The Life of St. Philip Neri, Part 4

Origins of the Oratory

It is typical of St. Philip that the precise origins of the Oratory are hard to pinpoint; its development was quite organic. Philip was not a systematic thinker or master planner; he was, however, docile to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit.

Philip was also a keen observer of human nature. He saw the needs of his age, particularly the moral hazards faced by young men passing their idle time in the piazzas of Rome. They were drawn to Philip by his constant care for them, and he began hosting a daily gathering, not only to keep them occupied but to inspire them to a holy life. As a spiritual father, he shared with them the encounter with the love of God which so inflamed his heart. These informal discussions centered on the Scriptures and the lives of the saints, with the aim of fostering in the young people a desire for prayer, the sacraments, and works of mercy.

Outings that today we might call “field trips” also had an important role to play. Service to the poor, the sick, and the abandoned was a key part of Philip’s method of fostering humility; he would often bring the group, which included men of high social standing, to a hospital to perform the least desirable tasks. But there were also delightful picnics and days dedicated to visiting the Seven Pilgrim Churches - moments of rejoicing in the gifts of faith and community.

At first, this nascent community of disciples gathered in Philip’s own room at the Church of San Girolamo della Carità, where he lived and served. However, they quickly outgrew the space, and a new location was needed. The problem was solved by constructing a sort of loft above the nave in the church. The space was referred to as the Oratory - the place of prayer. In time, the community came to be known for their gathering place: They were the Oratoriani - the community of the Oratory.

Next week’s article will focus on the establishment of the Congregation of the Oratory & St. Philip’s later years.

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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