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St. Joseph Calasanctius

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Called in religion "a Matre Dei", founder of the Piarists, b. 11 Sept., 1556, at the castle of Calasanza near Petralta de la Sal in Aragon ; d. 25 Aug., 1648, at Rome ; feast 27 Aug. His parents, Don Pedro Calasanza and Donna Maria Gastonia, gave Joseph, the youngest of five children, a good education at home and then at the school of Petralta. After his classical studies at Estadilla he took up philosophy and jurisprudence at Lérida and merited the degree of Doctor of Laws, and then with honours completed his theological course at Valencia and Alcalá de Henares. His mother and brother having died, Don Pedro wanted Joseph to marry and perpetuate the family. God interfered by sending a sickness in 1582 which soon brought Joseph to the brink of the grave. On his recovery he was ordained priest 17 Dec., 1583, by Hugo Ambrose de Moncada, Bishop of Urgel. Joseph began his labours as priest in the Diocese of Albarracin, where Bishop della Figuera appointed him his theologian and confessor, synodal examiner, and procurator, and when the bishop was transferred to Lérida his theologian followed him to the new diocese. In 1586 della Figuera was sent as Apostolic visitator to the Abbey of Montserrat, and Joseph accompanied him as secretary. The bishop died the following year and Joseph left, though urgently requested to remain. He hurried to Calasanza only to be present at the death of his father. He was then called by his Bishop of Urgel to act as vicar-general for the district of Trempe. In 1592 he embarked for Rome, where he found a protector in Cardinal Marcantonio Colonna who chose him as his theologian and instructor to his nephew. Rome offered a splendid field for works of charity, especially for the instruction of neglected and homeless children, many of whom had lost their parents. Joseph joined a Confraternity of Christian Doctrine and gathered the boys and girls from the streets and brought them to school. The teachers, being poorly paid, refused to accept the additional labour without remuneration. The pastor of S. Dorotea, Anthony Brendani, offered him two rooms and promised assistance in teaching, and when two other priests promised similar help, Joseph, in November, 1597, opened the first public free school in Europe. Pope Clement VIII gave an annual contribution and many others shared in the good work, so that in a short time Joseph had about a thousand children under his charge. In 1602 he rented a house at S. Andrea della Valle and commenced a community life with his assistants and laid the foundation of the Order of Piarists. Much envy and opposition arose against him and his new institute, but all were overcome in time. In 1612 the school was transferred to the Torres palace adjoining S. Pantaleone. Here Joseph spent the remaining years of his life in his chosen calling. He lived and died a faithful son of the church, a true friend of forsaken children. His body rests in S. Paltaleone. His beatification was solemnized on 7 Aug., 1748, and his canonization by Clement XIII, 16 July, 1767.

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