I first encountered St Joseph Calasanz in my hagiography in 2007. I discovered him at a time I most needed him. Truly, it was (like) an answered prayer, a healing balm to faith. I understood and could accept.
I wanted to see if I could find a St Joseph Calasanz medal. I googled the order he founded, the Piarists, and they do exist in this country, mostly in the east, in about a half dozen places. I contacted one of their main houses in this country in Pennsylvania, and the kind Father their informed me they did not keep a stock of such things here in this country and that no Catholic religious goods store was likely to carry them. He suggested I contact the mother house in Rome, which I did.
I don’t speak Italian, but I haggled, it felt like, with one of the Scolopi at the mother house in Rome for about ten minutes. We didn’t get far, I feel. He only spoke Italian. I did send an email via the website, but it went unanswered for a long time, granted it was Summer in Europe where not much gets done, particularly in August. I even asked a friend who had recently returned from Rome and had some fresh contacts if they could help. Eventually, lo and behold, a package arrived from Rome containing many St Joseph Calasanz holy cards and two medals.
One medal I put on the rosary I never use, but was given me by the young, attractive, blonde Dominican sister whose classroom I was the “mascot” of when I was a novice. It is the most beautiful, yet masculine, rosary I have ever received. It was made in France. I have left instructions with Kelly I wish to be buried, if possible, holding that rosary. The other I added to my Beloved cross I possess as a member of the Old St Patrick’s Beloved Community. I wear these medals concealed when I most need external strength and confidence in the challenge or uncomfortable moment I am about to face.
From Aragon, in Spain, where he was born in 1556, to Rome, where he died 92 years later, fortune alternately smiled and frowned on the work of Joseph Calasanz.
A priest with university training in canon law and theology, respected for his wisdom and administrative expertise, he put aside his career because he was deeply concerned with the need for education of poor children.
When he was unable to get other institutes to undertake this apostolate at Rome, he and several companions personally provided a free school for deprived children. So overwhelming was the response that there was a constant need for larger facilities to house their effort. Soon Pope Clement VIII gave support to the school, and this aid continued under Pope Paul V. Other schools were opened; other men were attracted to the work and in 1621 the community (for so the teachers lived) was recognized as a religious community, the Clerks Regular of Religious Schools (Piarists or Scolopi). Not long after, Joseph was appointed superior for life.
A combination of various prejudices and political ambition and maneuvering caused the institute much turmoil. Some did not favor educating the poor, for education would leave the poor dissatisfied with their lowly tasks for society! Others were shocked that some of the Piarists were sent for instruction to Galileo (a friend of Joseph) as superior, thus dividing the members into opposite camps. Repeatedly investigated by papal commissions, Joseph was demoted; when the struggle within the institute persisted, the Piarists were suppressed. Only after Joseph’s death were they formally recognized as a religious community.
No one knew better than Joseph the need for the work he was doing; no one knew better than he how baseless were the charges brought against him. Yet if he were to work within the Church, he realized that he must submit to its authority, that he must accept a setback if he was unable to convince authorized investigators.
While the prejudice, the scheming, and the ignorance of human beings often keep the truth from emerging for a long period of time, Joseph was convinced, even under suppression, that his institute would again be recognized and authorized. With this trust he joined exceptional patience and a genuine spirit of forgiveness.
Even in the days after his own demotion, Joseph protected his persecutors against his enraged partisans; and when the community was suppressed, he stated with Job, to whom he was often compared: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!” (Job 1:21b).
“Everyone knows the great merit and dignity attached to that holy ministry in which young people, especially the poor, receive instruction for the purpose of attaining eternal life. This ministry is directed to the well-being of body and soul; at the same time, that it shapes behavior it also fosters devotion and Christian doctrine.
Moreover the strongest support is provided not only to protect the young from evil, but also to rouse them and attract them more easily and gently to the performance of good works. Like the twigs of plants, the young are easily influenced, as long as someone works to change their souls. But if they are allowed to grow hard, we know well that the possibility of one day bending them diminishes a great deal and is sometimes utterly lost.
All who undertake to teach must be endowed with deep love, the greatest of patience, and, most of all, profound humility. They must perform their work with earnest zeal. Then, through their humble prayers, the Lord will find them worthy to become fellow workers with Him in the cause of Truth. He will console them in the fulfillment of this most noble duty, and finally, will enrich them with the gift of heaven.
As Scripture says, ‘But the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, And those who lead the many to justice shall shine like the stars forever.’ (Dan 12:3) They will attain this more easily if they make a covenant of perpetual obedience and strive to cling to Christ and please Him alone, because, in His words, ‘What you did to one of the least of my brethren, you did to me.’(Mt 25:40)”
– from the writings of Saint Joseph Calasanz
“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 the Truth. Amen.”
– opening prayer for the Mass for Saint Joseph Calasanz