Oratory in Formation
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor
The Oratory began in St Philip’s rooms in Rome, with informal meetings of young people, gathered in prayer, to hear and discourse on the Scriptures and other spiritual books, and to sing the praise of God. These same people would go out and visit the sick in prisons and hospitals, returning to spend more time in prayer in the company of Padre Filippo, their father and friend. Following the ordination of some of his disciples, to assist in the work, the idea of a Congregation came about. As Monsignor Knox remarked, “St Philip rather absent mindedly established the Congregation of the Oratory”. St Philip repeatedly asserted that he had no wish to establish any Order or Congregation, and yet, the community grew, and, despite Philip’s unwillingness, houses were established in Naples and San Severino. The Congregation grew up around the work that was at hand. It developed customs and traditions adapted to the manner of life required by the Apostolate in which they were engaged and accommodated to the needs of the time. Philip decreed that each house should remain autonomous, that each house should stand or fall, live or die, continue to exist or go out of existence, on account of its own vitality or lack of it!
Since the canonical establishment of the Oratory by Pope Gregory Xlll in 1575, there have been many priests and laymen eager to emulate the life of the first Fathers of the Oratory – wanting to live a community life without religious vows – and so the Institute grew, first in Italy, and in Spain and moving on to other European countries and South America, India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
The Congregation was first introduced to England by Blessed John Henry Newman, our Cardinal, when he established the Birmingham Oratory in 1848. The London Oratory followed in 1849. The community at Oxford was begun in 1990 by three members of the Birmingham house, the fulfilment of Newman’s dream of an Oratory in his old home.
There are currently 88 Oratorian communities, all united in the Confederation of Oratories of St Philip Neri. They are present in 21 countries: 57 Congregations in Europe, 29 in the Americas, 2 in Africa, with a total of 470 aggregated members, to which might be added 80 novices and about 100 aspirants. There are also a number of communities “in formation”. In Great Britain, there are four: at York, Manchester, Cardiff and here in Bournemouth.
Do please, keep the members of the Oratory in your prayers. It is a saying of ours that a son of St Philip is only known at his death. This is because he has persevered in the life of the institute, without vows, bound only “in vinculo caritatis” (in the bond of charity) until death. Pray that we may persevere in our vocation and that God and St Philip will bless us and our work here.