26 May 2012

Saint Philip Neri

26 MAY 2012. Today the Church celebrates the feast day of Saint Philip Romolo Neri, an Italian priest and founder of the Congregation of the Oratory.

Philip was born to noble parents on 22 July 1515 in Florence. As a child, Philip received a careful and tremendous education from the Dominican friars at San Marco in Florence. In his later years he gave much credit to the Dominican friars for his achievements. At the age of 18, Philip's parents sent him to live with his uncle, who was a wealthy merchant in San Germano. His parents hoped that Philip would gain his uncle's confidence, and one day inherit his prosperous business.

History tells us that Philip did, indeed, win his uncle's confidence, but as a young man his cares turned their attention from the world to the heavens. Saint Philip relocated to Rome in A.D. 1533.

After arriving in Rome, Philip took work as a tutor in the house of a wealthy Florentine aristocrat. After two years, Philip began to pursue his own studies under the guidance of the Augustinians and, following his studies, he began to work among the sick and poor of the city, which later gained for him the title "Apostle of Rome." He ministered to all in need, and in A.D. 1538 began home mission work.

In A.D. 1548, Saint Philip with his confessor (Fr. Persiano Rossa) founded the confraternity of the Santissima Trinita de' Pellegrini e de' Convalescenti, who took as its object ministering to the needs of the thousands of poor pilgrims that annually flocked to Rome. On 23 May 1551, Saint Philip was ordained a priest. After his ordination he considered going to India to work as a missionary, but he was persuaded by others to remain in Rome and continue the mission work he had begun there.

Now Father Philip Neri settled down at the Hospital of San Girolamo della Carita, with some companions, and there began the formation of the Congregation of the Oratory. Initially, the group decided to hold a series of meetings in the Hospital oratory for prayer, hymns, readings from Scripture and the Church Fathers, and a lecture. These meetings, however, soon proved to be popular and built a means of attracting many new missionaries to work with the poor and needy in Rome. History also tells us that these meetings drew many to the sacrament of confession, a pursuit to which Father Philip Neri devoted much time, and achieved many conversions to the faith.

In A.D. 1564 the Florentines asked that Father Philip Neri oversee their newly built church in Rome, San Giovanni dei Fiorentini. Although at first reluctant, Father Philip took on this new task, with the consent of Pope Pius IV, while still remaining in charge of San Griolamo, where the exercises of the oratory were maintained. In A.D. 1574, the Florentines built a large mission hall for Saint Philip's society next to San Giovanni and the headquarters of the society moved there.

As the work and reach of the society's missions grew, it soon became clear that a church of its own was needed. So, the society relocated to the church of Santa Maria in Vallicella, located in the middle of Rome, where a new larger church was built to accommodate the mission needs of the society. Immediately after taking possession of the new church, Saint Philip organized, under the permission of a papal bull dated 15 July 1575, a community of secular priests, called the Congregation of the Oratory. The new church was consecrated in A.D. 1577, but Saint Philip did not leave San Girolamo until A.D. 1583 and, then, only at the urging of the pope that as superior of the community he should reside with his congregation.

Saint Philip was the first elected superior of the congregation for a term of three years, but in A.D. 1587 he was nominated to serve as superior for life. Having no personal ambitions, however, Saint Philip decided that all congregations founded on his model outside of Rome should be autonomous and self-governing. This governance was later confirmed by Gregory XV in A.D. 1622.

Saint Philip died on 25 May 1595, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi that year, after spending the day hearing confessions and receiving visitors. About midnight it became clear that the Lord's call was approaching, and he was asked to give a blessing to his spiritual sons before dying. Although unable to speak, Saint Philip blessed those there with the sign of the cross and died.

Saint Philip Neri was beatified by Pope Paul V in A.D. 1615 and canonized by Pope Gregory XV in A.D. 1622.

History records that Saint Philip Neri possessed a playful humor and a shrewd wit. He considered a cheerful temper to be more Christian than a melancholy one, a spirit that he is said to have carried with him throughout his life.

Another excellent biography of Saint Philip Neri can be found here.


O holy St. Philip Neri, patron saint of joy, 
you who trusted Scripture's promise
that the Lord is always at hand 
and that we need not have anxiety about anything, 
in your compassion heal our worries and sorrows 
and lift the burdens from our hearts. 
We come to you 
as one whose heart swells with abundant love for God 
and all creation.
Bear us, we pray, 

especially in this need [insert your request here]
Keep us safe through your loving intercession, 
and may the joy of the Holy Spirit which filled your heart, 
St. Philip, transform our lives and bring us peace. 


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