Philip was born in 1515, the youngest child of Francesco Neri, a lawyer. He received an excellent education at a local monastery school.
As a young man, Philip was sent to Naples to assist his uncle, a merchant. Here, at the age of eighteen, Philip had a religious experience and renounced all his worldly goods and ambitions.
Philip moved to Rome. He continued to be a layperson, and continued his studies. Philip worked with the poor and tried to bring them the Word of God. For 17 years, he ministered to the poor in Rome. During this time, he became acquainted with St. Ignatius of Loyola. St. Philip was a charismatic figure, and immensely popular because of his kindness and wit. He attracted many followers from all levels of society, and he inspired many to work with the poor. Philip organized many pilgrimages to the old Christian sites of Rome, such as the Catacombs.
At a time when the population of Rome had become disillusioned with the church because of the clergy’s laxity and corruption, Philip’s example and good works helped to revive the faith in the city and beyond.
In 1548, Philip, along with his confessor, founded the Confraternity of the Most Holy Trinity of Pilgrims and Convalescents. This helped the many poor pilgrims who flocked to the city.
Philip was ordained a priest in 1551. He had long, organized prayer meetings among his followers. Out of these meetings, Philip formed the order the Congregation of the Oratory, which is better known as the Orations. The congregation was comprised of Catholic priests and lay-brothers who lived together in a community bound by no formal vows, but only by the bond of charity. The Orations helped to minister to the poor and to spread the Word of God among all sections of Roman society. Soon, the society was active all over France and Italy. The Pope recognized the order in 1575.
St. Philip is one of the great figures in the Counter-Reformation, and he helped to revive Catholicism in Italy and beyond. He believed that the people’s faith could be revived by kindness and charity.
Philip died in 1595, a much loved figure in Rome. He was canonized in 1615.
Philip performed many miracles during his life. Once, while ministering to the most wretched in Rome, he healed a blind prostitute.St. Philip resurrected several people from the dead. As he was working among the poor, he helped several people who had been given up for dead by doctors.
St. Philip Neri believed that a Christian should perform their duties, as well as practice their faith, with joy:
“Father, you love a cheerful giver.”
He considered a cheerful character to be more Christian than a severe and austere one:
“A joyful heart is more easily made perfect than a downcast one.”
St. Philip Neri is an example for all Catholics of how to be true followers of Christ in our everyday lives.