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The Order of Poor Clerks Regular of the Mother of God of the Pious Schools or, in short, Piarists, is the name of the oldest Catholic educational order also known as the Scolopi, Escolapios or Poor Clerics of the Mother of God (in both cases 'Clerics' can also become 'Clerks', from the same etymology). Founded by saint Joseph Calasanctius, the main occupation of the Piarist fathers is teaching children and youth, the primary goal being to provide free education for poor children. The Piarist practice was taken as a model by numerous later Catholic societies devoted to teaching, while the state-supported public school system in certain parts of Europe also followed their example. The Piarists have had a considerable success in education of physically or mentally disabled persons. Some famous individuals of the last few centuries, including Goya, Mozart, Schubert, Gregor Mendel, and Victor Hugo, were taught at Piarist schools.



Joseph Calasanctius (also known as Joseph Calasanz or José de Calasanz, and whose religious name was Josephus a Matre Dei), who was born in 1556 or 1557, founded the order and had it initially recognized as a religious congregation by the Holy See on 25 March 1617.

Calasanz, a native of Peralta de la Sal in the Spanish province of Huesca in Aragon, was born on September 11, 1556, studied at Lleida and Alcalá, and after his ordination to the priesthood moved to Rome (1592) where he organized, in 1607, a brotherhood. As a member of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine he went about the country instructing the people, and his experience convinced him of the necessity of providing the children of the poor with religious instruction at an early age. Antonio Brendoni, pastor of Santa Dorotea in Trastevere, placed two rooms at his disposal and assisted him in the work, in which they were afterwards joined by two other priests.

It was not long before the reputation of the school increased attendance to such an extent that Calasanctius moved it to a building within the city, where he took up residence with his companions. When two years later the school was again moved, this time to the Vestri Palace in the vicinity of Sant' Andrea della Valle, community life was inaugurated among the associates, and Pope Clement VIII showed his approval of the work by ordering the payment of a yearly allowance of 200 scudi for rent of the house. Criticism ensued which led to an inspection of the schools by Cardinals Antoniani and Baronius, which resulted satisfactorily, the approval of Pope Paul V was even more pronounced than that of his predecessor. In To the three usual vows they added a fourth, that of dedication to the Christian education of youth.

In 1612 the growth of the schools necessitated the purchase of the Torres Palace, and on 25 March 1617 it became an independent Congregation, numbering at that time fifteen priests, under Calasanz (who changed his name to Joseph of the Mother of God, thus inaugurating the practice of dropping the family name on entering the religious life), as their head; they received the religious habit. The most noted of his early companions were Gaspare Dragonette, who joined the saint at the age of 95 and died a saintly death in 1628 at the age of 120; Bernardino Pannicola, later Bishop of Ravello; Juan Garcia, afterwards general of the order; the learned Gellio Ghellini; Tomasso Vittoria; Viviandi de Colle; Melchiore Alacchi.

The congregation was made a religious order 18 November 1621 by a Brief of Pope Gregory XV, under the name of Congregatio Clericorum regularium pauperum Matris Dei scholarum piarum. The term "Pauline" was dropped by this pope, while it was part of the original name due to Paul VI. The Constitutions were approved 31 January 1622 by Gregory XV, and had all the privileges of the mendicant orders conferred upon it, Calasanz being recognized as general superior, his four assistants being Blessed Pietro Casani, Viviano Vivani, Francesco Castelli and Paolo Ottonelli. On 7 May of the same year the novitiate of St. Onofrio was opened.

The pedagogical ideal of Saint Joseph Calasanctius of educating every child, his schools for the poor, his support of the heliocentric sciences of Galileo Galilei, the scandals and persecutions of some of his detractors, and his life of sanctity in the service of children and youth, carried with them the opposition of many among the governing classes in society and in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and led Pope Innocent X to suppress the order in 1646.

Calasanz, who died on August 25, 1648, was beatified in 1748, and canonized in 1767. He was declared "Universal Patron of all the Christian popular schools in the world" by Pope Pius XII, in 1948, because he had the glory of opening "the first free tuition, popular, public school in Europe" (Von Pastor) and had proclaimed the right to education of all children, fought for it, and was persecuted because of this.

The order was restored in 1656 by Pope Alexander VIII who revived the congregation but without its earlier privileges, such as solemn vows granted by Gregory XV and added to the simple vows an oath of perseverance in the congregation.

The privileges of the Order were successively restored in 1660, 1669 and 1698. Pope Clement IX in 1669, who restored the Piarists to the condition of regulars. But petitions from members who hesitated to bind themselves by solemn vows led Clement X in 1670 to issue a Brief which empowered the general of the Piarists to dispense from solemn vows laymen or clerics in minor orders, while ordained clerics in possession of a sufficient patrimony or a benefice were restored to the jurisdiction of their bishops.

The Piarists are exempt from episcopal jurisdiction and subject only to their general superior, who is elected every six years by the general chapter and with a general procurator with four assistants resides at Rome. In virtue of a Brief of Alexander VIII (1690) they ceased to be discalced. The members are divided into professed, novices and lay brethren. The professed usually add the letters "Sch.P." or "S.P." after their name, to connote the name of the order, Scholarum Piarum.

Their habit is very similar to that of the Jesuits, a cassock closed in front and cincture with hanging bands on the left side, although they usually follow the local customs regarding clerical apparel. Their motto is Ad majus pietatis incrementum or Pietas et Litterae.

The order spread rapidly even during the founder's lifetime and in the early 20th century. The Piarists are found chiefly in Italy, Spain, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Latin America, Africa, India, and the Philippines. The order is currently present in 4 continents (Europe, Asia, Africa and America) and in 32 countries. It has 1421 Religious.


The Piarists have won distinction in the sphere of education. Their first care is to provide free education for poor children, but they also receive pupils from the middle classes and the nobility, and since 1700 they have taught besides the elementary branches the liberal arts and sciences. At the time of their foundation in Poland and Lithuania, Clement XII formally commissioned them to teach the higher studies. Before the course of study was regulated by the state, a Piarist establishment contained nine classes: reading, writing, elementary mathematics, schola parva or Rudimentorum, schola Principiorum, Grammatica, Syntaxis, Humanitas or Poesis and Rhetorica. The plan of studies is uniform, as are also the textbooks, which to a great extent are compiled by members of the order. Like the Jesuits they devote special attention to the acting of Latin dramas by the students.

A member of the order, Francis Hermann Czech (d. 1847), was very successful in his work of teaching the deaf and dumb. One of the most famous Piarist, priest Stanisław Konarski, was the reformer of the Polish education system in the 18th century. To honor his faithful duty, the Polish king Stanisław August Poniatowski created the Sapere Auso medal.

The order's influence led to the subsequent establishment of many other congregations dedicated to education. There are eleven religious teaching orders now in existence that are based on Calasanz's ideas. The founder and order have also had influence on many great educators, such as St. Jean-Baptiste de la Salle in the eighteenth century, and St. John Bosco, his great admirer, in the nineteenth century. The influence of the Pious Schools served as the model for State public school systems in some European countries. The order has educated many important figures in modern history, including a number of saints like St. John Neumann and St. Josemaría Escrivá, figures like Pope Pius IX, Victor Hugo, Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Johann Mendel, and some Nobel Prize winners like George Hevesy, George Olah.

Famous Piarists

Among the writers and learned men of the order are

  • the general Pietro Francesco of the Immaculate Conception, author of the "Polygraphia sacra seu Eleucidarium biblicum histor.-myst". (Augsburg, 1724);
  • Philip of St. James, who edited the chief Sentences of the "Maxima Sanctorum Patrum Bibliotheca" (Lyons, 1719);
  • Arn. Zeglicki, whose "Bibliotheca gnomico histor.-symbolic.-politica" was published at Warsaw in 1742;
  • Alexis a S. Andrea Alexi (d. 1761), moral theologian;
  • Antonius a Santo Justo, author of "Schola pia Aristotelico-Thomistica" (Saragossa, 1745);
  • Stanisław Konarski (d. 1773), famous Polish pedagogue, reformer of education;
  • Gottfrid a S. Elisabetha Uhlich (d. 1794), professor of heraldry and numismatics;
  • Augustine Odobrina, who was actively associated with Gottfried Leibniz;
  • Adrian Rauch, historian;
  • Josef Fengler (d. 1802), Bishop of Raab (now Győr);
  • Remigius Döttler, professor of physics at the University of Vienna;
  • Franz Lang, rector of the same university;
  • the general Giovanni Inghirami (d. 1851), astronomer;
  • Johann Nepomuk Ehrlich (d. 1864), professor of theology at the University of Prague;
  • A. Leonetti, author of a biography of Alexander VI (Bologna, 1880);
  • Ernesto Balducci, author, philosopher and peace activist.
  • Filippo Cecchi;
  • Karl Feyerfeil, mathematician;
  • and Franz Kraus, philologian.

Many members of the order led lives of sanctity. In his Life of St. Joseph Calasanctius, Tosetti gives a list of 54 who between 1615 and 1756 died edifying deaths, among them Blessed Peter Casani (d. 1647), the first novice master of the order; the fourth superior general, Venerable Glicerius Landriani (d. 1618); Cosimo Chiara (d. 1688); Petrus Andreas Taccioni (d. 1672); the lay-brother Philip Bosio (d. 1662); Antonio Muscia (d. 1665); and Eusebius Amoretti (d. 1685). Saint Pompilius Maria Pirroti (d. 1766) was famous for being a saintly spiritual director; Blessed Faustino Miguez (d. 1925) was a famous educator, scientist, and founder of the Calasanzian Sisters in Spain; Blessed Dionisius Pamplona was a holy master of novices, pastor and rector in Buenos Aires and Peralta de la Sal, and was the first piarist killed in the fulfillment of his priesthood during the Spanish civil war (d. 1936). Other piarists known for their sanctity and pedagogical abilities with children in the last century have been Pedro Díez Gil (d. 1983) and Joaquín Erviti (d. 1999).

Sources and references

  • This article incorporates text from the public-domain Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913. [1]
  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
  • P. Helyot, Histoire des ordres religieuses (1715), iv. 281
  • J. A. Seyffert, Ordensregeln der Piaristen (Halle, 1783)
  • J. Schaller, Gedanken über die Ordensfassung der Piaristen (Prague, 1805)
  • A. Heimbucher, Orden und Kongregationen (1897) ii. 271
  • articles by O. Zockler in Herzog-Hauck's Real-encyklopadie für protestantische Theologie (1904), vol. xv.
  • C. Kniel in Wetzer and Welte's Kirchen-lexikon (1895), vol. ix.

For Calasanz, see

  • Timon-David, Vie de St Joseph Calasance (Marseilles, 1884)

External links


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