The Congregation of the Oratory is a group of priests and lay brothers living a common life without vows. The Oratorian vocation is unique in the Church where most priests are either secular (diocesan) priests, or religious priests, who normally live in community, and are bound by vows.
An Oratorian lives in his own community, and cannot be moved around from one house to another. Unless he leaves the Oratory, or makes a new foundation, he will spend his entire life as a priest living in the same place.
The Oratory was founded by St Philip Neri in Rome in the sixteenth century. He sent many of his followers to join religious orders, but never himself felt called to it. Instead, he founded an institute where the bond between members is not a formal canonical vow, but a bond of charity. The ideal of St Philip, after which the members of the Oratory strive, is one of community life and priestly service lived in a spirit of prayer, and where obedience is offered out of fraternal love, and not any external compulsion.
The Oratorian vocation allows for a degree of flexibility in pastoral work, provided that it is not incompatible with the demands of the duties of the Congregation. Internationally, Oratorians are involved in ministries as diverse as school, hospital, prison and university chaplaincies, teaching, and work in Rome, as well as the more traditional parish ministries.
Each Oratorian house is fully independent and autonomous. However, since 1944, there has been a loose Confederation of Oratories, whose main purposes are to provide a central point of contact for Oratorians with the Holy See in Rome, and the oversight of new houses seeking to become independent Oratorian Congregations.