Our church is named for a native of Italy who served as a priest from 1551 to 1595. St. Philip Neri lay the groundwork for what became the Congregation of the Oratory, and to this day he is known as the Second Apostle of Rome.
Philip Neri was born July 21, 1515, in Florence. He studied under the Dominicans at San Marco and at 18 was apprenticed into his uncle’s business by his family. But after working for his uncle for several months, St. Philip wrote him a thank-you note and headed for Rome. There, he attended university, tutored two boys to make ends meet, and devoted himself to religious studies. While praying in the catacombs one night in 1544, he experienced an epiphany which changed his life. He sold his books and spent the next thirteen years as a lay minister in Rome.
His winning and loving manner drew many to him, and he encouraged young men to give their lives to prayer and good works. He and his congregation, who became known as the Priests of the Oratory, visited and worked in hospitals, discussed spiritual matters, and enjoyed prayer and music. These followers, along with others who looked to him for spiritual guidance, eventually persuaded him to be ordained.
Other priests, bishops, even cardinals and popes, looked to him for advice and guidance on spiritual matters. The pope hoped to make him a cardinal, but St. Philip Neri was a humble man and would rather minister to the common people. Upon his death in 1595, it was discovered that he had an enlarged heart, which was ascribed to his mystical ecstasy in 1544.
St. Philip Neri was canonized in 1622. His unfailing good humor resulted in his naming as the patron saint of practical jokers and the patron saint of joy. His feast day is May 26, the date of his death.
Pietro Vinotti, the creator of our statue of St. Philip Neri, is a sculptor and artist who resides in Walloon Lake. Like St. Philip Neri, he was born in Italy, in 1944. He immigrated to the United States in 1988 to pursue his calling as an artist. He has created many religious figures in Michigan, including another statue of St. Philip Neri at the Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit. He also has carved representations of Jesus and the Blessed Mother, among others. His carving of St. Philip Neri on display in the back of our church, which took a year from start to finish, is made of basswood.