Saint Philip Neri was born in Florence, Italy, in 1515. He counted some nobility among his relations but his immediate family was poor. In 1533, as a teenager, Philip left home to join an uncle near Naples who ran a thriving business but had no heir. During his stay with his uncle Philip received word in a vision that he had an apostolate in Rome, so he cut himself off from his family and moved there. Philip worked as a live-in tutor for his friend Galeotto Caccia, wrote poetry and studied theology and philosophy for three years. When he tired of learning, he sold all his books and gave the money to the poor. Philip became a very active Christian who reached out to everybody he could so he could extend to them the love of Jesus.
Philip lived for a time as a hermit in Rome. He was praying in the Catecomb of San Sebastiano just before Pentecost in 1544 asking for the gifts of the Holy Spirit when he received a vision of a globe of fire that entered his chest and he experienced an ecstasy that physically enlarged his heart. Philip helped start an organization of lay people called the Confraternity of the Most Holy Trinity to take care of needy pilgrims to Rome. This ministry continued and gradually was formed into famous Roman hospital.
In 1550 Philip considered retiring to the life of a solitary hermit but he received further visions that told him his mission was in Rome. Later he considered moving to India as a missionary, but further visions convinced him to stay in Rome.
Philip hosted informal prayer and discussion groups in his room, and when his room became to small for the growing group they moved to a larger hall which they called 'the Oratory' (place of prayer).
When Philip was thirty-six, it became obvious that he had the call to become a priest. This is when he was able to begin his ministry for others. He would hear confessions by the hour, and could tell penitents their sins before they confessed. Philip also had the gift of confering visions. He began working with youth, finding safe places for them to play and becoming involved in their lives.
As a number of Philip's followers and group members also became priests he founded the Congregation of the Oratory in 1575. Philip did not intend to found a new order, but instead directed that the community should live as secular priests without further vows. The Oratory initially suffered accusations of heresy, centering on the idea of laymen preaching and the singing of vernacular hymns but the order eventually spread. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman founded the first English-speaking house in 1848.
Philip became an influential figure during the Counter-Reformation. While the Council of Trent reformed the Church on a doctrinal level, Philip called upon individual Catholics to reform their lives, including many leaders of the Church.
Pope Gregory XIV tried to make him a cardinal, but Philip declined.
In later years Philip was intermittently afflicted with various illnesses, all of which were cured through prayer. St. Philip spent the last five years of his life offering the Sacrament of Reconciliation to the people of Rome. He died at the age of eighty in 1595. He was proclaimed a saint by Pope Gregory XV in 1622.