Saint Joseph Calasanz, Universal Patron of All Christian Schools in the World
Who is he?
Saint Joseph Calasanz is the Universal Patron of all Christian Schools in the world. The Founder of the Piarist Order. He was a Religious of the Piarist Order and a Priest in the Catholic Church.
Born on September 11, 1557, at Peralta de la Sal in Aragon-Spain, he was the youngest of the eight children, and second son, of Pedro de Calasanz and María Gastón. He was well educated and at the age of 14, he expressed his desire to become a Priest. When Joseph’s mother and brother died, his father wanted him to marry and carry on the family out of his wish. Sickness in 1582 soon brought Joseph to the brink of the grave, which caused his father to relent. On his recovery, he was ordained a priest on December 17, 1583, by Hugo Ambrosio de Moncada, Bishop of Urgel in Spain.
In Spain, Calasanz held various offices in his native region, and in 1592, at 35, he moved to Rome. He hoped to further his ecclesiastical career and secure some kind of a better post of responsibility. He lived there for most of his remaining 56 years. In Rome, instead of acquiring a better post of responsibility, Calasanz discovered Christ in the poor and abandoned street children, and in his compassionate heart decided to help educate them. This led to the opening of the first free public school in Europe by him on November 27th, 1597 in two rooms just off of the parish sacristy of the Church of Santa Dorotea in Trastevere, offered by the pastor; Anthony Brendani.
Calasanz’s work grew in piety and in numbers. In 1600, he opened his “Pious School” in the center of Rome, and soon there were extensions, in response to growing demands for enrollment from students. In 1610, Calasanz wrote the Document Princeps in which he laid out the fundamental principles of his educational philosophy. The text was accompanied by regulations for teachers and for students. On March 6, 1617, Pope Paul V approved the Pauline Congregation of the Poor of the Mother of God of the Pious Schools.
Pope Clement VIII gave an annual contribution and many others shared in the good work so that in a short time Calasanz had about 1,000 children under his charge. In 1602, he rented a house at Sant’Andrea Della Valle, started a community life with his assistants, and laid the foundation of the Order of the Pious Schools or Piarists.
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 raised to that status on November 18, 1621, by a papal brief of Pope Gregory XV, under the name of “Order of Poor Clerics Regular of the Mother of God of the Pious Schools”, which was thus the last of the religious Orders of solemn vows approved by the Church.
Calasanz Educational Principles
Calasanz was the founder of the first free public school in modern Europe. In both cases, it was a revolutionary initiative, a radical break with the class privileges that kept the masses marginalized and in poverty. In the history of education, Calasanz is an educator of the poor, offering education free of charge to all classes of society, without discrimination.
Calasanz 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 Calasanz’s prestige that he was even asked by the Ottoman 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, Calasanz 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.
Calasanz 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.
Calasanz 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 Calasanz’s main concern was undoubtedly the moral and Christian education of his students, thus, his motto: “Piety and Literacy”. 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. Calasanz created an ideal image of a Christian teacher and used it to train the teachers who worked with him.
Calasanz was the first educator to advocate the preventive method: it is better to anticipate mischievous behavior than to punish it. This method was later developed by John Bosco, the founder of the Salesian schools. In terms of discipline, and contrary to the prevailing philosophy of his own and subsequent eras, Calasanz 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.
Calasanz Last Days
His pedagogical idea of educating every child, his schools for the poor, his support of the heliocentric sciences of Galilei, and his service towards children and youth all aroused the opposition of many among the governing classes in society and the ecclesiastical hierarchy. In 1642, as a result of an internal crisis in the congregation as well as outside intrigues and pressures, Calasanz was briefly held and interrogated by the Inquisition.
With such dissension, the Holy See took the easy course of suppressing the Order. In 1646, it was deprived of its privileges by Pope Innocent X.
Calasanz always remained faithful to the Church and died on August 25, 1648, at the age of 90, 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. However, Calasanz’s dream and achievement never died with his death but eight years after his death, Pope Alexander VII reinstated the Pious Schools. Joseph Calasanz was beatified on August 7, 1748, by Pope Benedict XIV. He was later canonized by Pope Clement XIII on July 16, 1767.
On August 13, 1948, Pope Pius XII declared him to be the “Universal Patron of all Christian popular schools in the world.”
His heart and tongue are conserved incorrupt in a devotional chapel in the Piarist motherhouse in Rome. His major shrine is found at San Pantaleo in Rome.
He is venerated in the Catholic church as the universal Patron of all Christian Schools.
His Feast Day is celebrated every year in the Church on August 25th and for the schools on August 27. Thus, August is regarded in the Order as the month of St. Joseph Calasanz.
And that is Saint Joseph Calasanz the Universal Patron of all Christian Schools in the world and his educational principles.
Saint Joseph Calasanz
Saint Joseph Calasanz Universal Patron of All Christian Schools
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