The Life of St. Philip Neri, Part 5

Founding the Congregation of the Oratory

Philip continued to attract new penitents in his joyful and encouraging way. As the numbers attending the Oratory and seeking spiritual guidance continued to grow, Philip realized that he needed additional help. The Congregation of the Oratory developed based on this need to minister to the lay community in the manner Philip had established.

Philip drew the first members of the Congregation from among the men who were his penitents and who stood out in their participation at the Oratory. The early community, led by Philip, was a family modeled on the early Christian community, every member participating equally in the benefits and responsibilities of the common life. They did not take vows, but were bound by fraternal charity. They lived a simple life of prayer and service, building up the lay faithful. From the beginning, the primary aim of the Congregation has been to serve the lay community, which came first. Known as the “Secular Oratory”, this association of laity has found various modes of expression according to time and place.

Growing rapidly, the community sought a home and church of its own. At the suggestion of Pope Gregory XIII, they took on the care of the church of Santa Maria in Valicella. At the same time, the pope canonically erected the Congregation of the Oratory, on July 15, 1575. The church they inherited was in bad shape, and the community began rebuilding it. The present church that resulted is still known, over 400 years later, as the “Chiesa Nuova” - the “new church”!

The final years of Philip’s life were characterized by several bouts of serious illness which brought him close to death. He still prayed, visited the sick, and of course continued hearing confessions until the day he died. He celebrated Mass in his private chapel with great devotion.

Philip Neri died in the early hours of May 26, 1595. He was canonized on March 12, 1622 by Pope Gregory XV.

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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