John Baptistwas born into the wealthy and influential family of De La Salle in 1651, in the French city of Rheims. John Baptist was taught to read and write at home before beginning his formal school education. At 16 he was made a Canon of Rheims Cathedral and went on to study for the Priesthood in Paris.
At the age of 20, when his parents died he left the seminary to return home and take care of the family affairs and his six younger siblings.
He later resumed his theological studies and was ordained a Priest in 1678. In 1980, John Baptist decided to invite the teachers to his home for meals, to give him a chance to help them overcome their deficiencies.
In June 1682, John Baptist and his teachers moved out of his family home to a rented house in Rue Neuve, Rheims, to dedicate fully for the welfare of the poor, especially to educate them. For the Priest born and raised in privileged and comfortable surroundings, this was a huge step into the world of poor.
As the Brothers’ reputation grew, many requests were made for their services and they had to take on more schools for boys. John Baptist died at the Brothers’ Mother House at Saint Yon near Rouen, on April 7, 1719. His last words before he died were:“I adore in all things the Will of God in my regard”. John Baptist De La Salle, the wealthy Priest who gave up everything for the poor, was Beatified in 1888, Canonized a Saint in 1900 and made the Universal Patron Saint of all teachers in 1950.
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 gratuitous 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.
John Baptist de La Salle was a pioneer in founding training colleges for teachers, reform schools for delinquents, technical schools, and secondary schools for modern languages, arts, and sciences. His work quickly spread through France and, after his death, continued to spread across the globe. In 1900 John Baptist de La Salle was declared a Saint. In 1950, because of his life and inspirational writings, he was made Patron Saint of all those who work in the field of education.
John Baptist de La Salle inspired others how to teach and care for young people, how to meet failure and frailty with compassion, how to affirm, strengthen and heal. At the present time there are De La Salle schools in 80 different countries around the globe.