Saint of the Day – 27 August – St Joseph Calasanz Sch.P. (1557-1648) (Also known as: Joseph Calasanctius, Joseph of Our Lady, Josephus a Matre Dei, Joseph Calsanza) was a Spanish Catholic Priest, Teacher, Lawyer, Founder of the Pious Schools, (providing free education to the sons of the poor) and the Religious Order that ran them, commonly known as the Piarists. He was born on 11 September 1556 at Peralta, Barbastro, Aragon, Spain in his father’s castle and died on 25 August 1648 at Rome, Italy of natural causes. Patronages – Catholic schools (proclaimed on 13 August 1948 by Pope Pius XII), schools, colleges, universities, students, schoolchildren, the Piarists and the Congregation of Christian Workers of Saint Joseph Calasanz.
Joseph Calasanz was born in Aragon, Spain, in 1556 of a noble family, who gave him a very Christian education. When only five years old, he led a troop of children through the streets to find the devil and slay him. He became a lawyer and then a Priest (after a serious illness caused his father to relent in his opposition) and was engaged in various reforms when he heard a voice saying, “go to Rome, Joseph” and had a vision of many children who were being taught by him and by a company of Angels. When he reached the Holy City, his heart was moved by the vice and ignorance of the children of the poor and he saw clearly that ignorance was the mother of vice and misery. Sunday Catechism lessons were insufficient to remedy the situation. When he could find no collaboration under the existing frameworks, the children’s need mastered his profound humility and he undertook to found personally, the Order of Clerks Regular of the Pious Schools, or the Piarists.
The parish priest of Saint Dorothy’s Church in Trastevere, placed two rooms at his disposition and assisted him in all things. Two other good priests joined the founders, and the school soon had several hundred children. He taught the children catechism, reading, writing and arithmetic and he himself provided all that was necessary for the program of instruction, receiving nothing in payment. Other schools were organised elsewhere in Rome and the holy priest had scholars of every rank under his care. Each lesson began with prayer. Every half-hour, piety was renewed by acts of faith, hope and charity. At the end of the day the children were escorted home by the masters, so as to escape all harm on the way. An annual retreat was given them during the Easter season. Clement XIII approved the new Congregation, which became an Order with the ordinary three vows and in addition a definitive commitment to the instruction of the indigent.
Calasanz was a friend of Galileo Galilei and sent some distinguished Piarists as disciples of the great scientist. He shared and defended his controversial view of the cosmos. When Galileo fell into disgrace, Calasanz instructed members of his congregation to provide him with whatever assistance he needed and authorised the Piarists to continue studying mathematics and science with him. Unfortunately, those opposed to Calasanz and his work used the Piarists’ support and assistance to Galileo as an excuse to attack them. Despite such attacks, Calasanz continued to support Galileo. When, in 1637, Galileo lost his sight, Calasanz ordered the Piarist Clemente Settimi to serve as his secretary. But enemies arose against Saint Joseph, however, from among his own subjects, thus imposing on the Founder the most sorrowful of all crosses, resembling that of the Lord Himself. They accused him to the Holy Office and at the age of eighty-six he was led through the streets to prison, where he was briefly held and interrogated by the Inquisition.
The Order was reduced to a simple Congregation under local episcopal authority and was not restored to its former privileges until after the Saint’s death. Yet he died full of hope. My work, he said, was done solely for the love of God. Saint Joseph is the first to have given gratuitous instruction to the children of the people. Religion can claim for its own the instruction of the poor, both by birthright and by right of conquest.
St Joseph died at the age of 90 having always remained faithful in all things, admired for his holiness and courage by his students, their families, his fellow Piarists and the people of Rome. The body of Saint Joseph Calasanz reposes in the church of Saint Pantaleon in Rome, his heart and tongue are conserved incorrupt in a devotional chapel in the Piarist Motherhouse in Rome. Eight years after his death, Pope Alexander VII cleared the name of the Pious Schools. Joseph Calasanz was beatified on 7 August 1748, by Pope Benedict XIV. He was Canonised by Pope Clement XIII in 1767 and on 13 August 1948, Ven Pope Pius XII declared him to be the “Universal Patron of all Christian schools in the world.”