Perhaps long life is a gift to those who serve unselfishly.

Gilbert of Sempringham can certainly be held as an example of that premise. He was born into a wealthy family, but he followed a path quite different from that expected of him as the son of a Norman knight. Sent to France for his higher education, he decided to pursue seminary studies.

When he returned to England, he was not yet ordained a priest. Gilbert inherited several estates from his father but avoided the easy life he could have led under the circumstances. Instead, he lived a simple life at a parish, sharing as much as possible with the poor. Following his ordination to the priesthood he served as parish priest at Sempringham.

Gilbert had a house built adjacent to the church for several young women who had expressed to him their desire to live in religious life. Their austere and holy lifestyle attracted more people craving a religious life such as theirs.

Eventually, lay sisters and lay brothers were added to work the land. The religious order formed eventually became known as the Gilbertines, but Gilbert had hoped the Cistercians, or some other existing order would take on the responsibility of establishing a rule of life for the new order.

Over the years a special custom grew up in the houses of the order called “the plate of the Lord Jesus.” The best portions of the dinner were put on a special plate and shared with the poor, reflecting Gilbert’s lifelong concern for less fortunate people.

The Gilbertines, the only religious order of English origin founded during the Middle Ages, continued to thrive. The order came to an end when King Henry VIII suppressed all Catholic monasteries.

Adapted by A. J. Valentini from: St. Gilbert of Sempringham | Franciscan Media. (n.d.). Franciscan Media. Retrieved Feb. 9, 2021, from