St. Joseph Calasanz: "Apostle to the poor"

Today Mother Church celebrates the feast day of St. Joseph Calasanz, a man who worked tirelessly to educate children of the poor who otherwise had no opportunities to learn.

Born on Sept. 11, 1556, Joseph grew up in Spain in a wealthy family. Later in his life, he tutored people in Rome and was especially concerned with people who were displaced as a result of floods and plagues and the like. People began to refer to him as the “apostle of the poor” because of this, and because he was always sure to share with his students the faith.

Joseph began to see that there was a huge need here, a need that could not be adequately addressed one person at a time by one man. And so he set schools up in Europe.

One problem was that he couldn’t find teachers willing to do it, and if he could, they weren’t all that great. After all, this was a free school, an idea that hadn’t been actualized (at least to this degree) until Joseph.

And so Pope Clement VIII encouraged Joseph to start a religious order charged with the mission of educating the poor for free. Pope Paul V made the same recommendation when he began his term, and so it happened. Joseph became the head of the Clerks Regular of Pious Schools, also known as Piarists.

Information on Wikipedia is here.

The problem that emerged after these schools were founded in great number: other people wanted to join in. That is to say, students who were attending private schools. It was partly because Joseph’s schools were free, but also because of the superior education they afforded students.

And so, powerful people, concerned that the poor were learning too much that they might “take over”, got to action to close the schools down. Somehow, there were even members of his own order that turned against him for one reason or another.

So much controversy was brewing, that the Holy See got involved. The religious men teaching in this order, at least a few of them, complained and attempted to convince the Pope that the order needed to be shut down.

Joseph was arrested, largely because of the falsities that people spoke against him. And so the order’s work came to a close, and the fate of the order looked gloomy. The Pope did indeed put the kibosh on it.

His hope remained that one day the order might be restored, and that it might one day resume service to the poor, especially in educating children. He died in 1648, and never did live to see the day that this order was restored by Pope Clement IX in 1668.

Because of his dedication the youth formation, he is the patron saint of colleges, universities, schools, and students, especially the poor.

Lord, You blessed Saint Joseph Calasanz with such charity and patience that he dedicated himself to the formation of Christian youth. As we honor this teacher of wisdom may we follow his example in working for truth. Amen.

St. Joseph Calasanz: Pray for us