The Apostle of Rome. The Humorous Saint. This is how Saint Philip Neri is often referred to!
He was not born in Rome but he spent most of his life in Rome. He was born in Florence in 1515. He was brought up in a well-educated Catholic middle-class family. As a boy he had a happy disposition, sometimes getting into some innocent scrape. When he was eighteen years old, his father sent him to an uncle in San Germano, to help out in the family business, hoping to be able to partake of the family wealth. However Philip had some form of spiritual conversion that led him to renounce all ambitions for wealth and property to continue with his life in serving Jesus Christ.
Philip set out for Rome, where for two years he was a home tutor for the sons of a Florentine family. He started to study for the priesthood but after three years he gave it up. At the time the inhabitants of Rome were no longer leading a Christian life. Philip set out to bring others to God, and in so doing became known as ‘The Apostle of Rome.’ He looked out for the destitute in the gutters and alleys of Rome, for the sick in hospitals bringing them food and gifts. He also led them back to the Faith in a singular way. He was always joyful and humorous, sharing a joke and laughter, building up their morale. Young people followed him attracted by his natural warmth, his cordiality and his love of God. From enjoyable discussions, fun, music and song, he would lead them to prayer and to Jesus Christ! He soon became a popular personality as he continued to evangelize wherever people gathered, with his holiness shining through his jovial attitudes. Away from the public eye he spent nights in prayer, even eating frugally. Eventually Philip continued with his studies for the priesthood and he was ordained priest when he continued with his mission mainly through the confessional.
It is believed that one night during deep meditation he had a mystical experience that affected his heart physically rendering his “heart inflamed with the love of God.” A physical transformation of his heart and his ribs was found out by doctors when his body was examined after his death. Saint Philip Neri founded the Congregation of the Oratory, a group of secular priests and laymen, who although not bound by vows, lived in a community, living up to the small sign Philip had put up: ‘ The House of Christian Mirth.’