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Saint Philip Neri

First let a little love find entrance into their hearts, and the rest will follow.

Saint Philip Neri was a confessor, Founder of the Oratorians, and affectionally called the Second Apostle of Rome.

Saint Philip was born on July 22nd, 1515, in Florence (then part of the Republic of Florence) as the son of a lawyer, Francesco di Neri. He was given an impressive and thorough education from the friars at the Dominican monastery in Florence, San Marco. Two of the Friar teachers especially stood out in Saint Philip's writings - Zenobio de'Medici and Servanzio Mini. At eighteen Saint Philip joined his uncle at San Germano to learn and help with his business there with an expectation from his parents that he would learn enough to eventually inherit the business and it's success financially. In fact though, the opposite happened - Saint Philip had a profound religious experience here that convinced him to pursue a religious life rather than a worldly one. In 1533, he departed from his uncle's estate for Rome.

Once he arrived in Rome, Saint Philip secured a job as tutor for two years for the household of a local aristocrat. For three years following this job he learned all that he could of theology under the guidance of local Augustinians and then set out to serve the poor and sick. He took such good care in serving the poor and sick that he quickly gained a reputation for his piety and became known as the "Apostle to Rome". For seventeen years he served these communities in Rome, constantly seeking opportunities for those he came across for conversion and spiritual healing.

In 1548, Saint Philip joined with his confessor Father Persiano Rossa to found the Confraternity of the Most Holy Trinity of Pilgrims and Convalescents. This new order set it's primary focus on two groups - the thousands of pilgrims who came to Rome and patients being discharged from hospitals that were too physically weak still to return to work. The group met frequently at the Church of San Salvatore in Campo and first introduced the Devotion of the Forty Hours of Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Through his labors of helping the poor and sick Saint Philip always kept an upbeat and cheerful temper full of humor, an attitude he attributed to being a Christian. He believed happiness to be more Christian than melancholy and frequently told others:

"A joyful heart is more easily made perfect than a downcast one."

Frederick William Faber would later write of Saint Philip:

"Practical commonplaceness, was the special mark which distinguishes his form of ascetic piety from the types accredited before his day. He looked like other men. ...He was emphatically a modern gentleman, of scrupulous courtesy, sportive gaiety, acquainted with what was going on in the world, taking a real interest in it, giving and getting information, very neatly dressed, with a shrewd common sense always alive about him, in a modern room with modern furniture, plain, it is true, but with no marks of poverty about it – in a word, with all the ease, the gracefulness, the polish of a modern gentleman of good birth, considerable accomplishments, and widespread knowledge."

In 1551, Saint Philip received Minor Orders and was ordained first a deacon then a priest (his priestly ordination came on May 23rd of that year). He initially began to consider missionary work in India but soon realized there was more than enough need of love and attention in the city of Rome and so stayed at the Hospital of San Girolamo della Carita. It was here in 1556 where he founded the Oratory, as the group he was putting together would often meet for prayer in the Oratory. As the group expanded they began to take upon themselves different types o mission work throughout Rome and it's priestly members would spend countless hours hearing confessions from all who came.

"Let me get through today, and I shall not fear tomorrow." - Prayer of Saint Philip Neri

In 1553 Saint Philip began the tradition of one day pilgrimages from Saint Peter's Basilica to the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. The street that links the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls with San Sebastiano fuori le mura is called today the Via delle Sette Chiese (Seven Churches walk). As the community grew even larger a church was given to them by the Vatican and on July 15th, 1575, a papal bull granted official permission for the founding of the Congregation of the Oratory.

On May 25th, 1595, the Feast of Corpus Christi, after spending the day hearing confessions, began to die. Just after midnight he passed away, unable to speak. Pope Paul V beatified him and Pope Gregory XV formally canonized him in 1622. Today his body is venerated in the Chisea Nuova (New Church) in Rome. His feast day is set for May 26th.

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