Saint Joseph Calasanctius (September 11, 1557 - August 25, 1648), (José de Calasanz) also known as Joseph Calasanz, and Josephus a Matre Dei, was the founder of the Pious Schools (for impoverished boys) and the Order of the Piarists.
His mother and brother having died, Don Pedro wanted Joseph to marry and perpetuate the family. But a sickness in 1582 soon brought Joseph to the brink of the grave. On his recovery, he was ordained a priest on December 17, 1583 by Hugo Ambrosio de Moncada, Bishop of Urgel.
During his ecclesiastical career in Spain, Calasanctius held various offices in his native region. Joseph began his ministry in the Diocese of Albarracín, where Bishop dela Figuera appointed him his theologian, confessor, synodal examiner, and procurator, and when the bishop was transferred to Lerida Joseph followed him to the new diocese. During that period, he spent several years in La Seu d'Urgell. As secretary of the Cathedral chapter, Calasanz had broad administrative responsibilities.
In 1586 dela Figuera was sent as Apostolic visitator to the Abbey of Montserrat and Joseph accompanied him as secretary. The bishop died the following year and Joseph left, though urgently requested to remain. He hurried to Calasanz only to be present at the death of his father. He was then called by his Bishop of Urgel to act as vicar-general for the district of Tremp.
In Rome he found a protector in Cardinal Marcoantonio Colonna who chose him as his theologian and instructor to his nephew. Rome offered a splendid field for works of charity, especially for the instruction of neglected and homeless children, many of whom had lost their parents. Joseph joined the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine and gathered the boys from the streets and brought them to school. The teachers, however, being poorly paid, refused to accept the additional labor without remuneration.
The pastor of Santa Dorotea, Anthony Brendani, offered him two rooms and promised assistance in teaching, and when two other priests promised similar help, Calasanctius, in November 1597, opened the first free public school in Europe.
In 1600 Calasanctius opened his “Pious Schools” in the center of Rome and soon there were extensions in response to growing demands for enrollment from students.
Pope Clement VIII gave an annual contribution and many others shared in the good work, so that in a short time Joseph had about one thousand children under his charge. In 1602 he rented a house at Sant'Andrea della Valle, commenced a community life with his assistants, and laid the foundation of the Order of the Pious Schools or Piarists.
In 1610 Calasanctius wrote the "Document Princeps" in which he set out the fundamental principles of his educational philosophy. The text was accompanied by regulations for teachers and for students. In 1612, the school moved to San Pantaleo which became the motherhouse of all the Pious Schools.
On September 15, 1616 the first public and free school in Frascati was started up on his initiative. One year later, Pope Paul V approved the "Congregation of the Pious Schools," the first religious institute dedicated essentially to teaching. During the following years Calasanctius established Pious Schools in various parts of Europe.
After convincing the Pope of the need to approve a religious Order with solemn vows dedicated exclusively to the education of youth, the congregation was made a religious order on November 18, 1621 by a Brief of Pope Gregory XV, under the name of "Ordo Clericorum regularium pauperum Matris Dei Scholarum Piarum." The term "Pauline" was dropped by this pope, while it was part of the original name per Pope Paul V. The Constitutions were approved on January 31, 1622 by Pope Gregory XV, and had all the privileges of the mendicant orders conferred upon it, Joseph Calasanctius being recognized as Superior General. The Order of the Pious Schools was thus the last of the religious Orders of solemn vows approved by the Church.
Calasanctius displayed the same moral courage, in his attitude to victims of the Inquisition, such as Galileo and Campanella, and in the acceptance of Jewish children in his schools, where they were treated with the same respect as other pupils. Similarly, Protestant pupils were enrolled in his schools in Germany. So great and universal was Calasanctius’ prestige that he was even asked by the Turkish Empire to set up schools there, a request which he could not, to his regret, fulfill, due to a lack of teachers. He organized and systematized a method of educating primary school pupils through progressive levels or cycles; a system of vocational training; and a system of public secondary education.
In an era when no one else was interested in public education, Calasanctius managed to set up schools with a highly complex structure. He was concerned with physical education and hygiene. He addressed the subject in various documents and requested school directors to monitor children’s health.
Calasanctius taught his students to read both in Latin and in the vernacular. While maintaining the study of Latin, he was a strong defender of vernacular languages, and had textbooks, including those used for teaching Latin, written in the vernacular. In that respect he was more advanced than his contemporaries.
Calasanctius placed great emphasis on the teaching of mathematics. Training in mathematics and science was considered very important in his Pious schools, both for pupils and teachers. But Calasanctius’ main concern was undoubtedly the moral and Christian education of his students. As both priest and educator, he considered education to be the best way of changing society. All his writing is imbued with his Christian ideals, and the constitutions and regulations of the Pious schools were based on the same spirit. Calasanctius created an ideal image of a Christian teacher and used it to train the teachers who worked with him.
Calasanctius was the first educator to advocate the preventive method: it is better to anticipate mischievous behaviur than to punish it. This method was later developed by St John Bosco, the founder of the Salesian Schools. In terms of discipline, and contrary to the prevailing philosophy of his own and subsequent eras, Calasanctius favored the mildest punishment possible. While believing that punishment was necessary in certain cases, he always preached moderation, love and kindness as the basis of any discipline.
When Galileo fell into disgrace, Calasanctius instructed members of his congregation to provide him with whatever assistance he needed and authorized the Piarists to continue studying mathematics and science with him. Their dignified and courageous support for Galileo does both Calasanctius and the Piarists great credit, bearing witness to the tolerance of a great educator. Unfortunately, those opposed to Calasanctius and his work used the support and assistance offered by the Piarists to Galileo as an excuse to attack them. Despite such attacks, Calasanctius continued to support Galileo. When 1637, Galileo lost his sight, Calasanctius ordered the Piarist Clemente Settimi to serve as his secretary.
Calasanctius brought the same understanding and sympathy he had shown to Galileo to his friendship with the great philosopher Tommaso Campanella (1558–1639). Campanella was one of the most profound and fertile minds of his time, producing famous philosophical works. Despite the fact that he was a highly controversial figure in his time, Campanella too maintained a strong and fruitful friendship with Calasanctius.
The philosopher whose utopian visions proposed social reforms in which the education of the masses played an important part must have been a kindred spirit for Calasanctius, who was already putting these Utopian ideas into practice. Calasanctius, with his courage and open-mindedness, invited the controversial thinker to Frascati to help teach philosophy to his teachers. It is not surprising, then, that Campanella, who had rallied to the support of Galileo, also came to the defense of his friend Calasanctius with his Liber apologeticus.
In 1642, as a result of an internal crisis in the congregation and outside intrigues and pressures, Calasanctius was briefly held and interrogated by the Inquisition. The following year, drawn into a power struggle fueled by political interests and personal ambitions, Calasanctius was removed from his post as Superior General, to be replaced by one of his detractors.
Opposition to the Piarist education of the poor, internal struggles within the order, and the Piarists' espousal of heliocentrism, with a group of Piarists helping out Galileo Galilei, led to his removal from office; the Order was deprived of its privileges by pope Innocent X in 1646 аfter a series of scandals involving, in particular, Stefano Cherubini, the headmaster of the Piarist school in Naples. Calasanctius continued to live in disgrace and the whole system built up over the years was in danger of collapse. Nevertheless, he always showed an examplary attitude facing the problems, a saintly life of prayer, sacrifice, patience and humility, and remained faithful to the Church.
Calasanctius died August 25, 1648, at the age of 91, admired for his holiness and courage by his students, their families, his fellow Piarists, and the people of Rome. He was buried in the church of San Pantaleo.
His heart and tongue are conserved incorrupt in a devotional chapel in the Piarist motherhouse in Rome.
Pope John Paul II affirmed that Saint Joseph Calasanz took as a model Christ, and he tried to transmit to the youth, besides the profane sciences, the wisdom of the Gospel, teaching them to grasp the loving harmony of God. Saint Joseph Calasanctius' liturgical feast is celebrated on August 25 in the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints and on August 27 according to the pre-1970 traditional calendar (see the General Roman Calendar as in 1954, the General Roman Calendar of Pope Pius XII, and the General Roman Calendar of 1962).
He is also remembered in a number of schools around the world, named after him and overviewed by the Piarists and other religious institutes that have him as patron saint.