Fr. David Powers of the Piarist Fathers was the missionary priest who spoke at my home parish this past weekend. He is a home missionary, meaning that he works right here in the United States. He is based in the Appalachian region of Kentucky where he teaches at a free Catholic high school. He was a dynamic speaker who spoke on the power of prayer as well as on the extreme need of the people he ministers to. He also shared a bit about his order and its founder, St. Joseph Calasanz.
St. Joseph Calasanz was born in Spain in 1556. He was ordained a priest in 1583 and moved to Rome in 1592. He became very concerned with the plight of the poor children there. He and two other priests decided to open a free school to educate them. This school opened in 1597 and stressed piety and learning. It is believed to be the first free school opened in Europe and the first modern Elementary school. Pope Clement VIII gave his support to the school which led to the opening of other schools and more men being attracted to the work of Calasanz. In 1621 the community known as the Clerks Regular of Religious Schools (also known as Piarists or Scolopi) was recognized.
Calasanz faced much opposition. Some didn’t approve of education for the poor, believing that this education would cause them to become dissatisfied with their position in society and lead to upheaval. Others were upset that some of the Piarists studied with Galileo, whose work was condemned by the Church. Calasanz and the order were investigated by papal commissions. As a result, Calasanz was demoted and the Piarists were suppressed. Only after his death was the community formally recognized.
St. Joseph Calasanz never wavered in his trust in God and submitted to Church authority even when all seemed lost. He always put the education of young people first. The following excerpt from his writings demonstrates the high value he placed on teaching:
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, “Those who instruct many in justice will shine as stars for all eternity.” 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.”
His reputation was eventually redeemed. He was beatified on August 7, 1748 and canonized on July 16, 1767. His feast day is August 25. He is the patron saint of Christian schools. To support the Piarist Fathers’ work in Appalachia, donations may be sent to The Piarist Mission; Rt. 80, Box 870; Martin, KY 41649.