A PROPOSAL TO ENTER INTO THE COMMON LIFE IN VIEW OF ERECTING AN ORATORY OF SAINT PHILIP NERI
A Roman Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Vancouver, I, Fr. Lawrence Donnelly, am searching for men who are inspired to pursue the vocation of priesthood, not as religious, but as secular priests living in community. Together we would live as a family of priests and brothers embodying the spirit and charism of Saint Philip and the Oratory. I am grateful to God for my call to the priesthood and it seems my place is here as a secular priest in Vancouver. I am currently the parish priest of Saint Joseph’s Parish, Langley. However, even though I am a diocesan priest, I feel the call and the need for community life. Also I believe that the Holy Spirit is moving me to a deeper commitment. In this way, with like-minded individuals, I would like to continue to be of service to the local church., and eventually, with the permission of the Ordinary, to form an Oratory of Saint Philip Neri.
Priests in Community
The Church encourages the common life even for secular priests. Vatican II’s Presbyterorum Ordinis, the 1992 post-synodal apostolic exhortation Pastores dabo vobis, and the Congregation for the Clergy’s 1994 Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests (¶ 29) offer encouragement for secular priests to live in community. Paragraph 8 from the Vatican II decree states: “…in order that priests may find mutual assistance in the development of their spiritual and intellectual life, that they may be able to cooperate more effectively in their ministry and be saved from the dangers of loneliness which may arise, it is necessary that some kind of common life or some sharing of common life be encouraged among priests.” Pope John Paul II, in his apostolic exhortation, was very supportive of the common life among priests. He wrote: “Today, it is impossible not to recommend them (i.e. forms of community life), especially among those who live together or are pastorally involved in the same place. Besides the advantage which comes to the apostolate and its activities, this common life of priests offers to all, to fellow priests and lay faithful alike, a shining example of charity and unity (¶ 81).” This new community would be that joyful witness to the faithful of what the Psalmist spoke: “Behold how good and how pleasant it is that brothers live together in unity!” (Ps. 132.1)
The Nature of the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri
Every healthy community lives its common life in accord with a certain spirit or charism. I am drawn to the charism of Saint Philip Neri and the institution he founded. An Oratory is a clerical society of apostolic life made up of secular priests, brothers in priestly formation and lay brothers living in community. The members do not make religious vows, but are bound to the community by the bonds of fraternal charity, according to the will of St. Philip. Each foundation is autonomous from all other Oratories and its members do not pass from one community to another but remain in the foundation where they entered.
The community is at the service of the local Church and exercises its ministry in obedience to and in union with the local Ordinary. The members of the Oratory foster fraternal love for the clergy of the diocese, both secular and religious, and cherish an affection for the local Church. Taking its inspiration from the Saint, the Oratorian way is marked by joy. Charity and humility are the pillars of its common life. Simplicity and purity, detachment and voluntary poverty, mortification and perseverance are its prized virtues. Primary among its means of perfection is prayer, which is reflected in the very name of the institution. Daily mental prayer in common is obligatory. Following St Philip’s example, there is a zeal for the sacrament of penance as well as the giving of spiritual direction. The celebration of the Eucharist, and all that promotes reverence and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is of utmost importance for the Oratorian. Devotion to Mary has marked the Oratorian way right from its inception. St. Philip always would say that Our Lady was the true founder of the Oratory.
Finally, because of the Oratorian tradition of direction of souls and the predilection for preaching, a love of learning and on-going study is also a mark of the Oratory.
The Oratorian way has been a tried and true form of common life for secular priests and approved by the Church for almost four and a half centuries.
The Oratory is open to many apostolates, first among which is the promotion of the lay apostolate. St. Philip was a lay apostle many years before becoming a priest. He had formed an association of the laity, which eventually became the Secular Oratory. It came together not only for the spiritual exercises, preaching, and sacred music, but also the members performed works of charity, catechized, promoted knowledge of the Scriptures, cared for the sick, and ministered to pilgrims in Rome. The clerical society of the Oratory was founded in order to provide for the spiritual needs of the Secular Oratory.
Fostering a deep appreciation of the Eucharist and the liturgy among the laity has always had a place of honour. From the earliest days of the Oratory, preaching was a principal form of the apostolate. Youth ministry and education are also traditional fields, inspired by St. Philip’s concern for young people.
Of Benefit to the Archdiocese
A Congregation of the Oratory in Vancouver would not only be an enhancement of our own life and ministry as priests, but also a great benefit to the Archdiocese. It would provide another witness of the unity and joy of community life and bring the charism of St. Philip to the Archdiocese. It would provide a local option for those young men, who would like to pursue a vocation to the priesthood within community life. These vocations would remain in the Archdiocese.
In Harmony with the Recent Archdiocesan Synod
The Oratorian spirit and traditional apostolates harmonize well with the direction indicated by the recent synodal proposals, in particular those dealing with promotion of the lay apostolate, adult faith formation, education, liturgical formation, youth ministry, lay scripture study, formation in prayer and the spiritual life, catechesis, promotion of our Catholic cultural heritage, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and Liturgy of the Hours in parish life.
How would the community support itself financially?
Each priest would have to support himself by obtaining from the Archdiocese, or some other source, work that would provide a salary with which to support himself. A portion of each priest’s salary is handed over to the community for its needs. The community could also receive donations.
Vocations & Formation
What are the qualities we would look for in future candidates? They should have a zeal for God and for leading others to Him. In part, this zeal shows itself in an unwavering fidelity to the Magisterium. They should desire community life and see it as an enrichment to their future priestly ministry. They must have a habit of prayer. They should want to grow in their knowledge and appreciation of the Sacred Liturgy, devotion to the Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin. On a human level, they would show integrity of character, honesty, and openness. They should possess a spirit of simplicity and humility, temperance and flexibility.
We see our future candidates formed in the same manner as seminarians for the Archdiocese. When not in residence at the seminary, they would live in the community. Together with them, we would form ourselves in the community life by studying the relevant documents from the Church. We would also seek the guidance of the Confederation of the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri for formation in the Oratorian way.
Should there be a priest who asks to join, we would require fidelity to the Magisterium, zeal for souls, and a thirst for and habit of prayer. The Sacred Liturgy should play a vital role in his personal sanctification. He should have the conviction that a proper and faithful celebration of the liturgy is an important means of sanctification for the faithful and for evangelization. He must desire to live a life of simplicity.
Believing that this project is a work of the Holy Spirit, I place this initiative in the hands of the Blessed Virgin Mary, spouse of the Holy Spirit. This future community will be a family of priests and brothers with Blessed Mary as our mother and guide in the ways of the Spirit. Saint Philip, the saint of Christian joy, will be our inspiration and model for the common life and ministry. God willing, as a community, its members would be good and faithful servants in the diocese for years to come.
A Few Words about the Saint
Born into a noble family, the son of a Florentine notary, Philip Neri (1515-1595) was remarkable in his youth for self-discipline and love of learning. At age 17 he was sent to work with an uncle, a wealthy merchant, who offered to leave Philip his business. But commerce was repugnant to Neri. At 18 he renounced the lucrative offer and went to Rome. There he supported himself as a private tutor, studying, fasting and praying. He especially admired the life and work of Savonarola. To all who knew him, he seemed destined for the priesthood. How astonished they were when instead he sold his books, gave the proceeds to the poor, and became a lay evangelist.
For 13 years he pursued his individualistic course, steeping himself in piety, meditating on the Gospels, visiting the catacombs, and winning over friends and acquaintances to Christ. In 1548 he left his solitary path and organized a group of laymen to assist impoverished or sick pilgrims. His spiritual director, Father Rosa, urged him to become a priest, arguing he would better be able to serve the world. Neri consented.
As a priest at San Girolamo della Carità in Rome, his confessional drew many pilgrims and converts. To further their sanctification, he developed a series of informal afternoon talks and discussions, combined with prayers and hymns.
Several of Philip’s followers became priests. At the church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini, they formed a community but took no vows. They prayed and worked together in an oratory built over the church, and on this day, May 25, 1574, they became the nucleus of a new society of clerics, the Congregation of the Oratory. He adapted the work he had developed at San Girolamo to his new church. Often the talks and Bible readings were accompanied by musical pieces composed by his follower, Palestrina. Thus was born the musical form known as the oratorio. The Congregation of the Oratory was approved by Pope Gregory XIII in 1575. Since then, Congregations of the Oratory have spread throughout the globe. Today there are 78 congregations in eighteen countries. Since 1962, twenty-eight new foundations have been established, which shows how this form of community life for secular priests is still appropriate and attractive in our times.
The church Santa Maria in Vallecella in Rome, later to be called the Chiesa Nuova, was given to the new clerical society. There Philip laboured with much success to call worldly church leaders to personal holiness. Great men and the spiritual leaders of the age, including Ignatius of Loyola, came to him for advice. Next to Loyola, Neri is considered the greatest of the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation figures and is also known as the Apostle of Rome. Some report his personality was in many respects as attractive as St. Francis of Assisi’s. The Catholic converts John Henry Newman and Frederick Faber founded Congregations of Oratory in England.
Websites on the saint and the Oratory:
Bibliography: A. Gallonio. The Life of St. Philip Neri. P. Turks. Philip Neri: The Fire of Joy. L. Bouyer. The Roman Socrates. L. Ponelle & L. Bordet. St. Philip Neri and the Roman Society of His Times (1515-1595). A. Capecelatro. The Life of Saint Philip Neri, Apostle of Rome.