The Life of St. Philip Neri, Part 1

From Florence to Rome

Filippo Romolo Neri was born in Florence on July 21, 1515, the son of Francesco, a notary (although not a particularly successful one), and Lucrezia. He had two sisters - one older, one younger - and a brother who died in infancy. Philip’s mother died when he was only five years old.

Little is known of Philip’s childhood, other than a few amusing anecdotes and an account of a miracle. Apparently, young Philip playfully jumped on the back of a donkey laden with produce, leading them both to fall down a flight of steps into a cellar, with Philip at the bottom of the pile. He always praised God for having preserved him from harm.

Philip was known as “Pippo Buono” - “Good Little Phil” - for his good behavior and jovial spirit. His early spiritual formation came from the Dominicans at San Marco, where he walked among the frescoes of Fra Angelico and was inspired by the memory of the reformer Savonarola.

At the age of 18, Philip left Florence forever. His father sent him to live with his father’s cousin, Romolo, a childless merchant, in San Germano. He furthered his formation by frequenting the Benedictine abbey at Monte Cassino. Philip remarked later that he could have been a rich man if he wanted to, but it didn’t take him long to realize that business and worldly pursuits were not his calling. Drawn ever deeper into relationship with Christ, Philip desired to serve Him unreservedly.

Moving on from any ties to his family, Philip headed for Rome on what would turn out to be a one-way trip. Arriving in 1534, he never looked back; in fact, he would never leave the Eternal City again.

Settling in Rome, Philip earned a simple living as a tutor, spending as much time as he could at prayer. He was especially drawn to the catacombs, the resting place of the early martyrs of the Church. It was in the Catacomb of St. Sebastian that the pivotal moment of his life took place.

Note: This article is part of our ongoing series on St. Philip Neri and the Oratory, in celebration of the 500th anniversary of the birth of St. Philip.
Please direct any questions or comments to Fr. Jeff.

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