St. Joseph Calasanz, founder of the Piarist Fathers, is credited as the patron of education
by luke eggleston
sun staff writer
When St. Joseph Calasanz moved from Spain to Rome in 1592, he was hoping to advance his vocational career. Instead, he found a new calling.
St. Joseph was stricken by the poverty of many Roman children and, with the permission of Pope Clement VIII, he decided to open a free school for children regardless of their religious affiliation.
Now St. Joseph is considered not only a precursor to Catholic education for the poor, but also the father of public education, according to Piarist Father Tom Carroll.
Along with one other priest, Father Carroll runs the Piarist School in rural Martin, Ky., which provides a free education to 50 students, only four of whom are Catholic.
Father Carroll was inspired to join the Piarist order after seeing an ad in a magazine. His response to the call was cemented when he read the fourth principle of education as established by St. Joseph: Schools should be open to every child without discrimination as to race, faith or social class.
“I wanted to belong to a religious order but I also wanted to teach,” Father Carroll said.
Father Carroll chose the Piarists over other teaching orders such as the Jesuits and the La Sallian Christian Brothers because of their commitment to the poor.
St. Joseph was born in Peralta de la Sal, Aragon, in what is modern day Spain in 1557. He was well educated with a background in classical studies, philosophy, law and theology before his ordination in 1583.
His work in education began after moving to Rome. He opened the first free school in the city in 1597 and, in 1600, he opened the first Pious School. Pope Clement VIII contributed significantly to the school and soon St. Joseph had approximately 1,000 students enrolled at the Pious School.
St. Joseph outlined his principles of education in 1610. The first principle is: Instruction is a necessary part of education, but it is only one part. The child must also be encouraged to know God, to know himself and to find fulfillment.
St. Joseph wrote that free education must be made available to all children and that it is important not only for the individual child but also for society as a whole.
“Education is the most effective means towards the reform of society,” St. Joseph wrote as the ninth principle.
According to Father Carroll, St. Joseph’s initiative was met with resistance from the pre-existing educational system, but he persevered.
In addition to the school in Rome, St. Joseph set up a school in Germany in which Protestant students were enrolled. The concept became so popular that the Turkish Empire invited St. Joseph to establish a school there, but he was unable to because he lacked the staff.
In addition to standard curricula, which included texts both in the vernacular and Latin, St. Joseph’s schools addressed physical education and hygiene. He also placed a heavy emphasis on mathematics and science.
Along with 14 others, St. Joseph formed the new religious congregation with the permission of Pope Paul V in 1617. In 1621, Pope Gregory XV raised the congregation to the level of a religious order. The Piarist Fathers’ order was called the Order of the Pious School. The letters “Sch. P.,” which follow their names, are an abbreviation for “Scholarum Piarum” (of the Pious Schools).
St. Joseph was friends with Galileo Galilei, whose ideas he shared and defended even when the astronomer became an object of persecution. St. Joseph was also close to controversial philosopher Tommaso Campanella.
St. Joseph came under fire in the 1640s because of the radical ideas he implemented and because of his support for controversial figures such as Galileo and Campanella.
In 1642, the Inquisition interrogated St. Joseph and he was removed from his position as Superior General of the Piarist Fathers. St. Joseph spent his remaining years in disgrace before passing away Aug. 25, 1648, at the age of 91.
Pope Clement XIII canonized St. Joseph in 1767.
The 1,650 Piarist Fathers worldwide teach 115,000 students in 26 countries. In the U.S. they are not as influential as elsewhere. There are three schools in the U.S. run by the Piarists: Cardinal Gibbons in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.; Devon Preparatory School near Philadelphia; and the Piarist School in Kentucky.