St. Joseph Calasanz was the founder of The Order of the Pious Schools, commonly known as the Piarist Fathers. He was born in a little village in Spain called Peralta de la Sal in 1556. He was ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood in 1583, and nine years later moved to Rome.
St. Joseph was very moved by the misery of the poor children of Rome. Therefore, he opened a free school for them in 1597. This school, which was open to every child regardless of religion, is believed to be the world’s first modern public elementary school.
On March 25, 1617, with the permission of Pope Paul V, St. Joseph Calasanz and fourteen other men became the first members of a new religious congregation. On November 18, 1621, Pope Gregory XV raised the congregation to the rank of religious order under solemn vows, calling it The Order of the Pious Schools. The abbreviation “Sch. P.” following the name of the Piarist stands for Scholarum Piarum, Latin words that means “of the Pious Schools.”
The Piarists, as do many religious, 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.
St. Joseph Calasanz died August 25, 1648 at St. Pantaleo’s Church in Rome, where his body is interred. Pope Clement XIII declared him a saint in 1767 and in 1948 Pope Pius XII named him the Heavenly Patron of all Christian Schools.
During his lifetime the Piarists began to grow in great numbers and to found many schools. Today there are over 1,650 Piarists teaching 115,000 students in 32 countries around the world.
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.
Taking into account the extreme poverty of the people and keeping the charisma of St. Joseph Calasanz in mind, the Piarists decided the school would be tuition-free and dependent on the charitable contributions of the people of God for its existence.
The Piarist School opened with one freshman class and three priests. We added a class each year until the 1993-1994 school year, when the school had its first four year program. Then on May 28,1994 the school graduated its first class.
Today, The Piarist School continues to grow, increasing its enrollment every year. The school is accredited by the state and is a member of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association. In 2009, the Piarist School began a middle school program by adding the seventh and eighth grade to the high school program.
One other important program is our outreach to the poor. Much work has been done, but there is still much to do.