St. Philip Neri (Feast: May 26)
Philip Neri, known as “The Apostle of Rome,” was Florentine by birth, one of four children born to a notary.
At eighteen, sent to work with a well-to-do uncle, Philip had a mystical experience which he called his “conversion”. All taste for earthly things left him and he subsequently made his way to Rome.
There he found lodgings at the house of one Galeotto Caccia and taught his children in return for his keep.
For the next two years, Philip led the life of a virtual recluse, giving up whole days and nights to prayer and contemplation. When he did emerge from his garret, he immersed himself in the study of philosophy and theology, determined to live for God alone.
Philip started an apostolate, first at street corners talking to all who would listen, and then with young Florentines working in Rome.
In 1548 with the help of his confessor, Fr. Persiano Rossa, Philip founded a confraternity of poor laymen, popularized the devotion of the forty hours, and undertook the care of pilgrims in need. Greatly blessed, this work developed into the celebrated hospital of Santa Trinitá dei Pellegrini.
Philip Neri was ordained on 23 May 1551 and became known for the gift of reading the thoughts of his penitents. As the number of conversions increased, he began to give regular conferences.
With five initial disciples, among them the future historian and cardinal, Cesare Baronius, he went on to found the Congregation of the Oratory, which was approved in 1575 by Pope Gregory XIII who gave them the ancient church of Santa Maria in Vallicella. Philip rebuilt the church on a larger scale and it became known as the “Chiesa Nuova,” or the “New Church.”
On 25 May 1595, Philip, who was known for his good humour and infectious joy, was in an especially radiant mood. His doctor told him he hadn’t looked so well in years. Only the saint knew his hour had come. He heard confessions all day, and saw visitors as usual but, upon retiring, he remarked to those around him, “Last of all, we must die.”
At midnight he was seized by a severe haemorrhage. His disciples gathered around him, and as Baronius besought him for a parting word, unable to speak, the ardent apostle raised his hand and imparted a last blessing to his congregation before entering his reward.
He was eighty years old. St. Philip’s body is interred in the Chiesa Nuova, which his sons in the Congregation of the Oratory serve to this day.