Founder of the Institute of the brothers of the Christian Schools
(De Lasalle Brothers), Patron of Christian teachers, Educational
Reformer and Father of Modern Pedagogy.
John Baptist De La Salle was born into a world that was very different from our own. He was the first son of wealthy parents living in France over 300 years ago. Born at Rheims, John Baptist De La Salle received the tonsure at the age of eleven and became canon of the Rheims Cathedral at sixteen. Though he had to assume the administration of family affairs after his parents died, he completed his theological studies and was ordained a priest on April 9, 1678. Two years later he received a doctorate in theology. Meanwhile he became tentatively involved with a group of rough and barely literate young men in order to establish schools for poor boys.
At that time, a few people lived in luxury, but most of the people were extremely poor peasants in the country, and slum dwellers in the towns. Only, a few could send their children to school; 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 was 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 home, moved in with the teachers, renounced his position as Canon and his wealth, and formed the community that came to be known as the Brothers of the Christian schools”.
His enterprise met opposition from the ecclesiastical authorities who resisted the creation of a new form of religious life and 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 or not Nevertheless, De La Salle and his Brothers succeeded in creating a network of quality schools throughout France that featured instruction in the vernacular. Students were grouped according to their ability and achievements. Integration of religious instruction with secular subjects, well-prepared teachers with a sense of vocation and mission, and the involvement of parents were at the core of the new enterprise. In addition, De La Salle pioneered programs for training lay teachers, Sunday courses for working young men, and founded one of the first institutions in France for the care of delinquents. Worn out by austerities and exhausting labours, he died at Saint Yon near Rouen early in 1719 on Good Friday, only weeks before his sixty-eighth birthday.
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 throughout 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 to teach and care for young people, to meet failure and frailty with compassion, to affirm, strengthen and heal. Presently, there are De La Salle Institutions in 80 different countries around the globe.
Born at Rheims, France, April 30, 1651
Ordained a priest on April 9, 1678
Died on April 7, 1719
Beatified on February 19, 1888
Canonized on May 24, 1900
Proclaimed Patron of Christian Teachers on May 15, 1950