Joseph Calasanz


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St Camillus of Lellis (1550—1614)


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founder of the Clerks Regular of the Christian Schools. Born at Peralta de la Sal, the youngest son of an Aragonese nobleman, he was educated at Estadilla, Lerida, and Valencia. In 1583 he was ordained priest; a few years later he was appointed vicar-general of Lerida diocese and was sent to re-establish religious standards in the inaccessible valleys of Andorra. For some time, however, he had believed himself called to the work of educating the urban poor, so in 1592 he resigned his office and prospects of preferment, divided his patrimony, and left for Rome.

There he nursed the sick and the dying during the plague of 1595 with his friend Camillus of Lellis, but he returned to educating children, especially the homeless and neglected, of whose ignorance and degradation he had learnt by experience. As other religious Orders were unable or unwilling to help, he started a free school with three other priests in 1597. Soon there were 100 pupils which caused a move to larger quarters; in 1602 numbers had risen to 700. A few years later, with papal help and protection, the whole institute with Calasanz as superior, with numerous priests, and with a school of 1,200 pupils, was housed in 1611 in a palazzo near the church of St Pantaleon. Other schools were soon opened, the Institute expanded, and obtained recognition as a religious congregation with Calasanz as superior general.

Now aged sixty-five, Calasanz faced the most severe trial of his life. Mario Sozzi, a priest of his congregation, had been appointed provincial in Tuscany, where he proved overbearing and devious. He denounced Calasanz to the Holy Office on false charges, some grave, some concerned with his alleged senility. Calasanz was arrested by the Holy Office, led through the streets like a criminal, and only escaped imprisonment through the intervention of Cardinal Cesarini. Calasanz was suspended from office; an apostolic visitor was put in control: Sozzi was unpunished and continued intrigues until his death in 1643. In 1645 a commission of cardinals appointed to investigate recommended Calasanz's reinstatement; but this too was frustrated by further intrigues, and in 1646 his congregation was reduced to being a society of priests under the rule of diocesan bishops.

Now aged ninety, Calasanz died at Rome after bearing all these trials with heroic patience. The sordid story reflects little credit on the authorities. Only in 1656 was the congregation reconstituted and only in 1669 was it made into a religious Order, called the Piarists, which flourished specially in Italy, Spain, and South America. It was particularly useful when the Jesuits were suppressed in 1773.

Calasanz was canonized in 1767 and in 1948 Pius XII declared him patron of Christian schools. A fine painting by Goya of his death is in the Collegio S. Antonio, Madrid. Feast: formerly 27 August, now 25 August.

Letters ed. by L. Picanyol (9 vols, 1950–6);Lives by C. Bau (1949 and 1967), F. Giordano, Il Calasanzio (1960);Eng. tr. of an Italian Life in F. W. Faber, The Saints and Servants of God (1850);L. Picanyol (ed.), Florilegium Calasantianum (1958);B.L.S., viii. 246–8;Bibl. SS., vi. 1321–30.


Subjects: Christianity.

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