Philip Neri was among the most likable of our saints. Born in 1515 of a wealthy Florentine family, at eighteen he was sent to oversee family business interests in Naples. Then, suddenly he dropped his planned future, and going to Rome, he spent three years in advanced studies about his religion.
In three years, he completed that course with the Augustinian Fathers; then, to the surprise of family members in Florence and Naples, he took to the streets of Rome, combining the roles of a Socrates and that of a social worker. He would question people about their prayer life while he was working at relieving the sick and the homeless.
Philip’s likeable ways had upper class Florentine citizens happily aiding him in finding positions for the needy. Prominent among those were the women of Rome who were struggling to get out of prostitution. They all called him their father.
He attended Mass wherever it was available, he would stay on, lost in contemplating those words of St. John that “God is love.” Those hours of prayer had him tapping into the inner life of the Trinity.
While Philip was an apostle to the poor, he was also a delightful friend to Rome’s scholars. His ways were so appealing to young men that many of them joined him in serving the poor. Often spending their evenings with Philip, they took on enough of his feelings for the Trinity that they began calling themselves the congregation of the Blessed Trinity.
Philip’s street life made him so well known and liked by a circle of Rome’s pastors that in1551 when he was thirty-six they prevailed on him first to take minor orders. Then, on finding that his private Theology studies had supplied all that could be looked for, Rome’s pastors pushed him on to being ordained priest.
In 1556, those same friends provided him and his young scholars with an abandoned hall that they began referring to as their oratory.
As their oratory life took off Philip’s happy nature had him introducing music making into of those evenings at their hall of oratory. In 1559, Pope Pius IV, a Medici relative from Florence, gave formal standing to Philip’s group, calling them the Oratorians. For his Oratorians Philip made the rule that there were no bosses. Everyone took turns doing the dishes.
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