The Order of Poor Clerics Regular of the Mother of God of the Pious Schools (Latin: Ordo Clericorum Regularium pauperum Matris Dei Scholarum Piarum, Sch. P. or S. P.) or, in short the Piarists, is the oldest Catholic educational order.
St. Joseph Calasanctius was the founder of the Piarist Order. He was born in Peralta de la Sal, Spain, in 1557. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1583, and nine years later moved to Rome.
St. Joseph was very touched by the intellectual and moral misery of the poor children of Rome. He now understood that God asked him to do something for poor children, becoming their unconditional friend. He made history in 1597 when in a simple and humble way, he started “the First Popular Christian School” in the sacristy of the church at St. Dorothy. The education was totally free, and Joseph wanted the poorest children to attend it. This school, which was open to every child regardless of religion, is believed to be the world’s first modern elementary school.
Little by little, Joseph became aware that God wanted him, no one else, for the specific mission of educating poor children, and that became a wonderful invention, a generous gift for the poor: the popular Christian School. To this invention he gave the name THE PIOUS SCHOOLS, which is the same as to say “School for the poor”.
Once he saw clearly that God asked him to remain forever with the little ones in the school, St. Joseph deemed it necessary to devote his energies to this task. Therefore he asked the Pope that the congregation be upgraded to a Religious Order. St. Joseph wrote the book of the Constitutions in 1620, which guides and directs the life of the Piarist Order regarding everything the Piarists do in their service of education and evangelization of children and young people. On August 8, 1622, Pope Gregory XV approved the Piarist Order that continues to be fully alive from its founding until today, for it is the work of the Holy Spirit. 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.
The Piarist motto: “Pietas et litterae” (“Piety and learning)
In 1956, the Piarists purchased the Lea Estate in Devon PA, and opened Devon Preparatory School with the guiding principal “pietas et litterae” (piety and learning).
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.
The order has educated many important figures in modern history, including Saint John Neumann, Pope Pius IX, Victor Hugo, Joseph Haydn, Franz Schubert, and Johann Mendel.
Today there are over 1,300 Piarists teaching 115,000 students in 32 countries around the world.