St. Joseph Calasanctius, the founder of the Piarist Order, was born in Peralta de la Sal, Spain in 1556. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1583, and nine years later he moved to Rome.
St. Joseph was very moved by the intellectual and moral misery of the poor children of Rome. Therefore, with the permission of Pope Clement VIII, he opened a free school for them at St. Dorothy’s Church in 1597. This school, which was open to every child regardless of religion, is believed to be the world’s first modern elementary school.
On March 25, 1617, with the permission of Pope Paul V, St. Joseph Calasanctius and fourteen other men became the first members of a new religious congregation. On November 18, 1621 Pope Gregory XV raised this congregation to the rank of a religious order, calling it the Order of the Pious Schools (in short, the Piarists.) The abbreviation “Sch.P.” following the name of a Piarist means Scholarum Piarum (of the Pious Schools.)
The Piarists, as any religious, professed the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. In addition, according to the wishes of St. Joseph, members of the Order also professed a fourth vow to dedicate their lives to the education of the young. Even today, members of the Order profess these four vows.
St. Joseph Calasanctius died on August 25, 1648 at St. Pantaleo’s Church in Rome, where his body is still buried. Pope Clement XIII declared him a saint in 1767, and in 1948 Pope Pius XII named him Patron of Christian Schools. During the lifetime of St. Joseph Calasanctius, the Piarists began to grow in numbers and in schools.
The first Piarists (Hungarian and Polish Fathers) arrived in the United States in 1949.
The first Community was formed in the diocese of Buffalo NY in 1950. The Community moved to Derby in 1951. The House of Derby was closed in 1999. Another community was created in Lackawanna, also near Buffalo, in 1952. It was transferred to Philadelphia in 1954.
In 1954 another community was opened in Washington, which became the Formation House. In the same year, two Polish Fathers went to Whitecourt, Alberta (Canada) to establish a Piarist presence there. They returned the next year. Also in 1954, the General Delegation of Buffalo in the USA was created.
In 1956, the Piarists purchased the Lea Estate in Devon PA, and opened Devon Preparatory School, moving there from Philadelphia.
During the spring of 1988, the Provincial Chapter of the American Province of the Piarist Fathers decided to send two priests to work in Appalachia to pursue the work of the Piarists in the field of education. They went to Eastern Kentucky to work in the newly-established diocese of Lexington. In August of 1990, the Piarist Fathers founded their most recent school in the United States when the Piarist School, a private Catholic college preparatory high school, opened its doors in Floyd County to serve all those desiring a quality education in a Christian setting.
Over the years, the Piarist Order has educated saints, a pope, cardinals, bishops, founders and superiors of religious orders, kings, presidents, generals, painters, composers, writers and scientists. Some of the more famous graduates of Piarist schools include:
- St. John Neumann – fourth Bishop of Philadelphia
- St. Gaspar Bufalo
- St. Vincent Pallotti
- St. Vincent Strumbi
- Blessed Jose M. Escrivá – founder of “Opus Dei”
- Pope Pius IX (declared Venerable by Pope John Paul II in July 1985)
- Laszlo Cardinal Lekai – Cardinal Primate of Hungary
- Ferdinand VII – King of Spain
- Victor Hugo – French poet and novelist
- Thaddeus Kosciusko – Polish general and a hero of the American Revolution
- Rev. Pedro Arrupe, S.J. – Superior General of the Jesuits
- Francisco de Goya – Spanish painter. The picture The Last Communion of St. Joseph Calasanctius in the lobby of our school is a copy of an original by Goya.
- Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Schubert, Anton Bruckner – composers
- Rev. Gregor Mendel, O.S.A. – father of modern genetics
- George de Hevesy – Nobel Prize winner (Chemistry)
- Santiago Ramon y Cajal – Nobel Prize winner (Medicine)
- Jim Lefebvre – professional baseball player and manager
- Carlos Prio Socarras – President of Cuba
- Franz Werfel – German author (Song of Bernadette)