Saint Joseph Calasanctius
Founder of the Clerks Regular of Religious Schools (Piarists)
Saint Joseph Calasanctius was born in Aragon 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 priest, 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 organized 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.
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. 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. The body of Saint Joseph Calasanctius reposes in the church of Saint Pantaleon in Rome. He was canonized by Clement XIII in 1767.
Reflection: My children, said the Curé of Ars, I often think that most of the Christians who are lost are lost for want of instruction; they do not know their religion well.
Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 10; Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).