Monasteries of Great Britain and Ireland – Oratorians

Oratorian PriestArticle

Active. Under No Vows. Founded 1558.

The Congregation of the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri, sometimes called Filippini, more generally known as the Oratorians or Priests of the Oratory, was founded by Saint Philip Neri in Rome in 1558. The holy founder was born in Florence in 1515, and as a little child was so holy that he went by the name of Pippo Buono. When he was eighteen his parents sent him to a rich cousin, in the hope that he would make him his heir; but Saint Philip, desiring to consecrate himself entirely to God, renounced all hope of succeeding to his uncle’s property, left his house, and went to Rome to finish his studies.

Here he lived a most exemplary life, resisting great temptations to which he was subject, and devoting himself entirely to his studies and pious exercises and works of mercy. He often went to visit the sick in the hospitals, and daily visited the seven Basilicas of Rome, and passed part of the night in prayer at the tombs of the martyrs in the Catacomb of Saint Sebastian. Some of his companions desired to follow his example, and joined him in making these stations daily. Their devotion made a great impression in the city, and was so fruitful in good results that, under the direction of his confessor, Persiano Rosa of Palestrina, and with his help, he founded, in 1548, the celebrated Confraternity of the Holy Trinity, which many joined, attracted by the instructions the Saint gave them. The work of the members was to exercise hospitality towards the poor pilgrims who came to Rome to visit the tombs of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and who often had to sleep in the streets or porches of the churches. In the Hospital of the Confraternity erected by Saint Philip 600,000 pilgrims were lodged in the jubilee year of 1625, and in the jubilee of 1825 over 250,000 were accommodated.

It was as a layman that Saint Philip began these good works, but in 1551 his confessor, persuaded that he would even do better work for God as a priest, urged him to receive Holy Orders, of which, in his humility, he had deemed himself unworthy, and it was not until commanded to do so that he consented to go to the altar. After he was ordained priest he went to live with his confessor and some other priests near the church of Saint Jerome, where the spiritual conferences which he held soon met with incredible success, and he became also much sought after as a confessor. To accommodate the numbers who attended these conferences, whom at first he received in his own room, he finally got leave to build a larger one over one of the aisles in Saint Jerome’s Church, to which he gave the name of the Oratory.

By degrees the evening exercises in this chapel, which consisted of sermon, hymns, and popular devotions, were arranged in a form which is still used in the Oratorian churches on week-day evenings except Saturdays.

Saint Philip was joined about this time by Baronius, the celebrated historian, afterwards a Cardinal; he was sent in 1564 with some other followers of Saint Philip to the church of Saint John the Baptist, which the Florentines had just built in Rome, and from this date the Congregation which took the name of the Oratory is considered to have been established. It was this Baronius who was often found, when sought by learned men who came to consult him, in the kitchen or scullery vested in an apron, and who wrote on the kitchen chimney-piece “Baronius coquus perpetuus,” for it was the custom of the community to divide the work of the house between them at this period.

In 1575 the Congregation had so increased that it was considered desirable they should have a church of their own, and, the old church of the Vallicella being given them, Saint Philip caused the beautiful Chiesa Nuova to be built on the site, and this became the mother-house of the Congregation on which, at first, certain of the Italian Oratories were dependent; but from the beginning the rule was that each house should be independent.

Another celebrated companion of Baronius was Tarugi, afterwards Archbishop of Avignon, and Cardinal. The Cardinal’s hat was offered several times to Saint Philip himself, but he declined it. He was elected perpetual Provost of the Congregation in 1587, and in consideration of being the founder he was elected for life; but the Constitutions ordered that this Superior could only be elected for three years, or at the most for six, if re-elected at the end of the first term. After the death of St Philip this was altered, and it was decided the Provost should be allowed to continue in his office as long as it was judged to be for the good of the Congregation. Saint Philip retired before his death, and was succeeded by Baronius, who held the office three years.

To the Constitutions Saint Philip added that no vows should be taken by the members of the Congregation, and that if anyone felt called to embrace the religious life in any Order of the Church he should be free to leave, the founder desiring that the Congregation should be united together by the bonds of charity only. The Constitutions were approved by Paul V in 1612, the erection of the Congregation having been prievously approved and confirmed by Gregory XIII in 1575.

Saint Philip in his humility had always declined to write down the Constitutions, so it was not till seventeen years after his death that, under Baronius, they received the confirmation of Paul V. The Congregation consists of secular priests and lay-Brothers, who attend to the domestic work of the house. The dress was from the beginning that of the secular clergy in Rome at that time, and this is still the habit of the Oratorians. Although no vow of poverty is taken, the members all contribute to the support of the whole community according to their means.

At Saint Philip’s death there were seven houses of Oratorians, and after his death they increased so in the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that in Italy and Sicily alone they numbered over ioo houses, besides twenty-one in Spain, ten in Portugal, and eight in France, but in more recent times they have lost many of their houses through the French Revolution and other anti-religious movements.

Besides Baronius and Tarugi, the Oratorians have given six other Cardinals, including Cardinal Newman, to the Church, and many Bishops and learned men.

It was to Cardinal Newman that we owe the introduction of the Oratorians to England; after his conversion he became acquainted with them and their work while he was in Rome, and in 1847 he planted the Congregation in England. The first house was at Old Oscott, but this was soon moved to Saint Wilfrid’s, Staffordshire, and thence to Birmingham in 1849; the present Oratory was begun to be built that same year at Edgbaston.

The London Oratory was originally in King William Street, Strand. The house was opened by Father Faber about the time the late Cardinal, then Dr. Newman, was founding the Birmingham Oratory, some of which Congregation joined Father Faber in the beginning, and the London house was then under obedience to Dr. Newman. In 1850 the London Congregation was made an independent one, and released from obedience to Birmingham; it was afterwards moved to Brompton, and the magnificent Oratory, which, until the last year or so, was the largest Catholic Church in England, was built after the style of Saint Peter’s in Rome.

The late Cardinal Newman lived at the Birming- ham Oratory after he received the Cardinal’s hat, and there the most illustrious English convert of the age died in 1890.

MLA Citation

  • Francesca M Steele. “Oratorians”. Monasteries of Great Britain and Ireland, 1903. CatholicSaints.Info. 1 December 2018. Web. 15 December 2018. <>