History of the Order

The origins of the Order
Saint Joseph Calasanz was born in 1557, in Peralta de la Sal, a Spanish town in Aragon territory, near the Catalonian Region. He studied Philosophy, Law and Theology at University for ten years, eight of which in Lérida. In 1583 he was ordained a priest. Following to an inner discernment, he decided to move to Rome in 1592.
He was immediately stroke by the material and moral misery of children. He therefore decided to totally commit himself to the education of children, specifically the poorest ones. In 1597, he opened the first public and free tuition school in Europe" at Santa Dorotea Church in Trastevere . In 1602, following to the oral approval by Clemente VIII, Calasanz established a congregation of followers engaged in teaching.

Starting off Calasanz work was not an easy task: between 1604 and 1612 (the year when the school was moved to San Pantaleo Church, which is the current see of the Order’s General Curia), more than eight teachers followed one another. Among these, only four or five tied themselves to Calasanz for a long time. In order to ensure the congregation longevity, the founder decided to entrust his educational work with the congregation of the Virgin Mary in Lucca, active in the roman church of Santa Maria in Portico. So Pope Paul V affixed the seals on this union on June, 13 1614 and named it Congregation of the Mother of God, as it was openly suggested by Calasanz himself. This union, however, didn’t prove to be profitable for neither of the two parts involved, in that teaching was not a priority target for the other congregation. For this reason Calasanz founded a new school in Frascati in 1616, asking the Pope to formally break up this union, which promptly happened on March, 6th 1617.

The birth of the Order
Calasanz’ community was first established as the Pauline Congregation of the Poor of the Mother of God of the Pious Schools. Together with his first fourteen companions, the founder took the religious habit in the Chapel of Palazzo Giustignani on March, 25th 1617. On November 18th 1621, Pope Gregory XV elevated the congregation to regular Order, and on January 31st 1622 he endorsed the Constitutions.

In those years the congregation rapidly spread. After Rome and Frascati, numerous schools were opened in the centre of Italy, in Genoa and Savona; later in Naples (in 1626) and in Florence (in 1630). In 1631 the first Pious School abroad was opened, in the city of Nikolsburg – which today is called Mikulov (Czech Republic). In 1642 two more Polish communities were founded.

While in these years the Order was growing in prestige, Calasanz, who by that time was an old man, aroused suspicions because of his closeness to Tommaso Campanella and Galileo Galilei, and was accused of rebellion against the legitimate powers by the religious Mario Sozzi and Stefano Cherubini, and he was summoned to appear before the Holy Office. He was immediately relieved of his office as General of the Order. The Jesuit Silvestro Pietrasanta was nominated as a visitor. On March, 16th 1646, Pope Innocent X downgraded the Piarists who became a secular congregation, subject to the jurisdiction of local bishops.

A new “apogee” of the Order
Pope Alexander VII formed the Clerks of the Pious Schools again as a simple vows congregation, through the Breve Dudum dated January, 14th 1656, and Pope Clement IX, through the Iniucti nobis dated October 23rd 1669, re-established the Order in full.
The central decades of the 18th century represent the moment of highest popularity of the Order, thanks to the issuing of the 1731 and 1733 papal bulls at the hand of Clement XII, which granted the right of Piarists to teach the major sciences everywhere. Towards the end of the century they were managing more than 170 schools in Italy and in Central European Countries, and they rapidly expanded in Spain.

Decline and Rebirth
But at the same time, in the 18th century a critical stage took shape, which had started in 1783 when Emperor Joseph II kept the three piarist provinces of Austria, Hungary and Bohemia separate from the Order. The provinces of Naples and Apulia shared the same destiny in 1788. In Spain, Charles IV obtained by Pope Pius VII the bull called Inter graviores in 1804, which established that every province of all religious order be governed by general vicars.
The numerous wars and political upheavals of those years combined to bring about the closing of other schools and the scattering of other communities.
The rebirth took place during the pontificate of Pope Pius IX, who had had piarist teachers in Volterra. Fathers General Mauro Ricci and Alfonso Maria Mistrangelo were primarily responsible for the rebirth of the Order, promising to the reunification of all the separate provinces.

…Up to our days
In the second half of the 19th century, the Order began to be present in America (Cuba, Chile, Argentina), which was enhanced one hundred years later: in 1949 it spread to the United States of America, Colombia and Nicaragua. In 1950 to Brazil, in 1951 to Santo Domingo. In 1952 to Venezuela. In 1957 to France, in 1960 to Puerto Rico and in 1961 to Costa Rica. Since 1952, the Order is present in Asia (today in Japan, the Philippines, India) and since the following year in Africa (up until now in Senegal, Cameroon, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Gabon). To this day, the Order can rely on the presence of 222 houses and the work of 1,300 religious who, spread through the four continents, serve as witnesses in history of Saint Joseph Calasanz’ spirituality and educational commitment.


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