Though he was related to Italian nobility, Philip came from a poor family. His father, Francisco Neri, worked as a notary. Philip’s brother died in childhood, but his two sisters, Caterina and Elisabetta survived. Known as a pious youth, Philip was taught humanities by the Dominicans.
The family moved to San Germano in 1533 to help some relatives with their business, and while there Philip would escape to a local Dominican chapel in the mountains. Having received a vision that he had an apostolate in Rome, Philip cut himself off from his family, and went there.
He was befriended by Galeotto Caccia who took Philip in and paid him to tutor his two sons. Wrote poetry in Latin and Italian. He studied philosophy and theology, and when he tired of learning, he sold all his books and gave the money to the poor.
Philip began to visit and care for the sick, and impoverished pilgrims, and founded a society of like-minded folk to do the same. He became a friend of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. A layman, he lived in the city as a hermit. During Easter season of 1544, while praying in the catacomb of San Sebastiano, he received a vision of a globe of fire that entered his chest, and he experienced an ecstasy that physically enlarged his heart.
With Persiano Rose, he founded the Confraternity of the Most Holy Trinity. He began to preach, with many converts. In 1550 he considered retiring to the life of a solitary hermit, but received further visions that told him his mission was in Rome. Later he considered missionary work in India, but further visions convinced him to stay in Rome.
He entered the priesthood in 1551. Father Philip heard confessions by the hour, could tell penitents their sins before they confessed, and had the gift of conferring visions. He began working with youth, finding safe places for them to play, becoming involved in their lives.
Pope Gregory XIV tried to make him a cardinal, but Philip declined. His popularity was such that he was accused of forming his own sect, but was cleared of this baseless charge. In 1575 he founded the Congregation of the Oratory (Oratorians, a group of priests dedicated to preaching and teaching, but which suffered from accusations of heresy because of the involvement of laymen as preachers. In later years he was beset by several illnesses, each of which was in turn cured through prayer.
Cheerfulness strengthens the heart and makes us persevere in a good life. Therefore the servant of God ought always to be in good spirits.
– Saint Philip Neri