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Philip Neri, (born Filippo Romolo Neri 22 July, 1515, died 26 May 1595) was a priest and the founder of the Congregation of the Oratory. He is also known as Pippo Buono (Philip the Good), and is one of the most popular saints in Rome as well as one of the most important figures of the Counter-Reformation in the city.
St Philip was born in Florence as the son of a notary. His family was considered to be on the same rank as the Tuscan nobility due to their work in the learned professions. His father Francesco was a friend of the Dominican friars at San Marco, and they helped shape Philip in his childhood. He had two younger sisters, Caterina and Elisabetta.
He was shown his family pedigree, and reacted by tearing it up. When his father's house burned down, he was not concerned; material belongings did not matter to him. At the age of 16 he was sent to help his father's cousing in business in a village near Monte Cassino. While working there he often prayed in little mountain chapel belonging to the Benedictines, and over time he recognized his vocation.
With no money, he went to Rome in 1533. A Florentine resident gave him food and shelter in return for Philip teaching his two children. Philip lived as a layman for 17 years, and there is no indication that he wanted to become a priest during this period. He wrote poetry in Latin and Italian at this time, but sadly he burned most of it before his death.
Although he does not seem to have considered ordination to the priesthood, he started studying philosophy at La Sapienza, Rome's old university, from c. 1535. He then studied theology with the Augustinians. When he was satisfied with his level of education, he sold his books and gave the money to the poor. Later in life, he would surprise others with his great knowledge of theology and philosophy.
His apostolate began with visits to the hospitals, first alone and then accompanied by friends. He then began going to the banks, shops and warehouses in Rome, where he preached the need for repentance. Around 1544, he befriended St Ignatius of Loyola. Some of Philip's disciples joined the Society of Jesus, but most chose to live as laymen. They formed the nucleus of what became the Congregation of the Oratory.
Philip lived a simple life, with one daily meal of bread and water, sometimes with some herbs. All he owned was the clothes he wore, a bed (he preferred to sleep on the floor, though), a table and some chairs and a rope to hang his clothes on.
The first church he used to pray in was Sant'Eustachio in Campo Marzio. He then started visiting the seven pilgrim churches - he is seen as responsible for settling the number of these churches. His longest periods of prayer and meditation took place in the Catacomb of St Sebastian. Here, a miracle is said to have taken place in 1544, when he received the love of God in his heart, leading to visible physical changes - his heart dilated, breaking two ribs, and it would later palpitate violently whenever he performed a spiritual act.
He founded the Confraternity of the Most Holy Trinity together with his confessor Persiano Rosa in 1548. The task of the confraternity was to look after pilgrims and convalescents.
In 1551 he recognized a call to the priesthood. As he was already extraordinarily well trained, he was ordained soon after in San Tommaso in Parione. He moved to San Girolamo della Caritá, where the priests belonging to the Confraternity of Charity lived under the simple rule of living in charity with his brethren. One of the things he started teaching in this period was that the Sacraments of Penance and Communion should be received often. His confessional had many visitors every day.
At one time he longed to follow the missionaries, and he especially wanted to go to India as St Francis Xavier had. He had some of his companions ordained, but when, in 1557, he sought the advice of a Cistercian at Tre Fontane he was told that the monk had received a revelation from St John the Evangelist that Rome was to be Philip's India. Instead of travelling, he built an oratory where he gathered laymen to preach and play music. Men of high rank in the Church used to come there, including Nicolo Cardinal Sfodrato, who in 1590 became Pope Gregory XIV. After Pope Gregory XIV had been elected in 1590, he tried to appoint Philip as a Cardinal, but the latter was so reluctant that the Holy Father decided not to force him to accept.
In 1559, after he had started to organize visits to the seven churches for pilgrims, Philip was accused of creating sects. The Cardinal Vicar suspended him from hearing confessions, without listening to his defence. When his defence was finally heard at the end of that period, he was cleared of all accusations.
The Florentines wanted him to move to San Giovanni dei Fiorentini in 1562. He declined, and the matter was referred to Pope Pius IV. In 1564 it was decided that Philip would become Rector of that church and send five priests there, while Philip himself would remain at San Girolamo.
The community at the oratory was officialy recognized by Pope Gregory XIII as the Congregation of the Oratory in 1575. The church of Santa Maria in Vallicella was entrusted to them. This was too small and not in a very good condition, and they had it rebuilt. After opening it in 1577, it became known as the Chiesa Nuova, the New Church. Philip remained at San Girolamo until 1583, when Pope Gregory XIII insisted that he too should move.
In 1593, his health failing, he resigned from his position as Superior. The next year, he was cured from painful illness when the Blessed Virgin appeared to him. He fell seriously ill again in March 1595. In answer to his prayers, he had a good day on 1 May, and was able to say mass in honour of Sts Philip and James. On 12 May he had a violent haemorrhage, and the new Superior, Cardinal Baronius, gave him Extreme Unction. He felt better for a short time, and received the Viaticum from his friend Frederico Cardinal Borromeo. He then revived, but on 15 May he predicted that he had only ten days to live. The Feast of Corpus Christi fell on 25 May that year, and Philip celebrated Mass with great enthusiasm. He felt well for the rest of the day, but when he went to bed he predicted the hour of his death. He had another haemorrhage after midnight. Cardinal Baronius made the commendation of his soul and asked him to bless the fathers. Lifting his hand in blessing, he looked toward heaven and died peacefully.
St Philip was beatified by Pope Paul V in 1615, and canonized by Pope Gregory XV in 1622. Together with Sts Ignatius of Loyola and Charles Borromeus, he is considered one of the most important saints of the Counter-Reformation.
His relics are preserved in an urn below the altar in the Chapel of St Philip Neri in the Chiesa Nuova.
The church San Filippo Neri all'Esquilino is dedicated to him.