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THE ORDER OF THE PIOUS SCHOOLS THE PIARIST FATHERS IN ASIA

The Life Of St. Joseph Calasanz
Saints, Martys, & Venerables
Calasanzian Family

 

BLESSED FR. PETER CASANI SCH. P.

Propagator of the Popular School in Europe

  

 

INTRODUCTION

 

The material and economic aspects of the society between XVI and XVII centuries are realities widely overcome by the unstoppable evolution of the history, which cannot tell much to the people of the 21st century.

 

But the living of the human and Christian values, conditioned to these aspects, yes, but overcoming them, continues teaching us much.

 

Peter Casani is an actual person as long as he faced the radicality and lived his earthly experience based on the words of the Gospel. He takes part on that everlasting vitality of the Spirit that Jesus expressed: “Heaven and earth will pass, but my words will not pass” (Matt 24, 35).

 

In the life of this person we can clearly identify three accurate periods, during which we can find the constant anxiety of following Christ serving the young people: first, young period, at home (1572-1594); second, Religious Life, in Lucca Congregation (1594-1617); third, Religious Life, in the Pious Schools (1617-1647).

 

He was the right hand to two Founders: Saint John Leonardi and Saint Joseph Calasanz. He suffered the proper tension of being on the second position, between the fidelity to his first, to whom one is always faithful, and to the own initiative. He knew how to become a grain of wheat that fell on the ground, died and gave much fruit. His life was consecrated to the propagation of the public, popular and free tuition school in Europe.

 

INFANCY AND ADOLESCENCE

 

Peter Casani was born in Lucca, Italy, a city of Toscana region, of glorious past, on September 8, 1572. Lucca city is surrounded by walls, watered by the river Serchio and protected by the Pisano Mountain. At that time, it was an autonomous State, governed by an aristocratic oligarchy that with its conservative politics assured order and prosperity.

 

The parents of Peter were Gaspar Casani and Elizabeth Drago, both belonging to old noble families and with economic welfare. When the mother died in 1591 and the son entered the Congregation founded by Saint John Leonardi, the father remained alone and blind and in 1613, he professed in the same Congregation as Peter, dying thirteen years later. 

 

Since Peter was the only child, the parents put on him all their energy. He had written: “I have never felt any difficulty in learning the lessons; remembering them on the streets, I used to learn them”.  He attended the primary school; later on he learned humanities and cultivated music, being able of playing several instruments, as it was a custom in Lucca’s noble families.

 

During the feasts days, he used to play the organ at the Observance Saint Francis’ Church.

 

From childhood he was educated to live in sobriety and simplicity.

 

He finished his Philosophy and Theology studies in the Franciscan General Studies at Lucca, where they taught their clerics and some students from outside. There is not any proof that at that time Peter wanted to become a priest. According to the notes of the family, we know that on January 31, 1593, “he defended in public, in the Church of Saint Francis, 100 conclusions of Philosophy” with Dominicans, Augustinians, Servites and Secular companions. He was then 20 years old and he had already finished the Theology, because only the Theologians could take part in such literary functions.

 

There is not any proof that at that time he had already decided to become Religious or Priest, or rather dedicate himself to the teaching or to the administration of the family wealth. We know that his friends tested his virtue: they invited him to play a harpsichord instrument and while he was playing it, all of them left the room and a “joyful girl” entered. When Peter realized it, he tried to go out, but the door was locked; he asked the door to be opened, and facing the insinuations of the girl, he opted for jumping through the window, with such a bad lack that he suffered a bad hurt in his leg for all his life.

 

HE ENTERS THE RELIGIOUS LIFE

 

In April he asked to be admitted in the Lucca Congregation of the Virgin Mary. He knew it very well because he attended the Parish in charge of these Religious Fathers. It was a Congregation of 20 years of existence and 10 members. On the “chronicles” of one of the first members of the Founder, Saint John Leonardi, we can read: “God, in His mercy, this year of 1594, moved the heart of a young man who was educated with us, since he belonged to our Parish, the son of the good Gaspar, called the blind… and because his vocation was thought as a miracle, having a father of such a terrible nature;  our Fathers did not care of taking him for six months as a test; on the contrary, he took the habit the following Monday of the liberty Sunday. He was really good, convincing many to the Religious Life; even his father, although blind, entered with us. 

 

His novice master was Fr. John Bautista Cioni, whose beatification cause is in progress. This Father, who was a prudent and balanced person, had to break, rather than push, the anxieties of Fr. Peter for perfection.

 

We don’t have documents of the spiritual progress of Fr. Casani, but we know, yes, that he did not have a good health and that he was docile to the teachings of his master. When the Founder went to Lucca and knew him, he took him to Rome (March 14, 1596).

 

He accompanied Saint John Leonardi when he had to make a Visitation to the Congregation of Monte Vergine in the Naples Reign, ordered by Pope Clement VIII. The Visitation lasted for 5 years and Peter, in spite of being “tested” by 5 bishops who wanted him in their priests, remained with his Founder, sharing difficulties, fatigues, bitterness and spiritual joys. When he was in Naples, he received the tonsure and the two first minor orders.

 

After they finished the first phase of the Apostolic Visitation, he went back to Lucca and he made, as it was the custom in the Congregation, the vows of Obedience and perseverance, in October 1597. A month later receives there two minor orders and a patrimony of 500 escudos (money) necessary to receive the major orders. In April 1598, he is called again to Rome, where he studied Saint Thomas Theology at the Jesuit Roman College, since he had studied the Theology of Escoto at Lucca.

 

Following his desire of being promoted to the priesthood in Rome during the holy year 1600, he is ordained as a priest on September 23 of this year, in Saint John of Letran Basilica. We don’t know where he celebrated his first Mass. What we know is that he returned to Lucca and exercised the ministry at the same parish of his childhood, being famous in preaching and at the confessional.

 

From September to November 1601, he accompanied Saint John Leonardi to the Visitation of the Congregation of the Monks in Vallombrosa and he helped in the writing of the Rules for novices and of the Constitutions of the Lucca Congregation.

 

In the spring of 1604 was hold the Diet “general assembly” of the Congregation, in Rome, for the final study of the Constitutions. Peter Casani was named secretary and notary. At this occasion, he deepened his familiarity with Cardinal Cesar Baronio, who took part in the Diet. The most difficult problem was poverty. Some wanted to introduce the poverty vow and some did not. He defended with ardor the first position, dreaming that some day the Congregation would become Religious Order.

 

While Peter was in Rome for the Diet, the period of ten years required by the Constitutions in order to make the solemn vows, was over, and in that way, he tied himself to the Congregation in a definitive way. The ceremony was held at Saint Mary in Portico, on July 22, 1604, according to his writing.

 

After he returned to Lucca, he worked hard with youth, for whom he erected the Congregation of Our Lady of Snows. The way how it was erected makes us think, according to Fr. Cesar Francciotti, about some Providence: “During this month of July of this year 1604, happened the erection of the Congregation of the youth under the title of the Virgin of the Snows, in the underground, with the leadership and government of Fr. Peter Casani, who, one day, without knowing why, he found in the sacristy Baltasar Guinigi, a young man of 17, and since childhood educated by ours in the devotions; this young man, going to play with his companions after leaving the Bank, he felt as if somebody would tell him: Would not be it better to go for confession?  (Baltasar was a little negligent in his life and he felt remorse and good inspirations). It would be better, he said to himself, and he went to the parish where he prayed for a time before the Holy Sacrament, and then asked for a confessor; he met Fr. Casani, who invited him to join the new Congregation for the youth. Baltasar thought that this was the occasion he was asking to the Lord and he entered the Congregation and became a good president. Later on we will see that he became a good Religious”.

 

The Congregation had the meetings in the mornings of feast days, talking about spiritual themes. From Christmas to Lent, they met also in the afternoons. In the meetings, they used to pray, heard the exhortations of the leader, sang songs and listened to good music. When the number increased, they became two groups, the adolescents and the young people. We know that the Congregation continued even when Fr. Peter was translated to Rome and from it came out 53 vocations for the priesthood and religious life between the years 1604-1647.

    

IN ROME AND AT LUCCA

 

In November of 1695, when the first general congregation of the Lucca Fathers was held, Fr.Casani was in Rome. He took part as a vocal and he became secretary. Again the poverty theme was discussed and again he was for it. After the meeting, he was appointed vice-Rector of the Roman house, and that is the reason why he lived there from 1605-1608. There are not documented notes of his activities, but we can presume that he was helping the Founder and he gave lessons to the clerics that lived in the community.

 

Since Saint John Leonardi was one of the three who thought the Congregation of the Propaganda Fide, we can presume that Peter drank from that fountain the missionary spirit we will see during his life.

 

In October 1608, the second general congregation is held in the Roman house. He was again a vocal and secretary.

 

They decided to open a formation house in Lucca and Casani was sent there as a counselor and teacher. His presence gave new vitality to the Congregation of the youth who started teaching through the streets and plazas of the city.

 

On October 9, 1609, the Founder dies and he is replaced by Fr. Alexander Bernardini. In the letters of these years there are many references to the poor health of Fr. Peter; in a certain occasion, the members of the congregation made a vote to the Virgin Mary of Loreto for the health of their leader, who did not take much care of his body, but rather tortured it with great penance, especially during Lent. 

 

During the Diet of 1612, he is named General Assistant, but he continues living at Lucca, who has then 12 priests, 21 young clerics and 8 lay brothers. A year later, we find Fr. Peter in the company of the new General, in Sospello, a town of about 6000 people, belonging to Savoya. They had been there to see the possibility of accepting the offering of opening a community-school with grammar, humanities and rhetoric. During the stay, Fr. Casani preaches an authentic popular mission. We take notes from the chronicle of Fr. Bernardini: “In order to be known, Fr. Peter Casani started preaching, with great satisfaction and many people attending…. The 40 hours… three days with so many people attending that he remained in the church from morning till night, with great surprise…All went for confessions, and according to the common testimony, with much fruit…”. For Fr. Peter this trip was a rich experience, and later on he repeated it in another occasions. 

 

During the years 1613-1614, he lived in the Roman community of Trevi, where they opened a study house. There remain many testimonies of his ability for uniting “the Theology of the mind” with the “Theology of the heart”, what today we would call,   theory and praxis.

 

THE ENCOUNTER WITH THE PIOUS SCHOOLS

 

The foundation of Sospello was not successful because during the autumn of 1613, Cardenal Giustiniani, Protector of the Pious Schools, offered to the Lucca Fathers the possibility of helping the new born work of Saint Joseph Calasanz. After the possibility was discussed in the Diet of that year, the Lucca Fathers took care of the Schools and they took the name of Congregation of the Mother of God. Fr. Casani acted as secretary and he was for the union, offering himself to go to the School that was in Saint Pantaleo, actual residence of the Order of the Pious Schools. With the fusion, Calasanz was looking for the continuation of his work: there were 800 students divided in “nine classrooms” or grades.

 

Fr. Peter is named Superior of the school-house of Saint Pantaleo, while Calasanz, a priest but not a Religious, continued with the job of Prefect (Principal) of the School. There were two reasons why Casani accepted the work: the juvenile apostolate, carried out from his first steps at Lucca, and the poverty of Calasanz and his schools. With him went Fr. Baltasar Guinigi (the young man who had started the Congregation of the Virgin of the Snows) and some young clerics.

 

Very soon, Fr. Casani founded several juvenile Congregations, who gathered their members during the feast days; he prepared the young men for the Sacraments and gave spiritual talks to the students, besides providing the administration and taking care of the 20 members of the community. We have proofs that the students reached the number of 1200. Fr. Bernardino narrates that “one day of the octave of Saint Mary Major, the students were led in procession to the basilica, singing the litanies and lauds in honor of the Mother of God. They were walking in a very good order, edifying the whole city and the work of the Pious Schools was praised”.

 

During the same year, 1614, he preached during Lent at the Parish Church of Saint Lawrence in Damaso, with much profit among the people, and the “conversion” of Francis Castelli was specially noted; later on, he would become Provincial and General Assistant of the Piarist Fathers. The Lucca Fathers did not really grasp the wishes of Calasanz regarding the service of the schools and the Diet of 1616 reconsidered the theme. The solution that was accepted did not satisfy neither the Religious nor Pope Paul V, who in March 1617, gave a decree of separation and the creation of a new Religious Congregation with the name of: Pauline Congregation of the Mother of God of the Pious Schools. The Lucca Fathers, who wanted to remain, were added to the new Congregation. Among those who remained was Fr. Peter Casani, with some novices and lay brothers. Fr. Erra gives this reason: “Fr. Peter did not leave our Congregation because he was disgusted, but rather because he wanted to live that poverty and strictness that lived from the beginning the Pious Schools”.  

 

During the time of union of the Lucca Fathers and the Pious Schools, Peter had thought of an Institute formed by three kinds of Religious: priests, dedicated to the ministry exercises; clerics, dedicated to teaching ministry; lay brothers, who would take care of the necessities of the school-houses. He even wrote Constitutions, kept today and with the name of “Pusilli gregis idea” (small flock idea).

 

MASTER OF NOVICES IN THE PIOUS SCHOOLS

 

On March 25, 1617, feast of the Assumption and Holy Saturday, Calasanz and his companions, 14, took the Piarist habit. All of them took a religious name: Joseph of the Mother of God, Peter of the Nativity of the Holy Blessed Virgin Mary… But in the not official documents, he would sign: Pietro povero (Peter the poor).

We don’t know why, but a month later he makes his religious profession at the hands of Saint Joseph Calasanz, with the three vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. Before that, he had renounced his goods: he left to the Congregation of the Mother of God the yearly 500 escudos, as a sign of gratitude for the 23 years he had lived in it; to his father, what he would receive from his mother inheritance, with the wish of giving them to the poor.

 

Calasanz named Master of Novices to Fr. Casani. He asked from the novices absolute silence, almost continual contemplation, exact obedience, frequent corporal mortifications, fasting, vigils…Frequently he would send them through the streets of Rome, asking for alms, as an act of humility and self-despise, and later on he would distribute the alms among the poor. In spite of everything, the number increased and it was necessary the writing of the “Rules for the novices”, a living testimony of is radical conception.

 

RECTOR IN NARNI

 

In October 1618, Fr. Casani left Rome with seven other religious and went to Narni, today in the Province of Terni, second Piarist foundation outside Rome (the first had been in Frascati, when the schools were still at the hands of the Lucca Fathers). The chronicles narrate the solemnity of the inauguration and the priestly zeal of Fr. Peter, who soon was named confessor of the Noble Congregation that was in the city since 1602. He started with three classrooms and the following year, two new ones were added.

 

As in the other schools, the moral and religious formation was the base, with daily Mass after the morning classes, the “continuous prayer” (small groups of students who during the school schedule would take turns in the chapel with a priest), monthly confession, the catechist and frequent communion. On Sundays and Feast Days, there was an Oratory and catechism before the Mass, Vespers, preaching and a short excursion or games together with a Religious Person. Fr. Casani did not take long before creating juvenile Congregations, since he was an expert, and after been asked by some adults, he created the Confraternity of the dying, for men and women.  His principal goal was prayer, the sacrament frequency and other activities of piety. He was also confessor of the Sisters of Saint Bernard Monastery, who by his petition ended asking “the restoring of the common life, living in supreme poverty”. 

 

Around the middle of 1619, he was called by Calasanz to Rome, to take again the novitiate. After a hard didactic fighting, in 1622, the Congregation of the Mother of God (Lucca Fathers) and the Congregation of the Pious Schools were elevated to the juridical rank of Religious Orders. In April, Calasanz, together with Casani and the assistants, made the solemn profession at the hands of Cardinal Tonti. The same Fr. Peter narrates it: “this morning we made our solemn vows profession at the hands of the dying Cardinal Tonti, and after we left the house, we went to Saint Mary Major, and we renewed them in public, after the Mass celebrated by our Father, at the altar of the Virgin Mary”. The following day, Cardinal Tonti died. In May1622, he received the job of presenting the Constitutions to the communities of Narni, Carcare and Fanano.

 

After he finished this mission, he went with two other companions to Savona, a port of Liguria that had lost its autonomy almost a century ago and was subjected to the Republic of Genove. The Council of the Old People that governed the city, wanted to improve the situation of the city, starting with the education of the young people. The chronicles people say that since the opening of the Schools, the city had changed and the young people had stopped having the streets as battle fields; the living returned to be calm and a new air prevailed.    

Fr. Casani, as Rector, had to organize the community and the teaching; he opened Congregations and fomented singing and music, as he had done it in Rome and in Narni. He looked for vocations and he found generous answers; it was necessary to open a new house. During a year, two new houses were founded and 18 new vocations entered.

 

 

PROVINCIAL OF LIGURIA

 

On July 10, 1623, he is named Provincial of the Liguria Province. At that time, it had three houses, one in Carcare and two in Savona. His first preoccupation was to find a bigger house for the novices, who were increasing. In Carcare took the habit 12 new candidates.

 

Thanks to the personal movements done in Genove, in February 1624, a novitiate was opened. The same Fr. Peter was the novice master and he made the novices practice his accustomed toughness, but there was an environment of fervor and with a sincere desire of progressing through the way of perfection. Calasanz, the Fr. General, alarmed by so many taking the habit, gave a decree taking into his hands the right to give the Piarist habit. The last knowledge we have of the actuation of Fr. Casani in Liguria is a trip-pilgrimage he made to Turin, where he venerated the Holy Shroud.

 

As Provincial Superior, Fr. Peter revealed some qualities really exceptional: confidence in the youth, who always corresponded; a full abandonment in the Providence, to whom he entrusted all his initiatives; capacity of transmitting to the novices the desire of perfection, through his example and his austere life, always working and much mortified; ability to deal with authorities and noble families, getting much esteem for the Pious Schools and for him.

 

SHORT STAY IN ROME

 

During the Holy Year of 1625, he had to abandon Liguria and to return to Rome. He arrived to Rome at the end of September, accompanied by 6 novices. Calasanz had written: “I want Fr. Ottonelli to come to Rome, the Rector of Carcare and Fr. Casani. Fr. Castelli can remain there, because he will have time to celebrate another Holy Year”. His words became prophetic words, since the first one died a year after and Fr. Peter in 1647.  But in the mind of Calasanz there was another job for Fr. Casani: he wanted to send him to Wien, thinking about a new foundation that could not be carried out.

 

He took care of the Roman novitiate that had been in the hands of Fr. Alacchi, genial religious, but a little careless. Fr. Casani started with such fervor that the Founder, in a letter on October 1, shows his complacency. He was named General Procurator of the Order, a job regarding the relations with the Vatican. He only was six months as master of novices.

 

Because of an accusation of a Religious, the Pious Schools got a canonical visitation, in the person of Msgr. Seneca.  Fr. Casani, an expert in religious life and juridical matters, wrote a Memorial where he wrote his vision about the state of the Order; in it manifests his preoccupation for the formation deficiencies of the candidates and he declares himself a fervor defender of the supreme poverty.

He tried, in that way, to correct some abuses and gave practical orientations for a more efficient Pious Schools.

 

The conclusions of the Visit asked Calasanz to gather a General Congregation and that he would give possible names for Generals. Fr. Casani was the first on the list. 

 

IN MESINA

 

Facing the difficulties Fr. Melchor Alacchi had to open the Pious Schools in Naples and Palermo; Calasanz thought that the one that could overcome all the difficulties before the Archbishop was Fr.Casani, an expert in treating Bishops, Cardinals and nobles. Fr. Casani was very interested in the foundation at Sicilly, while he was opposed to the opening of a school in Naples, maybe because when he visited the city accompanying Fr. John Leonardi, he got a bad impression.

 

After he received the Obedience on the day of Saint Joseph, 1626, he left Rome directly to Mesina, accompanied by two Religious and with a letter of thanks to the Senate. During the trip, he stayed in Naples for two months, waiting for a ship. He lived in the house of marquis Belmonte, and he got a good entrance with the authorities and noble people of the city, and even the Cardinal was ready to give the permit for the foundation of the Pious Schools in Naples.

 

At the end of May, he sailed for Mesina, and after his arrival there, he took possession of his post as Rector. On July 14, he received the profession of two novices and on November, another one. The historians remember the episode of Fr. Busdraghi, native of Lucca and coming from a noble family, whom Fr. Casani ordered hard tests to base him on humility and mortification. Before entering the religious life, he had been a Senator of the city and Fr. Casani sent him to fetch water to the public fountain, used to give him the most humble tasks of the house and ordered him to ask alms with a sack on his shoulders, through the streets. One day, while he was asking for alms, he met some famous men from Lucca who were in Mesina because of business and in another occasion had been helped by him when he was a Senator. They wondered so much seeing him in that situation that they went to Fr. Casani to accuse him for the treatment he was giving him, having fulfilled so important jobs in the city, and they threatened him to report to his brother and uncle, the Archbishop of Chieti. Fr. Peter called Busdraghi to talk with those people, and he told them that he was no longer the man of before; that now wanted to become a servant of the poor and that he was ready to ask alms even to them, for the love of God. They left edified and after his brother was informed, he sent alms to the Pious Schools.

 

Fr. Casani would not lose any occasion in asking the permit from the Episcopal Curia that opposed strongly, saying that in the city of Mesina there were the Jesuits and many Religious. After he was claimed by Calasanz for the foundation of Naples, Br. Francis is telling us that, while he was talking with the Archbishop, he told him with courtesy: “Monsignor, you throw away the Pious Schools from Mesina, but V.S. will be put away from here soon. The Pious Schools will come back and will open a house, for the glory of God, while V.S. will not return”. And it was like that: the Piarist Fathers returned three years later and Monsignor ended his days in Milan.

 

RECTOR AND PROVINCIAL OF NAPLES

 

On April 14, 1627, Fr. Casani arrived to Naples. Calasanz named him Rector of the new foundation he had made in person. The students were around 600 and the community had 30 Religious.

 

One of the first preoccupations of Casani was the vocational pastoral, in order to maintain the number of Religious. During the time he was the Provincial (1627-1631) he gave the habit to 57 novices and founded a second house in Porta Reale, built a Church, dedicated to the Nativity of the Virgin Mary (his Religious name) and made bigger the place - having 400 hundred students. The house of Porta Reale was also a novitiate house; the other one, the Duchesca, was named, professed house.

 

In October 1627, was summoned the first General Congregation of the Pious Schools. Peter took part as Provincial and General Assistant. It was held in Rome, in the novitiate house, from October 11 till November 4. Among the themes: the observance of the poverty, the government of the Order, the enclosure, the juridical situation of some Religious, the creation or confirmation of a new third kind of Religious (this discussion would carry later grave results).

 

Casani took the word for the supreme poverty; he had the opinion about the regular observance with knowledge, since he was for a long time in the religious life; he was special in the discussion about the problem of the third kind of religious, the “Lay Brothers”. We can remember that in his blueprint of Constitutions, “Pusilli gregis idea”, he had proposed the creation of three kinds of Religious, Priests, scholastic Brothers and working Brothers, without the possibility of going from one class to the other. Calasanz, in his Constitutions had only two kinds of Religious, without any precise distinction, so that the clerics, as well as the working Brothers, would profess with the same formula, although in a different language.

 

The lack of persons to supply all the foundations that were carried out and the fact that some priests would not dedicate themselves to the teaching because of the priesthood ministry, forced Calasanz to dedicate, more than once, working Brothers to lower classes, since they made, too, the vow of teaching. The Priests and the Clerics used the biretta, a sign of being clerics, while the Brothers did not. The students used to notice the difference and while they respected the first ones, they would despise the second ones, since at that time the “working Brothers”, also called “conversed” used not to have much knowledge.

 

Calasanz, in order to maintain the Pious Schools with the dignity they required and the Brothers would have more authority and would get more respect from the students, had given them the biretta to those who among them would be worthy of receiving the clerical tonsure. The General Congregation approved such a measure and with it he was expecting to solve the problem.

 

When Fr. Casani left Rome on November 15, Calasanz gave him a circular letter with these instructions for the government of the Province: he should habitually live at Duchesca; he will dedicate more time to the care of the Religious and to the matters of the Province; he would reduce the priestly ministry to the feast days and one day during the week. He gave him an assistant, Fr. Steven Cherubini. He recommended him to be cautious when admitting novices, reminding him the obligation to ask permission to Fr. General and should send him the proper information. Fr. Peter accepted the dispositions with humility, without discussing them.

 

Fr. Cherubini, appreciated by Calasanz, had been Rector of Narni and he was not lacking good qualities, but he was an ambitious man and he used to take advantage of the trust of the Founder for egoistic purposes. He tried to compete with Fr. Casani, even accusing him of not fulfilling well with his Provincial duty. When he was nominated Rector of the Duchesca house, he even increased his aversion. His frequent “information” sent to Calasanz helped to become cool the relations of Calasanz with Fr. Peter, who suffered in silence, and we are unable in finding any attempt of justification. What he did was to resign.

 

Some lay people from Naples, members of the Purification Confraternity, fearing to lose him, wrote to Fr. General asking the return of Fr. Casani and made great praises about him. Calasanz, in his answer, thanks the beautiful words regarding Fr. Casani, he adds new praises and he argues that because he is of such a value, had to keep him in Rome. Nevertheless, Fr. Casani went back to Naples, where graves matters were waiting him, among them to find a new novitiate house, so that the novices would not have to be sent to Rome after a short time at Porta Reale. He found a proper house, near the first one, he prepared it, and he organized the novitiate and made it to function regularly.

 

For the clerics that were preparing to the priesthood, he erected a school for humanities and a Superior one, where they could study Philosophy and Theology. With this, he was expecting to form a Province independent from the Roman one, in such a way that it could provide by itself, without asking Religious to Fr. General.

 

Among “his” vocations we can find Fr. Onofrio Conti, a son of a very noble family, who had studied medicine and that he would be one of the most significant figures at the beginning of the Pious Schools and that he would work in the foundations in Germany and Poland.

 

While suffering much because of the organization of the novitiate, his health started to weaken. In 1628 he suffered of sciatica and had to rest for a certain time. Of course, his frequent fasting helped him to become weaker, in such a way that Calasanz had to order him the obedience to the doctors’ prescriptions.

 

On another level of things, Fr. Casani was always very much respected and very popular. He was considered as an able conciliator and a very good counselor. Many families from Naples used to go to his place. He respected the liberty of his Religious and he never coerced them, although he was a strict observant of the Rules and of the discipline.

 

While Provincial, he worked hard for the extension of the Pious Schools in the southern Italy. The foundations in Bisignano and Campi Salentina belonged to him (later on, Saint Pompilius Mary Pirrotti will make famous this city).

 

In Naples, too, he founded Congregations for lay people, as a means of promoting the Christian piety. At Duchesca, he instituted the Congregation of the Purification, for merchants, clerks and notaries. Their goal was to pray for those who were in mortal sin. Is worthy of remembering the celebration of the Forty Hours in 1692, to which Calasanz had been invited, but he was not able to take part because of his health. The brothers of the congregation got from Fr. General the “Letter of Brotherhood from the Order”, with the rights of suffrage after death.

 

Another congregation founded by Fr. Peter was the one of the Artists, for adults and young people. He himself wrote the rules and constitutions.

 

FATIGUES AND BITTERNESS

 

The last years lived by Fr. Casani in Naples (1630-1631) are marked by hard work and deep bitterness. He continued with the jobs of General Assistant, Provincial and Rector of Porta Reale house. He attended with zeal the vocational pastoral and the foundations of new houses.

 

The most difficult matter for him was the process he had to start against Fr. Steven Cherubini, commended by Calasanz. Fr. Chderubini, although he had fulfilled very well the job of Rector at Duchesca, and had made important improvements in the house and at school, he had a moral mistake. During the process, Calasanz, wanting to save the good name of Cherubini, stopped the process, putting away from Naples the Father and nominating him General Visitator. Fr. Casani suffered very much because of this and thought again of resigning as Provincial, taking as an excuse the visit to Rome in 1630. But he went back to Naples.

 

During his stay here, he taught Philosophy and Theology to the clerics, but his most important job was animating the Religious Communities and to lead the school activities, trying to overcome the difficulties that in those times were rather many, if we take into consideration the lacking of places and the number of few teachers, and sometimes, not so well prepared.  

 

In the letters to Calasanz we find some references to abacus, mathematics and music. He promoted theatrical representations that were famous at Duchesca, with much success, in the presence of the authorities of the city. He introduced, too, some initiatives to develop the piety among the young people and adults, such as the procession of Corpus Christi and the Christmas Manger.    

 

In order to put forward a model of life to the young people, he animated the devotion to the martyrs Saint Justus and Pastor. Thanks to him, the young people from Naples used to recite the “Crown of the Twelve Stars” in honor of the Virgin Mary, written by Calasanz.

 

Besides the Congregations founded in Duchesca, he instituted in Porta Reale that of the Nobles, to improve the Christian life of the people of that district

 

When Fr. Casani was in Rome in 1630, he wrote a testimony in the process of beatification of the Venerable Glicerio Landriani, although he was against the beatification of the Piarists.  He was asked by Calasanz, because Glicerio had been a novice of Fr. Peter and he had attended him during the time of his death. His testimony was very important when the time came to declare the heroic living of the virtues.           

 

During these two last years, he worked in the foundations of new houses: he started the foundation of Somma Vesuviana, taking himself the direction of the construction. It was a pity that an eruption of Mount Vesuvius, in December 1631, destroyed most of the building for which he had spent large sums of money. The Religious had to go to another place. In the same year, he opened the house of Cosenza. Finally, he attended the foundation of Posillipo, a very suitable place for a house-novitiate.

 

The year 1631 was the last year lived in Naples. In October he had to travel to Rome for the General Chapter; it was the end of the nine years period for which Calasanz and his Assistants had been elected.  There were many problems in the Order; the expansion was out of proportion regarding the number of the members. Everything weighted upon the shoulders of Calasanz, who was already 75 years old and he started to fail, so much that he had express the desire of leaving the job to another one and retire to Narni, a city he loved very much. Fr. Casani attended the Chapter as Provincial and General Assistant.

 

 

GENERAL ASSISTANT FOR LIFE

 

The Pope Urbanus VIII had given an extension of six months for those who had enjoyed general posts, so that the chapter members of Florence could arrive, in the meantime, to Rome, because of the pest of 1630, they could not arrive on time. On October 28, the date when the extension was over, they realized that the situation was troublesome: there was not a president to lead the work, since Fr. General had ceased and the vocal members had been nominated without the commended provincial chapter.

 

Fr. Casani, an expert in juridical matters, since he had been with John Leonardi, tried to save the situation, presenting, in the names of the chapter members, a Memorial to the Pope, on which, after exposing the difficulties, proposed as a solution to nominate Calasanz as General for Life. The Pope ordered Cardinal Ginetti to ask all the chapter members about the proposition. The chapter members gave their consent and the initiative was approved. At the same time, there were nominated four Assistants, also for life, one for each Provinces the Order had, and Calasanz was obliged to consult with them before taking any important decision.     

 

During the time of this chapter that was short and had an informal character, they considered not accepting any new foundation without the consent of His Sanctity; to have only one novitiate house for the whole Order and that the clerics would study, besides humanities and rhetoric, Philosophy and Theology before starting the teaching ministry. We can see the work of Fr. Casani in these matters, some liked by him and some not.

 

Fr. Casani was nominated Master of Novices besides being Assistant for life of Naples. Therefore, he had to go to the novitiate of Quattro Fontane, in Rome. With only a novitiate house for the whole Order, it was assured the uniformity in the spirituality, with much profit for the Religious Life. Fr. Casani felt the whole weight of the responsibility and dedicated completely to the task of teaching Philosophy and Theology to the professed Religious.  

 

We keep many letters received by Calasanz during the years 1632-1633, asking the move of Fr. Casani to Naples, where people kept very much alive his pleasant remembrance. Calasanz answered all and to Nicolsburg (Moravia), Venice, Sicily, Florence, Genove…He was always grateful for the great esteem they kept towards his Assistant, but always reminding them that his presence in Rome was of great utility. Fr. Peter always remained with complete availability.

 

As an assistant of Naples, at the end of 1632, had to travel to that city and he took the opportunity to greet the people of his congregations, friends, penitents and benefactors. And while he was there, there happened a thing that disturbed Calasanz and the whole Order: the cleric Castilla, not satisfied with the Religious Life, started sending Memorials to Cardinals and even to the same Pope, on which he denounced the Superiors and named a series of infractions that according to him, there were in the Pious Schools. He was asking for an Apostolic Visitation and he animated some companions to do the same. The matter arrived to Naples and Fr. Casani took drastic measures so that the matter would not spread.

 

On February 23, he gave the habit to 7 novices, with all solemnity. There were benefactors who helped in the expenses of Porta Reale and in other necessities.

 

After his stay in Naples came to an end, he went back to Rome, with time to attend the last part of the revolt caused by the cleric Casstilla. Although Castilla withdrew his writings, the Cardinal Barberini, without knowing the withdrawal, humiliated in public Calasanz. Thanks God that Calasanz answered with great humility and prudence and the Cardinal was very much edified and the tempest ended.  Years later will come again even stronger and it will carry with it the prohibition of opening new houses, although they were asked for from many places in Europe.      

 

DIFFICUL GOVERNMENT OF THE ORDER

 

During the years 1633-1636, Fr, Casani worked together with Calasanz as general Assistant, Master of Novices and General Visitator, always preoccupied of the situation of the Order that was very different from those ideals of Religion Perfection, both of them wanted to, and to what they had been obliged by the solemn profession.

 

With probability, although we don’t have any written proof, he was master of novices until he went to Genove, on April 21, 1634, being asked to attend a sick person. Then, Calasanz took the opportunity to entrust him the visitation of the houses of the Ligure Province. He went back happily to that city, after he had left it nine years before, where he had sown the seeds of the Pious Schools and he had a good remembrance. Fr. General commanded him the organization of the religious life and to exhort the communities to live in fraternal communion.

 

Among his preoccupations was to find a novitiate house for the Liguria Province, because although in the general chapter before had been approved only a novitiate, this created many difficulties for these Religious so far away from Rome. He did not get concrete results, but he put the bases for a second novitiate in Genove.

 

When the care of the Order allowed him some free time, he dedicated himself to the revision and correction of the Latin Grammar of Gaspar Scioppio, that was already been experimented in some schools. With this work, he was fulfilling a request of Calasanz that wanted to put in the hands of the students an easy, short and effective text, so that those who aspired higher studies or work and needed Latin, would learn in a short time. At the beginning, they were using the grammar of the Jesuit Manuel Alvarez, but were not satisfied. When Scioppio published his, some Piarists were allowed to go to Milan in order to learn from the author the new grammar. With the adaptation of Fr. Casani, the students were able to learn and interpret the letters of Cicero, during the first year; and during the second year, they got writing correctly. We don’t have the text of Fr. Casani, but we have the one published by another Piarist , Fr. John Francis Apa, in 1643.

 

At the beginning of December, he was called by Calasanz to Rome. During the year 1635, he worked with Calasanz as Secretary General. Besides being an Assistant, especially when the troubles of the Lay Brothers appeared, who were not satisfied with what they had got and they were asking for the priesthood. At the beginning, Calasanz was opposed to it, but he went back and the General Congregation of April 1636, gave the priesthood to those who were declared worthy by the Roman examiners. Four months later, the Pope accepted the measure with a Brief.

 

Again Fr. Casani had to take care of the novitiate, but now he was less optimist than the times before, because he knew by intuition the thunderstorm that would knock down the Order because of the step given forward: the lay brothers used to forget their occupations in order to study Latin, to pass the tests and to be Ordained, with great disgust of clerics and priests.

 

 

APOSTOLATE IN FANANO AND GENERAL CHAPTER OF 1637

 

The first months of 1637, he was in the house of Saint Pantaleo and he suffered a grave sickness. We know it for a letter of Calasanz to Cherubini. After he became well, he was sent to the baths of his native place, Lucca. Here, he gets acquainted with a doctor that invited him to Bolonia in order to receive a treatment.

 

After he became well, we find him in the Community of Fanano. We read on the chronicle of the house: “A Piarist Father, called Peter Casani, a native of Lucca, has arrived. Through him; God has worked marvelous things, even clearly miracles. He himself led the four Arch-Confraternities to Saint Pellegrinoo del’ Alpi, with much pleasure and spiritual joy for all”.

 

The same Fr.Casani, in a letter to Calasanz, narrates his apostolate in Fanano: “It is necessary to adjust oneself to the times and to use the occasions. We celebrated the Assumption with the participation of 6000 persons, whom we could not satisfy, in spite that we were six confessors, three secular priests and three from us. At the end of the procession they used to perform, I commanded to close the door, so that they would not come together inside and would be danger of deaths. We put a table on the plaza, and going up to it, I made a short talk, gave them the blessing and sent them home”.

 

Before Vespers, I had to ride on a horse and go to a small town (Pieve de Fanano) to visit one of those counts, an uncle of Mr. Conti. Here, on the day of Saint Roque, about 10000 people attended. On the following day, when we were thinking of riding on a horse for going back to Fanano, a letter from Sassuolo arrived, by the steward of his Majesty, ordering Mr. Conti, by the command of the duke, to take me there. His Majesty wanted me to visit the small prince Alfonse, the first son, who was sick in bed. We went there and the Duke talked alone with me, without any company, about many things, and later on he asked me to visit the prince.

 

The Duchess made the other two sons come, one boy and a girl, and she wanted me to bless them. I said good-bye, and at that moment arrived the order of S.E. asking me to go there, as I did it. I was welcomed very well by him. On the following day, the whole town got together, even from Modena and Bolonia, so that the same Marquis with a count and their courts were necessary to defend me. He wants a “Letter of Brotherhood from the Order”. May your reverence have the favor of sending it to him.

 

Later on, on the way home, we have been stopped in Guia, from where I write to your paternity, but about 4:30 in the afternoon we will start and we will arrive, God permitting, in the morning, to Fanano. Consider your Paternity how much good would be done if we would have men”.

 

On the Vigil of the Assumption, Calasanz signed the decree convoking the General Chapter on October 15. Fr. Casani received it while he was in Fanano. He went back for the second session of baths in his native town, Lucca, and to Rome, with time to prepare himself well. It was really the first general chapter, as such. The one in 1631 could not be carried out in a proper way. A serious revision was done of what had been decreed in the general congregation of 1627 and in the chapter of 1631. They put the bases for a collective government (today we would say democratic). There were norms about poverty, the foundations and the closing of houses. It was legislated about the working clerics and the lay brothers. They talked in a clear way about everything and everybody. Many of the dispositions they took, went later on into the Constitutions.

 

At that time, the Order had 27 houses, with 362 Religious and 70 novices. The chapter members were 20, coming from the provinces of Rome, Liguria, Toscana, Germany and Sicilly.

 

Fr. Casani was one the chapter members most active and efficient. He was satisfied because of the decisions that were taken, although late on, not much was made to put into practice what had been agreed, and this made harder his preoccupation for the future of the Order.

 

COMMISSARY GENERAL IN GERMANY

 

Calasanz, supported by the wish of the Piarists who were working in Moravia of having Fr. Casani among them, nominated him, in April 1638, General Commissary in Germany.

 

The Pious Schools had been introduced in Moravia in 1631, when Cardinal Dietrichstein entrusted them the seminary or Lateran boarding house he had instituted in Nicolsburg (actual Mikulov). Two years later, a house was opened in Strassnitz, first novitiate, later on moved to Leipnik.

 

Fr. Casani, after having the patent of Commissary, starts the trip and he arrives to Nikolsburg on May 12, together with two priests and one cleric. Thanks to a letter of 19, we know his first impressions: “this country seems to me very different as how people that had been here used to tell us. I find it cheerful, beautiful, warm, and agreeable, with good air.

 

The bread is really good, and the vine healthy. The meat, milk, fish, water, fruit, vegetables and everything else are tasty and good for the health. It is true that we feel really hot, but these people say that never before had known such a thing. It does not rain and the cereals whither.

 

The city is not as small as we were told, nor so despised, either, specially going to the suburbs. Anyway, I feel very well and satisfied. Blessed be the Lord, to whom, may be the eternal glory”.

 

That same day he visited Count Magni, who had invited him to Strassnitz and shared that community. In Leipnik admitted some postulants to the novitiate, received the profession of the novices and authorized some clerics to receive the holy orders. The soul of the master of novices is seen in this long letter of June 8:

 

“I was in Leipnik for four whole days… The house seemed to me wonderful receiving novices, for the solitude of the place, because it is outside the town, as well as for the good air; it seems to me the healthiest house we have among all the houses we have in Moravia, where we have communities, and finally for the extension of the farm and for the free use of the gardens of the Prince, next to ours”.

 

“The novices have more than enough space to move around the cloisters and they can stroll and recreate the spirit. Nevertheless, the house is rather small for receiving more young people, as we would like to we could make it larger if we would have the money. It also has little water, precisely during these times of a continued drought. This inconvenience has also an easy remedy, opening a well, and I hope to convince the Prince to do it for us”.

 

“I heard, one by one, all the novices, and I gave them good counsels, in public and in private. I found all of them, as it seemed to me then, happy, in tranquility, modest, humble, assiduous in prayer, wanting the religious perfection, except one, because he was still too young and with a weak body, and he is doubtful about his vocation”.

 

“I did not realize how many were. Fr. Onofre will inform you about the number. I confess that they gave me a great hope. May God not disappoint us. Here, I realized how important the Latin language is. If everybody would speak their own language, they would not be able to understand one another, being some from Behemia, others from Germany, others from Poland and finally others from Panonia. Their languages are different among them, and of course, from the Italian. Therefore all should learn to speak Latin well. For that, so that this language would be familiar to me, I decided to speak and write always in Latin, among us and to ours, but with a simple and plain style, as is good for the one who writes and speaks in a familiar way… How hard it is for me, as the daily experience shows it to me, because during conversation, frequently I go back to the classic Latin”.

 

“Regarding the humanistic studies, we change our way of thinking, since Fr. John Francis had an objection to the decree of the general chapter of not allowing the novices to go out of the novitiate. Therefore, we will leave him in the novitiate, so that he will instruct there the new professed and novices that might have done the first year of novitiate…”

 

NIKOLSBURG RECEIVES FERDINAD III

 

In Nikolsburg he attends the welcoming the city gave to the new emperor Ferdinand III. He describes it in a beautiful letter written in a very beautiful Latin. He talks about the alms offered to the Piarists by the Prince and his personal encounter. We take some paragraphs, trying to make the style easier:

 

“The first of July, at 10:00 P.M., approximately, Ferdinand III with his brother Leopold, nominated bishop of our diocese of Olmuz, arrived to Nikolsburg…There were uncountable the carriages, horsemen and walking soldiers that followed him, in such a way that the city was in a collapsed stage, since nobody could walk through it…Later on, the Emperor went directly to the church of Loreto…to the right, there were the Capuchins and to left, all of us, to make a reverence to his Majesty, and at this moment it is said that somebody made him a reference about us…” 

 

“The following day, at around the German nine hour, they came to the chapel where a Mass was being celebrated, and both of them attended it kneeling… Then I, after celebrating the Mass in our church, arrived there to see closer the Emperor. It happened as I was expecting to, that as soon as I had put my feet in the chapel, the Ceasar turned his eyes towards where I was, continuing kneeling, directed his eyes towards me during a long period and he did not put them away even when he stood up, in such a way that it seemed that he did not want to put his eyes away from me. He went to the near church of the Capuchins. I followed him…”

 

“The following day, just a littler late, they went back. We were already in bed, and the night was already starting, when we heard somebody knocking several times at our door. The doorkeeper went there and he was told that he was the alms keeper of the Emperor and he wanted the Superior to go to receive 25 golden coins, those called ‘hungarians’, before the Emperor went back. The doorkeeper told me that; I got up from bed, dressed up, wrote the receipt, sealed it and with Fr. Ambrose, we went to the house of the alms keeper, receiving the money, giving thanks and coming back”.

“The following day in the morning, after prayer, I ordered all of us to say some prayers for the Emperor, showing to them what he had given to us. When Fr. Onofre knew that, he advised us to go immediately to the Emperor to thank, him with humility, for the received money. Fr.Ambrose opposed it. I remained without knowing what to do… After the Prince was consulted, he approved the idea … and he told me to wait at the entrance of the chapel of Loreto... the courts went out, after them, the Emperor; I went to meet him; he stopped and when I tried to fall down to his feet as a sign of reverence, he, somehow inclined, stretched out his hand smiling smoothly”.

 

“What to do then, I, who had never thought of such a great Prince with such kindness? I became red, full of stupor, almost out of mind; the voice did not come out. I recommended with intensity our Order and gave him the promise of always praying for his Majesty. Only one word said Ceasar: pro nobis orent (May pray for us). Immediately he went up to his carriage, bounded for Brunn”.

 

As far as here, the cinema-description of Fr. Casani helps us to know him deeper.

 

 

THE CONVERSION OF THE PARENTS OF THE STUDENTS

 

He fixed his residence at Strassnitz and there he made his activities. Among the goals he had was to erect a Superior Institute of Studies for the formation of the professed clerics. He himself, as he had done before, taught Philosophy and Theology. One of the missionary activities was to send Religious for the conversion of heretics among towns and cities. To promote the conversion of the families of our students, he proposed to go to catechize them, among the towns and villages, on Sundays and feast days, by two, as the disciples of Jesus.

 

To this purpose the following letter is interesting:

 

“I have decided to propose to your reverence, he writes to Calasanz, what during the time I have living in Moravia I have been observing: It seems to me that men, in these small towns, are very dull and rude, and completely unable to deep into the spiritual things, and therefore they are moved more by the ornaments and external ceremonies than by the greatness or dignity. To this we can add what Fr. Ambrose told me, that the majority who are converted from the heresy (the Protestantism) use to confess that they become catholic more because of the elegance and gravity of the rites than for other motives”.

 

“For these reasons I have changed my mind, that is to say, that in these regions, the holy vases, the vestments and the other ecclesiastical things, no matter how precious they are, it is not good to reject them; rather, in the big cities, it is worthy to be praised, specially because the words of Saint Bernard show us that it was his opinion. In the apology of Guillermo Abbot, when he preached emotionally against the things in the churches of the monasteries, and really because the reasons of the bishops are different from that of the monks, nevertheless, he says, we know that they are in accordance with the wise men, because they arise the devotion of the ordinary people with body ornaments, when they cannot do it with spiritual things”.

 

“Therefore, in Strassnitz I did not say anything about the tabernacle of the Holy Eucharist that I found externally very much adorned, with gold, and in the interior with a veil of red silk and golden decorations. In Leipnik I did not say anything either against an alter erected by a parish priest in our church, admirable because of the sculptures and much gold; and I did not mention, either, a silver chalice, I would say rather big, that somebody is going to donate soon”.

 

“I thought necessary to present these matters to your discretion and prudence so that you may discuss and decide”.

 

Fr. Peter knew very well that the Constitutions of the Order were asking simplicity and poverty in the Piarist temples and in the vessels and ornaments. But his rigor was bending thinking the good of the people.

 

He promoted the exercise of preaching in the temples of the Piarists, to be near to those who preferred the preaching to the liturgical celebrations.  During his stay in Germany, he tried hard the new foundation of Litomisl, supporting the wish of the baroness Febronia of Pernstein.

 

A WEAK BODY IN A STRONG SPIRIT

 

It was a pity, but again the sickness appeared in his life: first, while he was in Lipnik, at the beginning of October 1638, and later on in January of the following year. A long letter to Fr, General gives us all the details:

 

“The merciful God, whose nature is kindness, whose will is power, whose work is mercy, wanted, if I am not mistaken, with my poor health – so grave and multiple since October 15 until today ( February 16, 1639) -  to repress the swelling of my mind and to offer to my brothers a good opportunity of gaining merits, and at the same time, to warn us that those who are in charge in missions in far away regions and almost barbarians, if they don’t want to be agitated by great waves of worries and sadness, they must totally trust in the Divine Providence, putting in the Lord their thoughts, according to the psalmist, and may believe  without any doubt that they will be fed, cured, led and fully liberated of any anguish”.

 

“I became sick in Leipnik, a city without doctors, surgeons, pharmacists or other similar persons. The fourth day, a doctor from Olmuz was called, far away about 15 Italian miles. But, what can we do when, according to the opinion of all the doctors, such a dangerous sickness as mine, double tertian, cannot be given remedies before the fourth day and the strength is becoming weaker with drugs and bleeding, becoming even more difficult to be cured and almost without cure?”.

 

“’The one who cures all the infirmities’ (psalm 102,3) was present there, and wanting to cure me immediately. When the fourth day began, he opened the mouths of the hemorrhoids veins, he made, without the help of any surgeon, a sound pound of blood and giving me the opportunity of a honey panel, invited me, with his accustomed smoothness of his disposition to take a piece of food, with which, causing me a vomit, put away, without any difficulty or trouble, a great quantity of transparent phlegmatic humor”. 

 

“The doctor arrived at last, and trusting the spontaneous evacuations, declared that the fever was cured; but nevertheless he mentioned a simple syrup to be dissolved in radish, without prescribing anything and promising that he would send it from Olmuz.  He left. The following day, very early, he sent ten ounces of such a syrup without prescribing anything by a letter, nor by words by the porter”.  

 

 “I was surprised at the amount, since I knew that in Italy, it never surpasses six ounces and I did not dare to take everything. Therefore, although it helped me much, it only caused greasy dregs, leaving inside the humor; maybe that in these cold regions the roses might not be so strong as in Italy”.

 

“With this, the Divine Providence wanted to prolong my sickness, not without a certain fear of the Fathers when they heard what I proposed them: that it seemed to me enough and less expensive to take me to Olmuz to cure me, just 15 miles, than to Nikolsburg, 65 miles. I was taken to Nikolsburg on a carriage, traveling four days with much discomfort, forced to spend the nights in places devoid of almost everything”.    

 

“There, I was put in the hands of a doctor who was slowly and timid and who did not dare to give me a purge because of my advanced age (66 years). But since he saw that the fever made my tongue black and rough, and that my stomach pains were increasing, he was obliged to apply twice a medicine, in such a small quantity that he removed, but not solved, causing it much damage than profit”.

 

“To cap it all, this doctor was full of scruples, in such a way that after on Friday he prescribed that medicine, after the first treatment, he ordered me to take peas broth, boiled in water, instead of meat broth. After the second treatment, I would not say boiled, but even they were not softened”.

 

“Finally, this doctor went to another place to practice his profession, when my fever was highest; therefore I remained without a doctor for 15 or 20 days. A young doctor took his place, whom I would call exactly an adolescent, who came to experiment in me for the first time, as I think, the medicine. So the divine will would be patent in curing me immediately; several times he was obliged to say that no matter how many times he would give me remedies, the effects were the contrary”.  

 

“Nevertheless, several times he used what is called vomiting medicine (as they call it), and I took it against my will, telling him that I had never taken such a medicine during my sicknesses and warning him about the dangers, instead of success. And after telling me that the medicine was rather good, it caused me a sweat and a stomach evacuation so strong and violent that not only I, but also all of the Religious that were present, and even the same doctor, who was called immediately, and made an examination, believed that I was going to die”.

 

“Without any strength, almost completely deprived of the use of the senses, because what I got to drink, I could not even reach the mouth, but rather the eyes. Finally, thanks to God, coming to myself after a period of time, since the doctor did not dare to give me anything else, I did not dare to take anything, either. And after I don’t take any medicine, it seems that little by little I am becoming better”.

 

“You may also know, Fr. General, that after sending one to Wien to find a place for me to live in, where I could be cured by doctors of that city, the day when we thought of starting the trip, if snowed so much that all the roads were closed. After being taught by such clear sings the divine will, I trusted completely on the Lord, waiting from Him the health of soul and body”.   

 

“I think of going soon to Straznitz in order to change the airs, since they believed that in that way will end the long and hard sicknesses. Thanks be to God! Bless me. I commend much to your prayers.  Nikolsbur; February 15, 1639

 

Some biographers say that Fr. Casani studied some medicine during his youth. This letter can show it, and especially it shows his total confidence in the Divine Providence, in spite that he was not cured immediately, as he was expecting.

 

CASANI IS REVEALED AS A PROFESSOR

 

In another long letter to Fr. General, July 25, 1639, we can find the intellectual interest and teaching practice of Casani, described by himself:

 

“Las night, during supper, your letters were given to me, so much thankful as not so frequent. By them I understood that you give me the faculties of having and reading the books of the heretics. This license, according to the Fr. Provincial of the Dominicans of Bohemia, who was here and stayed in our house, is not necessary in these regions, because of the custom in these regions of having and reading this type of books and that he never dared to say as an error those who did that”.

 

“Nevertheless, worried about the tranquility of our consciences, as soon as he arrived to Wien, he asked to the Apostolic Nuncios general and without limitation licenses, for me and for Fr. Lucas. The one you sent to us, will not be useless, since coming from the real fountain of water, it seems sounder and more pure than those that come from the rivulets”. 

 

“Regarding the dialectic studies, on May 30, I started the explanation of the ‘Institutions of the Complutensis School”, called Summulas, to five of ours, and among them wanted to be admitted Fr. Rector, who because of the obligations of his job, can only attend to this study just as an amateur and as a secondary thing”. 

 

“The rest, for sure, take a big profit, each one according to his capacity, and they are more diligent. But two of them, one Polish priest and the other one from Nikolsburg, that is to say, a Moravian cleric, I hope that will make great progress in Philosophy and Theology. After finishing the course, they will be ready to teach them to others.”

 

“In fifteen days I will finish the Institutions, and since we have only two books of the work of Computensis School and it is difficult for the disciples to make any progress if what is explained in class is not seriously reflected in their rooms, I tried that would send from Venice some books, because in these regions cannot be found, and I explained the Organon of Aristotle before having some examples of it”.   

 

“In the meantime, in order not to lose time, I ordered that the Moravian cleric would explain again, from the beginning, in his own way, before the others and attending myself, the Institutions explained by me during class. He did it so clearly, distinct and quickly, having two lessons daily, that we could consider him in these studies not a amateur, but rather an expert”.

 

“Finally, as the books did not arrive, and until today they have not arrived, I started to explain, in some way, the proemium questions and everything that comes before the text of Portirius. And these good Fathers are so meticulous that they want to treat all the metaphysical questions, even those which indirectly can be referred to the matter we study, in such a way that starting them the fist of June, we will not end even the next week”. 

 

“When we have the books, I will need a lot of time, since we will not treat in class the commentaries of such authors…I have two daily lessons of Philosophy, during one year, and from Monday, May 12, 1640, Theology with four students, one from Bohemia and another one Polish, and two clerics, one from Italy and another one from Moravia. I hope that they will not make me repent of the fatigues I endure. Therefore, I don’t have the occasion of thinking to leave this place before I finish the two years at least that are needed to finish the Theological Summa of Saint Thomas.

 

ACTIVITY IN MORAVIA

 

On January 10, 1640, Fr. Conti, after been asked by Fr, General, wrote a panorama of the situation of the Pious Schools in Moravia. The writing was directed to the Cardinal Protector of the Order, who, after considering the importance of the information, passed it to the Congregation of the Faith:

 

“Ours are working at the school ministry, cultivating these young plants, imbuing in the young people the piety and Catholic religion, the true means and the only one to reform it; to say it better, to give a new form to this shapeless and deformed Christianity. We don’t neglect, nevertheless, although this is more difficult and less secure, to attend at the same time the catechism, confessions, preaching, instruction and confirmation in their faith, to the Catholics; and the conversion of the heretics, those who are ignorant and with old abuses and these other ones victims of perverse opinions…”

 

Fr. Casani was the one who started this kind of apostolate. Even he wrote some “answers” to the difficulties presented by the adults, as we read in a letter to Cardinal Cesarini, September 1, 1640:

 

“A little ago, I received a letter from our Fr. General  ordering me to send you some short answers and some doubts for some dull heretics who are against becoming Catholic, and that I wrote them in a hurry, as the one who does the things without thinking much, and I did not keep a copy for me. Therefore, to fulfill the order of Fr. General, it was necessary to ask for them at the novitiate to get them. They were adapted to the capacity of those men, as it showed later on in the fact of their conversion.”  

 

“Nevertheless, for those who are just a little learned, are like trivialities, since they are trivial and ordinary, written also without any elegance of words, and are not based on sentences of authors, since it was not convenient to do it; and even if I had wanted to do it in an express way, I could not, because of lacking erudition and books. We don’t have any author of controversies. Therefore, urged by the obedience, I allow to fall in your hands theses trifles of mine”.

 

In the meantime, Calasanz, who had become 84 years, ordered the General Chapter of 1640. In the different Provinces, they had the Provincial Chapters. Casani ordered Fr. Garcia the organization of the Moravian Chapter, Fr. Casani remaining as a counselor when asked. By a letter of Calasanz to Fr. Conti, we know the intention of Calasanz to nominate General Vicar Fr. Casani:

 

“If Fr. Casani would come, I am ready to name him General Vicar and I would retire to a solitary place, to prepare myself to go before the tribunal of the Blessed God”.

 

But Fr. Peter, weaken by his sicknesses, wrote to Cardinal Protector the following: “I, a worm and not a man, opprobrium of men and abjection of the people (Psalm 22, 7)…I ask with confidence the remedy of my infirmity, kneeling at your feet. I am already old, almost 70, of a corporal constitution rather weak, of broken health, and what is the principal, as the experience tells us, I am unable to bear the hardness of the trips: these past days I became sick with fever because I made one day trip; that fever lasted more than 15 days”.

 

“I turn, therefore, poor of me, to your kind Reverence so that I may be free of the troubles of a trip of two months…and to take part in the General Chapter that is going to take place next spring. Although I would like to attend it, my intelligence is so dull and my rudeness and inexperience in the problems so hard, that I don’t doubt that I could not contribute anything useful, rather something detrimental and harmful”.

 

“To this I can add, and I don’t judge it as of less importance, that I instituted literary practices with some of ours, and if you oblige me to interrupt them for a long time, I fear that we are going to lose the fruits of the works already done…”

 

It is a surprise the expression of his rudeness: false humility, fear of what he was waiting in Rome, new lights of the Spirit, who as did to Saint Paul, makes him feel all done before as straw and garbage? … After a few months, he was ready to go to Rome, maybe thinking to recover there his health, but he did not want anything about becoming General Vicar: “I take pity upon your old age, he writes to Calasanz, in January 1641, and with much pleasure I will help in what I can, but to govern others, I recognize myself unable, and I put off myself so not to carry on my shoulders an unbearable weight”. After a visit to the sanctuary of Loreto, and some days in the community of Ancona, he arrived to the eternal city on March 21, 1641.

 

GENERAL CHAPTER OF 1641

 

The chapter was inaugurated on April 17, and Fr. Casani took an active part. He was elected one of the three Promoters, in charge of receiving the propositions of the chapter members, communities and Religious, who were at that moment around 400, put them in order to be discussed and voted. One of the most difficult problems was the problem of the working clerics that with the passing of time had become worse. Other one was the problem of the supreme poverty that created serious difficulties in Communities. Casani, who always had defended this theme as of the opinion, that the Piarists should live of their work and would ask for alms in cases of supreme necessity.

 

At the same time were revised the acts of the last General Chapter, which presented not so few delicate aspects. In this, Fr. Peter was of great help, because he had taken part in those decisions. After the Chapter finished on April 30, Casani remained in Saint Pantaleo, to help Calasanz, not only as assistant, but also in the problems of the Order, especially in the mail that arrived to Fr. General more and more.  Nevertheless, he did not feel really very useful:

 

“I thank you the affection you have for me and that leads you to wait that my presence in Rome will be useful to the Order, a thing that since I know what I am and can, I don’t expect to. Nevertheless, I know that Our Lord is powerful to return the light to the muddy eyes and to change a persecutor into a preacher and promoter of his starting Church”.

Soon, he re-started his activity as professor of Philosophy and Theology, because the Provincial from Moravia had sent some clerics to be formed in these matters and to continue the missionary work of those Piarists.

 

After a long meditation, he asked to cardinal Cesarini to be dispensed to be an Assistant, giving as reasons his poor health and not to able to treat governing matters. But the Cardinal did not give it, and in that way he continued at the side of Calasanz, carrying the cross that every day was becoming heavier.

 

On a letter, December 7, we find a reference to his famous exorcisms that have been published even in our days:

 

“I send to your Reverend the exorcisms I promised to, and I do not do them frequently because of lacking of time. Remember to love peace, according to the counsel or precept of the Holy Spirit, ‘look for peace and follow it’ (psalm 34, 15), especially towards the Superiors, who are in the place of the God Our Lord. ‘Who resisted them and had peace? (Job 9, 4)

 

THE BEGINNING OF THE WAY OF THE CROSS

 

One of the problems that caused Calasanz and Casani many sufferings was the problem of Fr. Mario Sozzi. In a few words: Fr. Mario gained the confidence of the Inquisitor of Florence and that of the Holy Office of Rome, because he denounced the immorality of a house of ladies directed by a “pious widow” and a Cannon. He became to bad terms with the Piarists of the Florence Community and, things of history! He became even Provincial against the opinion of all his Brothers, and even more, General Vicar! A miss-understanding made that Calasanz and his General Assistants were taken prisoners before the Holy Office, on August 8, 1642. The misfortunes continued and on January 15, 1643, the Pope ordered an Apostolic Visit of the Pious Schools, suspended the General of his attributions and deposed the Assistants.

 

For Casani, a new experience started: until now, he had always been having some jobs” Rector of San Pantaleo, Master of Novices, General Assistant, Rector of Narni and Savona, Provincial of Liguria and Naples, General Commissary in Germany. For the first time he was a simple Religious. He accepted with humility the new Superiors, obeyed their orders and he prepared himself to suffer humiliations, because they suspected him, judged in a negative way his past actuation and were afraid that with his powerful personality, would put the Religious against them.

 

In March 22, 1643, Fr, Augustine Ubaldini started the Apostolic Visit. He was a Somascan Rligious. He interrogated all the members that formed the Community of San Pantaleo; he inspected the temple, the schools and the room of Fr. Mario. Fr. Mario was humiliated and he did not stop until he got the substitution of the Visitor by another one, the Jesuit Fr. Silvestre Pietrasanta.

 

Since the problems were increasing, without getting any solution, in August of the same year, the Pope nominated a commission of seven persons, five of them Cardinals. They raised the problem of extinguishing the Order or of reforming it. Can we imagine the pain of those men, Calasanz, Casani and companions, who had spent their lives in this work at the service of the poorest and little ones, thinking that it was what God was asking from them?

 

Casani, as well as Calasanz, fought with all the means to their reach: they wrote to powerful persons asking for help, sent Memorials to the members of the Commission and to his Holiness… Everything was in vain. Not even the death of Fr. Mario, assisted spiritually by Fr. Peter, solved the problem.

 

The letters of Fr. Casani have brushstrokes of his work and his physical situation:

 

“I write to your Reverend on bed, where I have been for 11 days, and that is why I will be very short. Our Fr. General feels deeply and with much affection your sorrow, and he receives you with the affection you want to receive and he orders me to console you and to give you courage, as I try to do…” (April 1643, to Fr. Alexander of Mesina). 

 

By our Fathers I have known how much you have done and manifested that you want to do more for our poor and afflicted Order…” (To Count Ottonelli, October 1643)

 

“I thank you because you always is good to me with your letters and you encourage me to devotion, giving me consolation during the present tribulations, although, regarding what afflicts me most, I don’t see any remedy, that is to say, in the offenses everyday are given to God, with damage and great shame of the Order.  To these, everybody closes his eyes, as always has been done, even during the past years, and I believe those are the causes of the present troubles and I fear that it might be the total destruction. May God change this dreadful reality into good!” (To Fr. PeterBerro, of Poli, December 1643)

 

At the end of 1644, we find this different letter that expresses very clearly the direction the situation had taken:

 

“I said that our things are taken a bad direction, because the Msgr. Assessor has great power with the Pope and we don’t have who would take our matter with vigor. All our benefactors are cold. And I too, as I told recently to Fr. Rector, because besides that we don’t have any authority in Rome, I feel regarding this matter an extraordinary coolness, maybe because I understand that all this is a punishment from God, because we see that recommendations from Kings, Cardinals, Princes etc., do not take any success and it is better to leave everything in the hands of God, as our Fr. General thinks, too. Regarding what must be done, going things on the contrary, I will not take them until the case arrives. Regarding that the friend (Fr. Querubini?) would get the job (named General), I don’t know anything for now. (To a relative, Carlos Casani, December 17, 1644).

 

During this time two opposite petitions arrived to the Pope: one from Calasanz, asking that the matters of the Pious Schools would be treated by the Cardenal Vicar or by the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars; and the other one, from Fr. Pietrasanta, suggesting that the Commission instituted by his predecessor would carry out till the end the works begun.  This last one was heard.           

 

THE CATASTROPHE

 

 The most important preoccupation for Fr. Casani and the Founder was the future of Germany and Poland, that had been founded with so many sacrifices and they kept the religious spirit, the peace and the fraternal union they had impressed in them.  The two fought without ceasing so that they would obey the new Vicar, Fr. Querubini, and they put into action all their influences among the Religious and benefactors of Central Europe.

 

In the meantime, there happened the third session of the Commission on July 18, 1645, where Pietrasanta proposed the re-integration of Calasanz in his post as General, with the help of a Vicar; and that a commission of Piarists would revise the Constitutions, in order to make them more practical, since some were complaining about too much rigidity. But the idea did not work out.

 

Two months later, in the fourth session, was read the Order of the Pope to reduce the Congregation and a fifth one was held, the last, to determine how to carry out the determination. The Pontifical Brief has the date of March 17, 1646. Calasanz receives it in that superhuman acceptance of the saints. Casani expresses his reaction in this way some days later:

 

“Men of little faith, why did you doubt? (Matt. 14, 31) So fast is the divine protection during 29 years upon our Order forgotten? Are not 12 the hours of the day? (Jo 11, 9). It should not be put away so soon. At the due time, God Our Lord will show what we have to do. Let us be quiet and let us pray. Let us give thanks to God”. (To Br. Prosperi, March 31, 1646).

 

”About our matters, I think I cannot give you any other good news, unless after losing all human hope, we hope only in the divine help, that never fails to those who really trust in it” (May 5, 1646).

 

Casani continued answering the letters he was receiving, with questions of any kind. He helped Calasanz and moved all the threads to his reach, so that the Order would go forward.  He writes:

 

“Being our Order in such a miserable state, if we don’t put any remedy, we will soon see it extinguished. Fr. General and I have thought that if we would have gotten from the Pope that since he wanted us as a Congregation, at least he would have given to us the state that put us Paul V, of happy memory, as the first foundation, then we had not lost anything, but may be we would have earned much”.

 

“Now, in order to obtain this, we consider as a powerful means the favor of Cardinal d’Este, brother of the Duke of Modena, who at the present is powerful before the Pope. We would like, therefore, that two of that house, that could be Fr. Rector and you, or others, according to the best thinking of those Fathers, would write a letter of recommendation of that community, and with other favors and means that would seem proper to Mr. Condes Lelio and Mr. Juan Domingo Ottonelli, to whom you can inform of this matter, would go before the Majesty of Modena, and giving him a memorial similar to the one I include here, would obtain a letter for the said Cardinal. And then, you would send that letter to Rome, where all of us wait the desired effect. You and the rest of the Fathers may accompany these human steps with fervor prayers” (To Fr.Mallone,May 23, 1646).

 

With the deepest pain in the heart, feeling the injustice of the situation, and always with less physical strength, Fr. Peter confesses his human impotence, but he does not stop doing nothing:

 

“I have received your letter and I have given yours to Fr. General. He and I would like that you would come to Rome; but since we are impotent, Fr. General has ordered me that your should deal it with the Rector of that house…” (To Fr. Penazzi).

 

The strategy was to save the Pious Schools in Germany, where he had been working with such enthusiasm and success and since he was far away, in Rome, he had not lived the problems that caused the destruction: Go back, in peace, to Germany, animated to keep, with all your strength, the Order in those regions and believe that the help of the God and of the Virgin Mary, will come, and they can do more than all men together. And if some of our coward soldiers leave the field, you stay firm and strong, since you will obtain the crown that was for the others, if you persevere till the end”.

 

“Our Fr. General blesses you and has written these so that they may give you the help they can. God, Our Lord, wants to support the Order through you! I ask the Lord to give you a happy trip and all the true happiness”. (To Geisselbrunner, August 22, 1646).

The year 1647 was the last year of Casani. The moral suffering increased watching how the initiatives put in movement were a failure, how the houses were becoming empty of Religious and how the work, on which he was on board by a calling of the Lord, was disappearing by a disposition of the Vicar of Christ. The hope, nevertheless, was never absent from him:

 

“Of what has been said there that the Pope only wanted to mortify the Order, but not to destroy it, to me has not been said such a thing, as long as I remember. It seems to me, nevertheless, to have heard it from somebody of ours, at home. Let us hope that God, Our Lord, may find the way that it would not be destroyed, rather, that it may rise even with more glory and firmness. Let us insist to the heaven with prayers… Regarding our things, all the human ways have been taken and all have been found closed. Only the divine ways remain. The Pope is so strong in his idea that he rejects with bad manners the important persons when they talk about us…Don’t believe yourself, humanly speaking we cannot get anything during this Pontifical time. This has said even Msgr. Ingoli, secretary for the Congregation of the Propaganda of Faith, to whom have written, with much favor, Princesses from beyond the Alps. Patience and prayer, yes, can do much. It is heard that new Constitutions are requested. May God be with us! (To Fr. Berro).

 

Day by day, stroke by stroke, Casani is losing the hope of seeing the Order restored, and, nevertheless, he is confirming his faith that such a “miracle” will happen in the future:

 

“With good will, let us urge God in prayer, because what we will not see now, it will happen perhaps in the future…The Ambassador of Poland has gone from Rome without getting any favor for us. Let us give thanks God, because his Majesty wants to help us by Himself and not by men. Therefore, let us go back to Him in prayer”. (To Cleric Pilotti, January 26, 1647).

 

The last letter we have form Fr. Casani is from July. In it he feels the nearness of the last outcome:

 

 “Pray for me, that I am still alive and I am in danger of being condemned. It is true that I am 75 years old. This age brings with it many discomforts that are necessary to bear, for the remission of the sins…”

 

Calasanz notifies in September that Fr. Peter “is rather sick”. On October 20, he communicates the death to the houses with these words:

 

“It was the wish of the Good God that our Fr. Peter of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, after a long illness, his sickness would become worse with a very bad cold, and because in the course of his life had live very devout, now it was His will that on Thursday 17 of the present month, at 2:30 in the morning, at the age of 76, would saintly die. After his body was transferred to the church, the whole day of Friday, many people went by his body. Of the favors some have received, I would not say anything now, but that it was necessary to put the body inside the house to avoid so many people, and we hope that he will help the Order even more with his death than in life. May offer for him the ordinary suffrages, and if about his body anything new would happen, we will communicate to you”.

 

He lived devoutly and died saintly. We cannot describe better the existence of this faithful companion of Calasanz, his faithful second, who, without always sharing the same opinions as those of the Founder, was always faithful till death. Better than anybody else expresses Fr. Font this idea:

 

“After our Venerable Father Calasanz, all our Pious Schools should admire and remember this second Father, to whom so much are in debt for his fatigues and great examples he gave to us”.

 

There were many the testimonies of the graces the Lord gave through the mediation of Fr. Peter. Let us gather only two: Fr. Vincet of Saint Francis assured that when Fr. Casani went to Germany, the Fr. Rector of Saint Pantaleo had already a list of 24 miracles done by him; and the same Calasanz wrote regarding of the exorcisms ( prayers written by Fr. Peter, with which he asked God, by the merits of the Passion and the intercession of the Virgin May and of other Saints, the liberation of any evil from body and soul):

 

“The Blessed God has worked marvelous things through such writings and He will continue doing them in the future, if we have faith”.

 

 In fact, the exorcisms of Fr. Casani have been published even at present.

 

THE INSCRUTABLE DESIGNS OF GOD

 

The fist steps for the beatification of Fr. Casani were done by Saint Joseph Calasanz, who ordered to copy testimonies. After Calasanz died, Fr. Vicente Berro continued with them, a great admirer of both. But the situation of the Order did not allow to start the canonical process. In 1656, after the Pious Schools were again recognized as a Religious Congregation by the Pope Alexander VII, the Religious were centered in the process of the Founder. They met very difficult matters when they tried to canonize the person whom a Pope had deposed as General and whose work was suppressed. It was in 1692 when the cause of Fr. Casani started again, and it faced the same obstacles. Even in this, he was the same!

 

In 1905, the enthusiasm for the beatification of another Piarist, Pompilius Mary Pirrotti, was the reason why the cause of Fr. Casani was officially started. In the General Archives there were gathered plenty of documents.

 

The cause was resting during 1923-1929, because of the Apostolic Visitation and it was opened again in 1930. The documents of the cause were lost, and in 1964, they were found in the Archives of the Holy Congregation of Rites.

 

At last, on October 1, 1995, John Paul II declared him Blessed. In the same ceremony, 13 Piarist Religious, martyrs, received the same honor and one lay graduate, a student from the Piarist School in Valencia, Spain.

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