Paula Montal Fornés De San José De Calasanz
The life of Paula Montal Fornés de San José de Calasanz, fruitful and prophetic, almost centennial, unfolded within a broad historical context (1799-1889), a crisis period during the troubled 19th Century in Spain, torn between the postulates of the Old Regime and the new liberal trends, with significant socio-political, cultural and religious repercussions.
Four cities were especially representative of her life, well-rooted in the land and historical surroundings:
In Arenys de Mar (Barcelona), she spent her childhood and youth (1799-1829). A coastal village, facing the sea, cosmopolitan and industrial, is where she was born into this life, on October 11, 1799, and born into grace that same afternoon. She was brought up in a modest Christian family atmosphere. She participated in the spiritual life of her parish. She stood out because of her love for the Virgin Mary. From the age of 10, she learned the harshness of working to help her mother, a widow with five children. She was the eldest. During that time, through her own experience, she realized that girls, young ladies, women, had scarce possibilities for access to education, to culture,... and she felt called by God to carry out that task.
Figueras (Gerona), a border city between Spain and France and a military stronghold famous for its weaponry castle, was where she had set her sights. Accompanied by her unconditional friend Inés Busquets, in 1829, she moved to the capital of that area to open her first school for girls, with broad educational programs which far surpassed those required for boys. It was a new school. Figueras was where her special educational apostolate for girls began. A new charisma was born in the Church, an Apostolic Work aimed toward the complete human Christian education of girls and young women, and toward the advancement of women, to save families and transform society. Her followers would distinguish themselves by professing a fourth vow of teaching.
Sabadell (Barcelona) signifies the origin of her educational work in the Pious Schools. We know that, at least since 1837, she felt totally identified with the spirit of Saint Joseph of Calasanz, and wanted to live by the Calasanz spirituality and rules. With that purpose, after founding a second school in her hometown of Arenys de Mar in 1842, where she came into direct contact with the Piarist Fathers of Mataró, she opened a third school in Sabadell in 1846. The presence of the Piarist Fathers, Fr. Jacinto Felíu and Fr. Agustín Casanovas in the Sabadell school, was providential. There, with their help and guidance, she achieved in a short time, the canonical structure of her newly formed Congregation. On February 2 in 1847, she made her profession as a Daughter of Mary Religious of the Pious Schools, along with her first three companions, Inés Busquets, Felicia Clavell and Francisca de Domingo. At the General Chapter meeting, held in Sabadell on March 14 in 1847, she was not elected General Superior, or even Assistant General.
During the period from 1829 to 1859, she was intensely active, personally founding 7 schools: Figueras (1829), Arenys de Mar (1842), Sabadell (1846), Igualada (1849), Vendrell (1850), Masnou (1852) and Olesa de Montserrat (1959). She inspired and helped to found 4 others: Gerona (1853), Blanes (1854), Barcelona (1857) and Sóller (1857). She was also the formator of the first 130 Sisters of the Pious Schools of the Congregation. A very active and prophetic period in her life.
Olesa de Montserrat (Barcelona), 1859.The last school personally founded by her. A poor small town, at the foot of the Monastery of Our Lady of Montserrat, to whom she professed great devotion. It was her favorite School, where she stayed until her death (December 15, 1859 to February 26, 1889). Those were 30 years of grace for the girls and young women of Olesa, who benefited from her rich testimony with the example of her generous and holy life. "Everyone loved and adored her...". And for the Congregation: a total yes to God; the Escolapian pedagogy in action and the living of the virtues that should characterize the Pious Schools' educator. And the twilight of a life in God.
The design of Mother Paula Montal's spirituality is comprised of two facets: her participation in the Calasanz spirituality and her unique educational charisma, directed toward the complete human Christian education of women.
Upon her death, the Congregation of the Daughters of Mary, Sisters of the Pious Schools, founded by her, was made up of 346 Escolapias (Sisters of the Pious Schools), who carried out the spirit of the Pious Schools teaching, the legacy of their Foundress, in 19 schools extending throughout the Spanish region.
The canonical process for her Beatification began in Barcelona on May 3, 1957. Pope John Paul II beatified her in Rome on April 18, 1993. The miracle of her Canonization, performed in September of 1993, in Blanquizal, a very marginal and violent area of Medellín (Colombia), for a little 8-year old girl, Natalia García Mora, was approved by Pope John Paul II on July 1, 2000.
To our society, wounded by so many pressures, where the subjects of education for all, the advancement of women, the family, and youth are currently unresolved issues, the new Saint delivers the message of her life and her educational work, a message of love and of service. Her charisma in the 19th Century was a statement of love and hope, especially for women, who found in her a mother and teacher for the young women and girls. And today it continues to be as urgent and current an issue as it was back then.
The educational work of Saint Paula Montal Fornés de San José de Calasanz continues today in the Church, particularly through the more than 800 Sisters of the Pious Schools, spread out over 112 communities, who educate some 30,000 students, in 19 nations on four continents, for the development of women, so that the "civilization of love" may become a reality.