The Servite Order was established in the first half of the 13th century. Like the Franciscans and Dominicans, it belongs to the medieval mendicant orders. It was started not by a famous saint but by a group of 7 merchants from Florence. They were friends and members of a brotherhood that ran a hospice. At some point, these 7 men decided to leave behind the hustle of their profession and the city of Florence and begin an intense life of prayer and searching for God.
At first, they settled down on the city outskirts in a paltry hut but did not find their desired peace there. Finally around 1246/47, Monte Senario offered them a retreat 18 km northeast of the city. When more men wanted to join them, they allowed it. The bishop of Florence, however, demanded that the community should henceforth live with a certain structure, for example they must draw up statues for communal life and live according to the monastic rule of St. Augustine. The order was thus founded.
You can find more information about the Servite Order on the Order's official homepage:
The original name of the order was "Servants of Mary". This name expressed the spirituality of the Servites: "to serve people according to the example of Mary". The Seven Holy Founders wanted to be there for the people as Mary was there for Jesus during her life. They recognized Christ in their fellow men, especially in the needy and the suffering, and wanted to serve him. Therefore, the passages in the gospel that tell of Mary are of particular importance to the spirituality of the Servites: from the proclamation of the angel Gabriel when Maria consented to the will of God ('"May it be done to me according to your word") and the marriage at Cana ("Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it") to Calvary where Mary stood under the cross of Jesus and stayed with him. Due to their spirituality, which was strongly linked to Mary, the Servites were entrusted with the pastoral care of many Virgin Mary pilgrimage sites. These include 3 of the most well-known pilgrimage sites in the Alpine region: Maria Waldrast (Tyrol), Maria Luggau (Carinthia), and Maria Weißenstein (South Tyrol).
Today, the Servite Order is present on all continents. Overall, the Order has over 900 members making it one of the smaller religious orders in the Catholic church. While the western world - Europe and North America - have struggled with recruitment problems, there are many vocations to the order in Latin America, Africa (for ex. Uganda, Kenya, Mozambique), and Asia (for ex. India, the Philippines, and Indonesia). The large Servite family also includes a female branch with 21 congregations and various lay organizations.
The Servites have been active in Austria since 1614. The first organization was in Innsbruck initiated at the request of Anna Juliana Gonzaga. Over the course of time, many monasteries were established in Austria, South Tyrol, Bohemia, and Hungary. Today, 6 monasteries belong to the Tyrolean Servite province: 3 in Tyrol (Innsbruck, Maria Waldrast, Volders) and one in Carinthia (Maria Luggau) and Lower Austria (Gutenstein). The province also includes the only monastery in Germany, which is located in Gelsenkirchen-Buer, the diocese of Essen.