Brief History of St Philip Neri Parish
Our history began in the fall of 1908 when several young people attending St. Joseph Church realized the need for a new parish on the east side of Indianapolis. At that time the streetcar route on Michigan Street ended at Tacoma Avenue. Beyond that there were only fields, dusty roads or paths.
A census taken by these interested young men revealed that some seventy-five or more families lived in the area and plans were formed to meet with the Bishop in the hope of establishing a new parish at Rural and North Streets. Ground broke on February 1, 1909 with the cornerstone ceremony taking place around March 7, 1909 and the church opened on June 27, 1909.
Our Patron, Saint Philip Neri
Philip Romolo Neri was born in Florence, Italy on July 22, 1515. Philip came from a poor, working-class background. His mother died while he was very young. He had a brother, who died in childhood, and two sisters. Philip was a very religious youth. As a boy, he was blessed to have studied language, religion, the arts, and philosophy with the Dominican friars.
When Philip was 18, he was sent to live with his uncle. There he was to be an apprentice, and inherit the uncle’s business. Philip would often escape to a local chapel in the mountains to pray. After a very short time, Philip had a conversion. He received word in a vision that he was to be sent as an apostle to Rome.
Philip arrived in Rome with no money. A fellow Florentine took him in and Philip was paid an allowance to tutor his two sons. He stayed with the family for the next 17 years. In 1535, Philip, began studying philosophy and theology. When he felt that his studies were interfering with his prayer life, Philip sold his books and gave the money to the poor. He was a creative poet writing in both Italian and Latin.
Historians tell of the widespread sin, immorality, and the dishonest popes that plagued Rome at that time. Philip began a personal pilgrimage around Rome. He began to pray in the catacombs, where the saints had been martyred and where criminals lurked. He began ministering to criminals, prostitutes and the incurables in the filthy Roman hospitals.
It was in the hospital that Philip met Ignatius of Loyola. Philip found companionship in Ignatius and his followers, who eventually formed their own religious order—the Jesuits. Philip continued his pastoral ministry in Rome.
A few days before Pentecost in 1544, Philip was deep in prayer. He received a vision of a ball of fire that entered his mouth and went into his chest, and physically enlarged his heart. Philip was so filled with the Spirit that he began evangelizing and ministering to teenage boys and young men. To keep these men from straying, Philip found safe places for them to pray and study. He organized pilgrimages complete with picnic lunches, music in the vernacular, and even exercise. The practice of the 40 Hours’ Devotion before the Blessed Sacrament is attributed to Philip and his disciples.
Philip was convinced by his spiritual director that he could do even more as a priest. In 1551, at the age of 36, he was ordained. Philip heard confessions around the clock. He had the gift of telling his penitents of their sins before they confessed.
Throughout his priestly ministry Philip Neri continued to have more and more followers, whom he led in prayer. The simple Christian life of a group of friends was a gust of fresh wind through Rome. His fraternity attracted a broad base of disciples: criminals, womanizers, artists, and even Italian nobility. Philip Neri was accused of starting a cult, a charge that was later shown to be baseless with the help of Charles Cardinal Borromeo.
The witness and ministry of Philip Neri and his disciples’ led to the formal foundation of a religious order by virtue of a papal directive. The secular priests and lay brothers were dedicated to prayer, pastoral ministry, and evangelization. The order was called the Congregation of the Oratory and was officially established in 1575.
In his later years, Philip suffered from several illnesses, each of which was cured through prayer. In 1590, Pope Gregory XIV tried to make him a cardinal, but Philip declined. Philip Neri died in 1595 at age 79.