St. Philip Neri: The Saint who Loved Cats

St. Philip Neri. (Wikimedia Commons)
The sixteenth-century Italian Catholic saint St. Philip Neri was a man who spent his life serving God, and made a lasting impact on the Church. Also, St. Philip Neri was famous for another love: His love of cats.

During his lifetime, St. Philip Neri gained a reputation for being a very jovial but devout man. He made no secret that joke books were his favorite books along with the Bible! Some of his famous prayers and quotes were humorous in nature, but contained pearls of wisdom and inspiration. However, he was also a man who dedicated his life to God. He started his charity work when he was 18 years old and when he was 37, he was finally ordained a priest. He built an oratory in Rome over the church of San Girolamo (and inadvertently helped create the Oratorio in the process), served the young men of Rome and beyond, and organized charity work throughout the city.

In his older years, he could often be seen around Rome with his cat, who was the subject of (and named "Jeoffry" in) Christopher Smart's famous 18th century poem about St. Philip Neri. According to the 1894 biography of St. Philip Neri by Alphonso Capecelatro, the cat was a female cat who lived with St. Philip Neri in his cell at St. Girolamo.

In 1583, St. Philip Neri was asked to relocate to the monastery at Vallicella by the Pope, although he would remain in the government of the Oratory at St. Girolamo until his death. Upon leaving St. Girolamo, he left his cat in his cell as an example of self-mortification to his disciples. He made the disciples feed her and even made penitents carry her around Rome as penance for their sins! His love for his cat never faded away, despite being in increasingly bad health and advancing old age. He always asked his disciples for the latest news about her and made sure she was well-taken care of in his absence. Not only did he ask these questions as a way of finding out the latest information about her, but also as a way to break down pride and vanity in the monks who served at the oratory!

St. Philip Neri died in 1595 and was canonized by Pope Gregory XV in 1622. His cat lived for some six years after his departure from St. Girolamo. During her lifetime she became one of Rome's most famous cats, and St. Philip Neri has had the distinct reputation of being one of the few saints who loved and kept cats up to this very day!

For more about St. Philip Neri, please visit:
- (A bio of St. Philip Neri.)
- (A 1929 article from All Blackfriar's magazine about Catholic saints and their relationship with animals. Includes a section on St. Philip Neri and his cat.)
- (A poem by the 18th century English poet and alleged "madman" Christopher Smart about "Jeoffry".)
- (Section from Woodeene Koenig-Bricker's 2001 book Praying With the Saints: Making Their Prayers Your Own about St. Philip Neri.)

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