August 24, 2016

Saint Joseph Calasanz, Priest and Founder

St. Joseph Calasanz
August 25th, is the Optional Memorial of Saint Joseph Calasanz, (1557-1648) the Spanish priest and educator who founded the The Order of Poor Clerics Regular of the Mother of God of the Pious Schools, (the Piarists) a community devoted to the instruction of youth. He was born in Peralta, Aragon, and educated in philosophy, law and theology. His father desired that he marry, but upon recovering from a life threatening illness, Joseph resolved to become a priest. He was ordained in 1583, after which he served as a secretary, administrator and theologian in the diocese of Albarracín, Spain.

In 1592, Joseph traveled to Rome, where he worked as a theologian for Cardinal Marcoantonio Colonna. While residing there, he visited the seven principal churches each evening, as well as venerating the graves of the Roman martyrs. At that time, the Eternal City was afflicted with a series of deadly plagues. Alongside Saint Camillus de Lellis, Joseph tended to the afflicted and helped carry the bodies of the dead to burial. The two future saints engaged in a kind of holy rivalry to see which of them, in aiding the sick and the stricken, could do so more perfectly.

Together with the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, in 1597, he opened the first free public school in Europe, one that accepted homeless youth. Within a decade, he founded a community for teaching poor children, which became known as the Piarists. With financial backing from Popes Clement VIII and Paul V, the Piarists soon had a thousand children in their charge. Joseph Calasanz was instrumental in establishing the first free public schools in Italy. In 1617, Pope Paul V approved the Congregation of the Pious Schools, the first religious order so dedicated to teaching. In the following years, Joseph started Pious schools throughout Europe.

At Joseph’s insistence, the Piarists accepted Jewish children into their schools and ensured they were treated equally. Textbooks were in vernacular languages, not Latin. Joseph gave priority to the study of mathematics and science. As a friend of the scientist Galileo Galilei, he sent some of his Piarists to study with him. He agreed with and defended Galileo’s heliocentric view of the planets. This caused him to be viewed unfavorably in influential quarters and he was forced to resign as superior general of the Piarists.

His heroic patience and humility in the face of great persecution earned him the approbation, "the Second Job". Despite garnering support from many, in 1586, Joseph was paraded through the streets of Rome by the Inquisition as a criminal. His life is an example of how God allows misunderstandings and hostility, even from the Church, to frustrate honorable undertakings. Joseph died in 1648, at the age of 90. At the time of his death his Order was facing demise. Eight years after his death, Pope Alexander VII cleared his name and that of the Piarist Order. The Order once again flourished and continued to spread across Europe.

Joseph Calasanz was beatified in 1748 by Pope Benedict XIV and canonized by Pope Clement XIII in 1767. In 1948, Pope Pius XII declared him the patron saint of Catholic schools. Among those educated in Piarist schools were: Francisco Goya, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Schubert, Gregor Mendel and Victor Hugo. O God, who adorned the Priest Saint Joseph Calasanz with such charity and patience that he labored tirelessly to educate children and endow them with every virtue, grant, we pray, that we, who venerate him as a teacher of wisdom, may constantly imitate him, for he was a co-worker of your truth.

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