Centuries Apart, but Side by Side

Happy feast of St. Pantaleon! This early martyr died for the faith during the last and fiercest Christian persecution under Emperor Diocletian, around the year 305 A.D.

catalogo_urban_alta.pdfTucked in a corner in the center of Rome is a church that is partially dedicated to the memory of St. Pantaleon–but he shares that honor with a very different saint, who lived many centuries later.

St. Joseph Calasanctius (1557-1648) was a Spanish priest and a schoolteacher, who is best known as the founder of the Piarist Fathers. This religious order educated poor boys, whose families otherwise would be unable to afford their schooling–and they continue to operate schools around the world today.

What’s the connection between these two saints? The church was built in the 1200’s, and Calasanctiusoriginally it was dedicated exclusively to St. Pantaleon; but when Joseph Calasanctius came to Rome, he and his fellow-priests were given the church and the house that is still connected to it, where he gathered homeless boys from the streets and taught them for free.  On special occasions, the Piarist Fathers (who still maintain the church today) give tours of the rooms where St. Joseph lived and worked, and you can stand in the very spot where he even worked a miracle: one day the boys were roughhousing and one of them fell on the staircase so badly that his eye actually came out of its socket. St. Joseph calmly took the eye and put it back into place–and the boy’s vision was completely unharmed.

(The impish Italian Piarists will tell you that St. Joseph Calasanctius was really the first astronaut, because he put a round object into its orbit…)

Today, St. Joseph Calasanctius is buried under the main altar. The relics of the original patron of the church, St. Pantaleon, are under the side altar nearby. The two saints, therefore, lie in the same church, next to each other–although in life they were separated by over 1300 years. There is no time in heaven, of course, and so it seems safe for us to piously imagine the two of them together, willingly cooperating in oversight of “their” church in Rome, listening to the prayers of pilgrims who come to visit them there…