Saint John de Baptist de LaSalle
Niagara Falls, NY
Saint John Baptist de LaSalle
Born in Reims, France, John-Baptiste de La Salle received the tonsure at age eleven and was named canon of Rheims Cathedral when he was fifteen. Though he had to assume the administration of family affairs after his parents died, he completed his theological studies and was ordained to the priesthood at the age of 26 on April 9, 1678. Two years later he received a Doctorate in Theology.
De La Salle became involved in education little by little. In 1679, what began as a charitable effort to help Adrian Nyel establish a school for the poor in De La Salle's home town gradually became his life's work. He thereby began a new order, the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, also known as the De La Salle Brothers in the United States, the Christian Brothers.
In his own words, one decision led to another until he found himself doing something that he had never anticipated. De La Salle wrote:"... God, who guides all things with wisdom and serenity, whose way it is not to force the inclinations of persons, willed to commit me entirely to the development of schools. He did this in an imperceptible way and over a long period of time so that one commitment led to another in a way that I did not foresee in the beginning of death."
At that time, most children had little hope for the future. Moved by the plight of the poor who seemed so "far from salvation" either in this world or the next, he determined to put his own talents and advanced education at the service of the children "often left to themselves and badly brought up". To be more effective, he abandoned his family home, moved in with the teachers, renounced his position as Canon and his wealth (worth approximately $500,000 today), and so formed a new community of lay religious teachers. The De La Salle Brothers were the first Roman Catholic religious teaching order that did not include any priests.
His enterprise met opposition from the ecclesiastical authorities who resisted the creation of a new form of religious life, a community of consecrated laymen to conduct free schools "together and by association". The educational establishment resented his innovative methods and his insistence on gratuity for all, regardless of whether they could afford to pay. Nevertheless, De La Salle and his Brothers succeeded in creating a network of quality schools throughout France that featured instruction in the vernacular, students grouped according to ability and achievement, integration of religious instruction with secular subjects, well-prepared teachers with a sense of vocation and mission, and the involvement of parents.
De La Salle was a pioneer in programs for training lay teachers. In 1685, he founded what is generally considered the first normal school — that is, a school whose purpose is to train teachers — in Rheims, France. His educational innovations include Sunday courses for working young men, one of the first institutions in France for the care of delinquents, technical schools, and secondary schools for modern languages, arts, and sciences. Worn out by austerities and exhausting labors, he died at Saint Yon near Rouen early in 1719 on Good Friday, only three weeks before his 68th birthday.
De La Salle's work quickly spread through France and, after his death, continued to spread across the globe. He was canonized by Pope Leo XIII on May 24, 1900, and was inserted in the Roman Catholic calendar of saints in 1904. Because of his life and inspirational writings, he was proclaimed as the Patron Saint of Teachers on May 15, 1950, by Pope Pius XII. Since 1970, his feast is celebrated in the Catholic Church calendar on April 7.
Currently, about 6,000 Brothers and 75,000 lay and religious colleagues worldwide serve as teachers, counselors, and guides to 900,000 students in over 1,000 educational institutions in 84 countries.