The Brooklyn Oratory
Saint Philip Neri, a 16th century layman, was a native of Florence who lived nearly sixty years in Rome. Always devout, out-going, funny and friendly, Saint Philip often invited friends to his one-room apartment for shared prayer, Bible study and singing. These informal gatherings became so popular they had to be moved to successively larger rooms. In time, these quarters began to be described as Oratories, that is, places where prayers were led, the name being derived from the Latin orare, to pray.
Permanence is an Oratory's hallmark.
The lay men and women who gathered there were rightly called Oratorians, or pray-ers. The success of the Oratory naturally caused it to evolve into a more organized structure. Saint Philip was ordained a priest at age 36 and then several other bright young followers were ordained. They were formally given a church in Rome called the Chiesa Nuova, or New Church, which still stands near the Piazza Navona.
The priests and lay brothers who came to pray, live and eat together were designated a formal congregation - the Oratory - by Pope Gregory XIII in 1575. Their "work" was to assist the first, primary group of Oratorians, the laity. The Oratory priests and brothers were and are different from all other religious communities (e.g. Jesuits and Franciscans) in that they take no vows and remain together fully bound only by charity. Oratorian priests and brothers are therefore members of a Pontifical Congregation who live and work within a diocese free to serve where there is a need and a job. Oratories can be found the world over: in England, France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Spain, Poland, Mexico, South America, and the United States.
Here in Brooklyn, the Oratory's principal ministry is to the parish of Saint Boniface and to the people who work in the downtown area of Brooklyn. Oratory priests are its pastor and administrators by contract with the Bishop of Brooklyn. The laity who travel distances to this church building are technically Oratorians who gather in the church for the special prayer and liturgies that have marked Oratories since their inception. They are also rightly called parishioners of the Oratory Church of Saint Boniface and join with local members of St. Boniface parish to form various facets of our life together. St. Boniface is primarily a place of prayer in an urban center.
Another mission of the Brooklyn Oratory is comprised of the varied works of the Breukelein Institute, its secular, not-for-profit arm. Through encouragement of the arts locally, support given to works of charity outside the sphere of the Oratory and a commitment to educational scholarships, the Breukelein Institute allows the Oratory to extend its work into places that might not otherwise be possible for a religious community.
While technically the Provost administers the Brooklyn Oratory under the supervision of Rome, the local Bishop is the source of priestly authority. However the Bishop's authority does not extend to assigning or transferring Oratorian priests or brothers. Nor do they move from Oratory to Oratory. Permanence is their hallmark.
All who have chosen to become Oratorians have embarked on a new journey full of opportunity. Our vision remains what Saint Philip Neri's vision was - the Oratory as a place of prayer, a people of prayer: open, loyal, orthodox, serving, seeking God's grace, and sharing God's Joy!