Order of Poor Clerics Regular of the Mother of God of the Pious Schools
Abbreviation S. P., Sch. P
Motto Pietas et Litterae
Formation March 25, 1617 (1617-03-25)
Type Catholic religious order
Headquarters Piazza dei Massimi, 4, 00186 Rome, Italy
Coordinates 41°53′50.5″N 12°28′24.33″E / 41.897361°N 12.4734250°E / 41.897361; 12.4734250Coordinates: 41°53′50.5″N 12°28′24.33″E / 41.897361°N 12.4734250°E / 41.897361; 12.4734250
Padre General
Pedro Aguado[1]
Main organ
General curia
Parent organization
Catholic Church
Website www.scolopi.org

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, Piarists /ˈp.ərsts/, 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 the education of physically or mentally disabled persons. Some famous individuals of the last few centuries, including Pope Pius IX, Goya, Schubert, Gregor Mendel, and Victor Hugo, were taught at Piarist schools.


Joseph Calasanz

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.[2]

Calasanz, a native of Peralta de la Sal in the Spanish province of Huesca in Aragon, was born on 11 September 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.[3]

It was not long before the reputation of the school increased attendance to such an extent that Calasanz 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[3] 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. 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,[4] 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. Calasanz’ community was first established as the Pauline Congregation of the Poor of the Mother of God of the Pious Schools.[5] The most noted of his early companions were Gaspare Dragonette, who joined the saint at the age of 95 and died in 1628 allegedly 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; and 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, although it had been part of the original name due to Pope Paul V. 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. In 1642, as a result of an internal crisis in the congregation and outside intrigues and pressures, Calasanz was briefly held and interrogated by the Inquisition. According to Karen Liebreich, problems were exacerbated by Father Stefano Cherubini, originally headmaster of the Piarist school in Naples who sexually abused the pupils in his care. Father Stefano made no secret about at least some of his transgressions, and Calasanz came to know of them. Unfortunately for Calasanz as administrator of the order, Father Stefano was the son and the brother of powerful papal lawyers; no one wanted to offend the Cherubini family. Father Stefano pointed out that if allegations of his abuse of his boys became public, actions would be taken to destroy the Piarists. Calasanz therefore promoted Father Stefano, to get him away from the scene of the crime, citing only his luxurious diet and failure to attend prayers. However, he knew what Cherubini had really been up to, and he wrote that the sole aim of the plan "... is to cover up this great shame in order that it does not come to the notice of our superiors."[6]

Superiors in Rome found out, but bowed to the same family ties that had bound Calasanz. Cherubini became visitor-general for the Piarists, able to conduct himself just as he wanted in any school he visited. The Piarists became entangled in church politics, and partially because they were associated with Galileo, were opposed by the Jesuits, who were more orthodox in astronomy. (Galileo’s views also involved atomism, and were thought to be heretical regarding transubstantiation.) The support for Cherubini was broad enough that in 1643, he was made head of the order and the elderly Calasanz was pushed aside. Upon this appointment, Calasanz publicly documented Cherubini’s long pattern of child molestation, a pattern that he had known about for years. Even this did not block Cherubini’s appointment, but other members of the order were indignant about it, although they may have objected to Cherubini's more overt shortcomings.[6] With such dissention, the Vatican took the easy course of suppressing the order. In 1646, the order was deprived of its privileges by Pope Innocent X.

Calasanz, who died on 25 August 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.

Order of Poor Clerics Regular of the Mother of God of the Pious Schools

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 Piarists, as do many religious organizations, profess vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. In addition, according to the wishes of St. Joseph, members of the Order also profess a fourth vow to dedicate their lives to the education of youth, especially the poor.[4]

The privileges of the order were successively restored in 1660, 1669 and 1698. In 1669, Pope Clement IX restored the Piarists to the condition of regulars.[5] 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. 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 a 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 on four continents (Europe, Asia, Africa and America) and in 32 countries.


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 Piarists, 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 Saint Jean-Baptiste de la Salle in the eighteenth century, and Saint 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 Saint John Neumann and Saint Josemaría Escrivá, figures like Pope Pius IX, Victor Hugo, Haydn, Schubert, Johann Mendel, and a dozen Nobel Prize winners like George Hevesy and George Olah.

Today there are over 1,300 Piarists teaching 115,000 students in 32 countries around the world.[5]


The motto of the Piarist Fathers is “For the Glory of God and the Service of our Neighbor”.[2]

Famous Piarists

Among the writers and learned men of the order are

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

For Calasanz, see

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