Saint Joseph of Calasanz: A Tale of Betrayal and Malice

Today, 25 August, the Church celebrates the Memorial of St. Joseph of Calasanz. Persecuted by his own spiritual sons, St. Joseph of Calasanz and his Work were subjected to suspicion, slander and attacks by the malicious behaviour of those in authority.

Newsroom(25/08/2021 16:30, Gaudium Press) Joseph of Calasanz was born on 11 September 1556, in Aragon. He founded the Piarists (also known as the Order of Poor Clerics Regular of the Mother of God of the Pious Schools), a religious order that quickly produced an abundance of good fruit and was approved by Pope Gregory XV on 18 November 1621. Their principal mission was to provide a proper education for children.

The Piarists were not afraid

In the year 1625, however, Pope Urban VIII decreed an Apostolic Visitation to all religious orders. The Piarists believed they had nothing to fear, but the false report of a disciple who was unhappy with the Founder changed everything. Fr Ottonelli was displeased with his spiritual father and, like a new Judas, presented the Vatican with distorted and taken out of context accusations, such as: “They use silk and gold ornaments in the churches, which is against the constitutions; [the Founder] does all things for himself, as if he were the Absolute Prince, as if the subjects and the companions or assistants were his slaves, etc.”

Of the 335 places Apostolically visited on that occasion, only the Piarist Schools were subjected to an intervention. The problems found – or said to have been found – were rather general, but they were sufficient.

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Thus began the massive persecution against St. Joseph and his Order. But the worst wound that St. Joseph of Calasanz suffered came from his own sons: a particular priest drew up an accusation against his Founder, pointing out that it was necessary to apply urgent measures to the Piarists: “The most effective remedy: that the Pope appoint an Apostolic Commissary to apply these remedies with full authority, governing the Order for a time until it is consolidated”. St. Joseph responded to this accusation, but it was as though his response were never written: one year later, from the same little group, emerged another series of accusations even more violent and slanderous than the previous.

Who was the accuser? What was the accusation?

Another Piarist priest, Fr. Mario Sozzi, like a modern day crime boss, bribed false witnesses to slander St. Joseph of Calasanz in the worst possible way.

From this point forward, the Piarists were subjected to a series of Apostolic Visits and Vatican interventions. What was the charge against the Founder that initiated these proceedings? Every indication was given to the Order that such an investigation was common practice, for which there was no requirement to present a motive or clue, nor to indicate any special problems. The Piarists were told: “That the observance of regular discipline be preserved and that whatever has fallen away be restored”. The end result of the Apostolic Visitation was, of course, the dismissal of St. Joseph of Calasanz.

Some will say that God has His just rewards for all; Fr. Mario Sozzi, that same year, died of a terrible illness at the young age of 35 years. Some might also say that perhaps he suffered from moral issues.

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Malice in authority

The Vatican’s interventions ended with drastic measures: on 17 March 1646, the decree signed by Pope Innocent X was read before the Piarists and St. Joseph Calasanz, the Founder. After the reading of the Pontifical text, in the icy silence that reigned, the ninety-year-old Saint repeated the words of Job: “The Lord has given us, the Lord has taken away. Blessed be His name”.

Saint Joseph of Calasanz and the Piarists, being inexperienced in such matters, suffered at the hands of malicious people who unfortunately held authority. May the men and women of today learn from the mistakes of the past and not be overwhelmed by the evil intentions of those who clothe themselves with authority without having received it from above.

By Alison Batista

Compiled by Sandra Chisholm


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