Saint Philip Neri was born in Florence in 1515. He was one of four children of Francesco Neri. His mother died while he was very young and her place was filled by a capable stepmother. From birth Neri was ready and willing to be taught. He was a dutiful, attractive, popular and cheerful boy who everyone knew. After his childhood, at age 18, he was sent to live with a relative, who was to make Neri his apprentice and heir. Soon after he arrived, he had a mystical experience that radically changed his life. After thanking his relative for this opportunity, Neri set out for Rome with no money and no plan, trusting entirely to God's providence. The city that they arrived in, Rome, was full of starving people; Neri was just another mouth to feed. In Rome he found shelter under the roof of a former Florentine, a customs official, who offered him an attic and the bare necessities of life. In return for these great deeds, Phillip gave lessons to his two small sons. With this tutoring the two boys, they improved rapidly in all respects. He did indeed, as we will see, have a natural talent for bringing out the best in people of all ages and conditions.
In his first two years at Rome he spent much of his time is his bare, uncomfortable attic eating inexpensive meals of bread, water, and a few olives or vegetables. It was a period of intense preparation, and as he came back into the world, his spirit was strengthened and he firmly decided to live his life for God. He then took courses in philosophy and theology at the Sapienza and St. Augustine's monastery. He worked so hard, for three years, that he was considered an unusually promising scholar. Then, moved by some inner prompting, he put classes and studying to an end, sold most of his books, and launched on a mission to help the people of Rome.
He began his work with the most direct way possible, making acquaintances on street corners and in the public squares, where people were inclined to loiter.