Saint Philip Neri was born on July 21, 1515, in Florence, Italy. He was only 4 years old when his mother tragically died.
He was sent away at 18 years old to become an apprentice under a distant relative. He eventually departed for Rome, knowing God was calling him there.
The future saint brought hardly anything with him, relying completely on God's Providence to provide for his needs. Once he arrived in Rome, he worked as a tutor. He lived a solitary, prayerful life in a small attic space and practiced self-denial by eating very small meals.
After two years in Rome, he began his studies in theology and philosophy with an eye toward being ordained a priest. Despite his instructors regarding him as a good student, Philip walked out, intending on continuing his mission to re-evangelize the people of Rome as a layman.
Philip sold most of his textbooks and spoke to ordinary hard-working folks about the Catholic faith in public squares and on street corners. He would use the Socratic method, asking them questions while offering hints and suggestions. He would also inspire them to perform works of mercy — for instance, visiting a nearby hospital to care for the sick.
He had a vision in 1544 on the eve of Pentecost. He saw a ball of fire entering his mouth and going down into his heart. After telling his confessor, it was resolved that Philip should finish his priestly studies and get ordained a priest.
Philip was ordained a priest at 35 years old and continued to be distinguished for his joy and sense of humor — he was particularly known as a good confessor.
He spent his life caught up in the love of God, in deep contemplation. But he also liked to play little jokes on others, harmless things to make people laugh.
When hearing confessions, sometimes he'd instruct young men to do something embarrassing around town for their penance in order to counteract the vice of pride.
Men were inspired by his priesthood and became priests as well, forming an informal community of priests around him, which eventually became an official religious congregation.
The official name is simply "the Congregation of the Oratory." It is also called the "Oratory of Saint Philip Neri." The congregation's rule was not fully ratified by the Holy See until 1612, more than a decade after his death.
He lived out the rest of his years serving souls in Rome, continuing in his parish his informal prayer gatherings, discussions and works of mercy.
The saint would organize big events in the afternoon where people would come to church to sing hymns and listen to a series of homilies.
Known as the Second Apostle of Rome, St. Philip Neri was also the apostle of joy, working diligently to bring people back into the arms of the Church. He passed into eternity on May 26, 1595, on the Feast of Corpus Christi.
Learn more by watching The Download—A Joyful Heart.