideal of service, the Servants of Mary are indeed inspired by the example of Christ who embodies the figure of the “the Servant of the Lord” (cf. Is 42, 1-7; 49, 1-9; 50, 4-11; 52, 13-53,12), who came “to serve and to give his own life as ransom for many” (Mk 10, 45) and is present in the midst of his disciples “as one who serves” (Cf. Lk. 22, 27; Jn.13, 3-17) and by the humble attitude of the blessed virgin Mary who presented herself as “the handmaid of the Lord” when she was called by God to collaborate in the saving plan of the incarnation of the Word (Lk. 1, 38).
By taking the daily crosses that come, the Servites try to grow each day in this sacrificial love. Remembering that we will be judged by the words: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat… I needed clothes and you clothed me!“ (Mt 25, 35-36), the friars deny all their interests to follow Jesus messianic work.
- „Fraternal communion“
The fraternal communion characterizes our way of witnessing to the Gospel. It defines the life-style, and the work and prayer. It determines the form of government of the Order and it leaves a particular impression on our apostolic services. In our fraternal communion, we recognize a source of friendship and a safeguard of our consecration to the Lord in the chastity for the Kingdom.
- „Marian inspiration“
The total dedication to the Blessed Virgin Mary is another essential element of the life of the Order. It is rooted in the same experience of the Seven Holy Fathers at the beginning of their spiritual itinerary: “As they were aware of their imperfection, they humbled themselves, and with much devotion surrendered themselves at the feet of the glorious virgin May, the Queen of heaven, because she as a mediator and advocate, reconciled them to her Son and made them bear much fruits.“ That is why, from then on, they wanted to be called “Servants of Mary”. In fact the Order is very much convinced about the presence of Mary in its life and about the role of Mary taking part in her Son’s redemptive sufferings inspires the Servites to have a special veneration to Our Lady of Sorrows.
Following the model of Virgin Mary, queen and mother of Mercy, Servants endeavour to live this merciful love and they strive it to live it not only in the community but with all people.
Brief history of the Order:
1233 – Seven merchants from Florence establish the Order of the Servants of Mary
1241 – First monks settle down on Monte Senario near Florence (the first monastery of the order)
1250 – The first Servite church behind the walls of Florence is built
1299 – The order’s province in Germany with four monasteries is established
1304 – The Pope Benedict XI, approved the Rule and the Constitutions of the Order (The bull „Dum levamus“)
1310 – The death of St Alexis, the last of the Seven Holy Fathers
1360 – A monastery with a church in the part of Prague „Na Slupi“ is built
1400 – Large expansion of the Order. The centers of the Order are in Florence, Sienna, and Bologna. The monastery in Venice is built. The number of monasteries in Germany increases from 9 to 13.
16th century – As a consequence of the reformation there is a general boom of rural life in Italy. The Servites´ theologists take part in concil in Trident
1539 – On the mountain Monte Senario a new branch of the order is established – The Hermits from Monte Senario
1600 – In consequence of the reformation confusion all German monasteries are abandoned
1627 – New monasteries by the St. Michael church at the Old Town in Prague are built
1628 – The Servites settle down on White Mountain in Prague for a short time
1666 – The Servites found the convent by the Church of the Virgin Mary of the Seven Sorrows in Rabstejn
1675 – The foundation of a monastery by the Church of the Virgin Mary of Loretto in Jaromerice nad Rokytnou
1677 – the coming of the Servites to Nové Hrady, the Monastery of St. Peter and Paul is founded.
1700 – New provinces are established in France and Spain
1710 – The monastery by the Church of the Assumption of Virgin Mary in Králíky in Eastern Bohemia is founded
1714 – The foundation of a monastery by the Church of the Guardian Angels in Veselí na Moravě
1739 – The last convent in Czech countries is established – the monastery by the Church of the Assumption of Virgin Mary in Konojedy nearby Litoměřice 18th century – In the first half of the century the Order experiences it’s biggest boom which is ended by Joseph’s reforms in which 6 out of 8 Czech Servites´ monasteries were abandoned 19th century – Owing to the secularisation by the emperor Napoleon the Order disappears for the second time from Germany. There are founded new monasteries in England, France, Belgium and the USA
1883 – The convent in Králíky is abandoned, the management of the place of pilgrimage on the Marian Hill is handed over to Redemptorist Order
1886 – The abandonment of the Czech province of the Order, the monastery in Nové Hrady, the last convent in the Czech countries, is incorporated into the Tyrol province of the Order of the Servants of Mary
1888 – The Seven Holy Fathers were canonized
1893 – The children’s home in Nové Hrady is established by Filipina Buquoy, the management was entrusted to the Order of Servite Sisters, called Mantelants
1950 – All of the monasteries for men in the former Czechoslovakia are abandoned
1991 – Restoration of the Order of the Servants of Mary in Czechoslovakia and renewal of the convent in Nové Hrady
2006 – The management of the monastery in Nové Hrady is handed over to the Papaly acknowledged Catholic missionary community „ The Family of Mary“
Currently the Servites are present in more than 30 countries through out the world. You can receive further information about the Order from the prior of the convent of the Order of Servants of Mary in Innsbruck, Fra. Fero Bachorík, or on the web site: www.serviten.at
The personality of Father Bonfilius
Father Bonfilius Maria, his family name Franz Wagner, was born July 27, 1926 in Údolí u Nových Hradů. He successfully graduated from the town’s school in Nové Hrady and from the high school in České Velenice. When he was seventeen, he was recruited to the eastern front in WW2. He was one of the few of his battalion who survived. He also miraculously avoided being deported to a Russian camp for captives at the end of WW2. At that time he started to feel that he was being called to the priesthood but he was not allowed because he was of German origin.
After the death of his mother in 1948, he with the rest of his family secretly crossed the Czech-Austrian boarder. At Christmas of that year he joined the novitiate of the monastery of Servites in Innsbruck. In 1953 he was consecrated to the priesthood and he began his apostolic work, for which he besides the Tyrolean land honours, received the nickname „the Priest of Tyrol“. He served tirelessly, regardless of his own person, humbly and quietly. He used to be the first man up and about hurrying through the streets of Innsbruck by foot or by bike to encourage the sick people. He became a much sought-after confessor and preacher, to whom people came for consolation and encouragement not only from his own parish but also from different parts of Austria and Germany.
At the peak of his fruitful apostolic service and at the threshold of his retiring age the iron curtain fell. The superior at the time of the Tyrolean province sent out Fr. Bonfilius with the task to renew the ruined monastery of Servites in Nové Hrady. Fr. Bonfilius accepted this far from easy decision full of fear and at the same time pleasure and at the age of 65 he returned to his former home town which was now a completely different place where only a few memories and a handful of people that he had known remained. When he came he started to learn the Czech language so that he would be able to understand to the local people and that they would understand him. At the same time he began to renew the ruined monastery of Nové Hrady and the surrounding churches and chapels in Nové Hrady, Rychnov and Dobrá Voda. However the most admirable feature of the character of Fr. Bonfilius was his ability to renew people’s hearts, which he touched through his openness and friendliness.
In the last year of his life the vitality of Fr. Bonfilius was slowed by a serious illness and his „actio catholica“ was changing into „passio catholica“ – when he was not able to personally visit his parishioners, he cared for them through his prayers just as Jesus did on the Cross.
Father Bonfilius died on October 11, 2005 and is buried in the cemetery in Nové Hrady.
Wisdom of P. Bonfilius
„Before I start to pray, I scrutinize my conscience on three points: Am I good? Is my prayer good? Is that what I pray for good for me?“
Fr. Bonfilius was a man of prayer. The breviary and the rosary were his weapons, which he took with him everywhere he went as the most essential things. When he was forced to miss his regular prayer times due to unavoidable circumstances, he would pray at night sometimes even until midnight, although he was constantly falling asleep from tiredness and exhaustion.
Love for Fellow Man
„Let us give love to men as much love as need and not as much as they deserve. The bigger the sinner and scoundrel, the more love he needs – and the worst man needs most love.”
Love for his fellow men this was not a commandment for Fr. Bonfilius. Loving others for him was comparable to breathing for others. He did not use to worry about if he would be repaid or not. He endured endless phone calls full of problems and worries patiently, he took the suffering of the others upon himself and he helped selflessly.
A Good Man
„The name is good, but the boy isn’t. I am the biggest sinner in the town.“
In this way he used to joke about his name – good son (from Latin: bonus filius). According to Fr. Bonfilius there are three surprises that await us in heaven: „Really am I here? How it is possible that he is also here? What? She isn’t here?“
„Mommy gets nettles from father and children every day. Only one day a year, on Mother’s Day does she receive flowers. – And what does she do with the nettles? – She cooks a delicious, healthy tea from it.“
P. Fr. Bonfilius was never seen in a sad or gloomy mood. Despite constant worries about the renewal of the monastery in Nové Hrady and all of the parishes which were entrusted to him, he managed to keep his cheerfulness and was optimistic and good tempered at all times. He, with God’s help, managed to change all the difficulties and troubles into determination and effort, which brought forth rich fruits.
„If I can’t speak Czech properly, at least, I am going to greet everyone in Czech.“
Despite his age he learned the difficult Czech language quickly. His hearty and loud: „Pozdrav vás Pán Bůh!“ (Greetings from God) was the most natural and most effective rehabilitation of this almost forgotten but very nice greeting. He greeted while driving too – the passers-by used to say: „Father Bonfilius always blesses us from the car,“ and he really did. There are many witnesses that say his blessing brought good luck to a man, a house or a piece of work.
Humility and Generosity
„All that I need, I have. What I don’t have, I don’t need.“
He took only little notice of his comfort and personal needs. He showed that even nowadays it is possible to live a life unbound by senseless requirement of consumption. In spite of the fact, that he himself didn’t have anything, he always gave generously to others, both materially and spiritually.
„My home is in heaven,“
This was the answer given by Fr. Bonfilius when asked by a TV editor if he felt that his home was more in Austria, where he had lived most of his life, or in the Czech Republic, where he was born. According to Fr. Bonfilius christians have only one common homeland, the Kingdom of Heaven. The boarders can change, countries appear and disappear and therefore it is not important where we live. Here, on Earth, we shall work, pray and live every moment so that God would be pleased.
Diligence and Determination
„Czech is a nice language, it has seven cases and I am the eighth one!“
Although Sr. Ladislava, the sister who taught him Czech, used to say, „I am the best sleeping pill for him,“ she considered him to be her best student. It happened very often that when he returned in the late evening hours, he used to switch off the light already on the road. He did not want Sr. Ladislava to know that he was back, so he quickly jumped into bed and fell asleep. In spite of this, he managed to learn the Czech language so well that he was even able to build Czech puns.
The Gift to speak to people
„Even if I was going to the podium I still did not know what I was going to speak about.“
He said this after giving a sermon which had totally impressed his listeners. He let his thoughts and words be lead by the Holy Spirit, and he drew his inspiration from prayer. Often, he used only very few words instead of long interpretations when speaking – but each of these words were engraved on the hearts of his listeners. After a sermon in Lourdes a Frenchman came to him and said: „You know, I can’t speak German – but I understood all that you spoke about.“
The Light and breaks
„A biker rushing down from Dobrá Voda is being stopped by a policeman: „Stop, you don’t have a light!“ The biker yelled: „Out of my way, I don’t have any brakes!“
These were his pillars for a safe journey through life – the light of Christian faith, hope and love and the brakes of God’s commandments.
What the world stands on
“The End of the World will be when the last farmer and the last priest die, because then there would be nobody to cultivate the land and nobody to pray for this world.“
In his childhood and youth he did a lot of agricultural work and he really understood what was meant by: “in the sweat of your face you shall eat your bread.” He used to appreciate hard work and he himself worked very hard even when at times it seemed as if his efforts were in vain. To renew the ruined monastery, to start the work for the salvation of souls there where despairing spiritual fallow had been – that demanded enormous energy and work and also unprecedented courage.