Saint Joseph Calasanz, a Radical Reformer

We would be remiss if we did not at least remark on this day on the great Saint Joseph Calasanz (+1648), a zealous priest, pastor, reformer and educator, who more or less set up what we now take for granted – universal basic education for all children, free of charge for the poor, before which time they were left to wallow in ignorance, two centuries before the further reforms of his fellow Italian, Saint John Bosco.

At some point, I’d like to read and write more on this intriguing renaissance man, who gave up riches and privilege to follow the via crucis, and was far ahead of his time. His schools, run by the society he founded, the Order of the Pious Schools (known as the Piarists), emphasized the traditional curriculum, Latin and the humanities. But they also had their students develop their verbal command of the vernacular, as well as mathematics and science. Reason and Faith are always in harmony, never in conflict – as Pope John Paul II meditates on at length in his encyclical on that theme. Father Calasanz was a friend and supporter of Galileo and his heliocentric hypothesis, while demurring from some of the great man’s more radical ideas.

Yet he was also a pastor at heart, competing with his contemporary Saint Camillus de Lellis (of whom we posted on July 14th) in caring for the victims of the recurring plagues, offering them care and the sacraments, and ensuring their proper burial, an object lesson for our own time.

He suffered much during his long life – going to his eternal reward on this 25th of August in 1648 as a nonagenarian – including the suppression of his beloved Order under the devilish machinations of an abusive priest. But God’s truth and justice always win out in the end, the Piarists eventually rehabilitated him. Saint Joseph Calasanz was canonized by Pope Clement XIII on July 16, 1767.