Servites mark 775 years of service in the image of Mary
Servites mark 775 years of service in the image of Mary
A candlelight rosary procession ended a Mass at the Grotto Friday evening which celebrated the Feast of the Assumption and the 775th anniversary of the Servite religious order of men and women. Known as a spiritual oasis in Oregon, the Grotto, with its 62 acres of natural areas and prayer and worship space in the midst of Northeast Portland, was literally a cool retreat as temperatures that day passed 100 degrees.

“It’s a marvelous occasion for us,” said Servite Brother Gregory Atherton, who also attended a national anniversary celebration in June in Chicago. As Brother Atherton spoke after Friday’s Mass, people swarmed around tables nearby to grab slices of vanilla and chocolate cake, decorated with congratulatory words marking the occasion.

In 1233, seven Italian businessmen who said the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to them founded the Servite order and devoted their lives to helping the sick and poor. They are formally called Servants of Mary, giving expression of Mary’s service to God through their service to her. Wearing black garments and following the Rule of St. Augustine, the order came to the United States in 1870, and Portland in 1916. Servite Father Ambrose Mayer founded the Grotto on land he purchased from Union Pacific Railroad Company. It became a national sanctuary in 1983 and is slated to celebrate an 85th anniversary next year.

Servite Father Jack Topper said the Grotto reflects the order’s charism by offering counseling and spiritual help for those who he says suffer at the foot of the Cross, as Mary did when her son was crucified.

Part of the Servite call is to recognize the suffering of Mary present in others. The other side of that is to foster the hope and joy that Mary felt when she reunited with her resurrected son.

“We too look forward to that day when we will share in the resurrection,” Father Topper said.

All but one of the seven Servite men in Oregon live at the Grotto and rely on the fraternity of brothers to give their services, as their founders did centuries earlier. There are also about seven Servite women living in Portland and approximately a dozen third order lay members. Some teach and work at the parish level, while others assist the brothers with programs at the Grotto. “In all these ways, we feel we are providing a service for all the people who come here,” Father Topper said.

After the Mass, Marlena Decou of Skamania County, Wash., who sat in one of the rear pews while her small dogs, Angel, Jack and Rick, rested at her feet, said she attends Mass at the Grotto each Sunday during summer out of love for Mary. Years ago when her daughter was sick, Decou attended daily Mass at the Grotto and volunteered there with her son, even after the point when she says her daughter was healed. Decou said she feels the Servite friars are like an extended family, as each possess a unique gift that led her through the difficult times.

“They have such a humanness. You can relate to them as human beings,” she said, adding, “This grotto has been a vortex of energy.”

During his homily, Archbishop John Vlazny, who concelebrated the Mass with Father Topper and Msgr. Dennis O’Donovan, said he thanked God for the Servites’ vocation and prays they will continue to be instruments of goodness on earth, as Mary and her cousin Elizabeth were in the New Testament.

“Celebrating with the Servites in their jubilee year feels right,” Archbishop Vlazny said as the Friday evening sunset illuminated the sky a brilliant shade of salmon. “Surely Mary is smiling down on us.”