Why Oratory? The Origins of Our School’s Namesake

Painting of St. Philip Neri done by Sebastiano Conca

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia

Painting of St. Philip Neri done by Sebastiano Conca

Michael Finnen, Staff Writer

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Oratory Prep School of Summit, NJ was founded in 1907 under the name Carlton Academy as a boarding school. It was not until years later that the school’s name would undergo a change to what it is today. Every student in freshman year is taught about the origins of our school, but the life and work of the man who made our school what it is today, St. Philip Neri, is a very powerful and provoking story, which has served to inspire many throughout the years.

St. Philip Neri was born in the early 1500s in Italy. As a child, he was nearly crushed by a donkey when he was playing and jumped on its back. The donkey fell on top of him, but miraculously, he survived and was unhurt. Philip was sent at the age of 18 to live and work with his uncle, in hopes that he would one day inherit his uncle’s large fortune. However, this was also where Philip would be converted to the Catholic faith. Philip would often go to a chapel in the mountains to pray, and it was here where he turned towards the faith, and also where he teaches us a very important lesson. Philip gave up worldly success and possessions, which he would have had with his uncle, and instead moved to Rome, where he became a minister to the poor and destitute of the city. By most standards, Philip had it all, but he chose to give up his safe, comfortable life in exchange for what he knew he was being called to do.

Rome was where Philip would do nearly all of his works. Night time became his sacred time of prayer, and his favorite place to pray was in the Catacombs of St. Sebastiano. It was during one of these prayer sessions that Philip experienced a miraculous experience. A globe of light appeared and entered into his mouth. The light went to his heart, and he felt an overwhelming feeling of love come over him. From then on he dedicated his life to serving the poor and those in need. After his death, doctors examined his body. What they found was truly spectacular; Philip’s heart had actually been enlarged, and it had broken two of his ribs in order to beat normally.

Philip would become ordained a priest in 1551, and soon realized how much he loved to hear confessions. People would come from far and wide just to have their sins absolved and to be taught by Philip. He spent much time hearing the confessions of sinners, especially women who had committed sins and were very much looked down upon in society as evil. He was known for being an amazing teacher, one who did not only tell people not to do evil, but also gave them something else good to do instead. Philip realized that he especially loved to teach and hear the confessions of young men, and he was inspired to found the Oratory, an institution which served to give young men guidance in their lives. This congregation is what gives our school its namesake hundreds of years later.

St. Philip was known to have an excellent sense of humor, he always loved a good joke. Perhaps the most important lesson he taught, and the lesson which he can teach all of us, is humility. Philip himself practiced humility every day, always keeping himself below everyone else. The Oratory became bigger and bigger as Philip’s life progressed. He became known as the “Apostle of Rome”, because of all the service which he performed throughout his life. However, at the age of 80, St. Philip suffered a hemorrhage and died in 1595.

St. Philip Neri is truly a model for us all. His humble service and powerful teachings are actions which we should all learn to emulate. When we hear the word Oratory, let us think of the loving life of St Philip Neri, and how we continue to spread his message even today in adopting the namesake of his organization, which still exists to this very day.

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