St. John Baptist de la Salle was born into a world very different from our own. He was the first son of wealthy parents living in France over 300 years ago. Born at Reims, he received tonsure at age eleven and was named Canon of the Reims Cathedral at sixteen. He had to assume the administration of family affairs after his parents died while completing his theological studies till he 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.
St. John de la Salle was 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.” In order to become more effective in his service; he abandoned his family home, moved in with the teachers, renounced his position as Canon and his wealth, and so formed the community that became known as the Brothers of the Christian Schools.
His enterprise met opposition from ecclesiastical authorities as well as educational establishments for his creation of new religious life, the innovative methods he called for and his insistence on gratuity for all. Nevertheless, de la Salle and his Brothers succeeded in creating a network of quality schools throughout France.
His schools focused on several innovative changes which included; 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. In addition, de la Salle pioneered programmes for training lay teachers, Sunday courses for working young men and one of the first institutions in France for the care of delinquents.
Worn out by austerities and exhausting labors, he passed away at Saint Yon near Rouen in 1719 on Good Friday, only weeks before his sixty-eighth birthday. John Baptist de la Salle’s work
Born at Reims, France April 30, 1651
Ordained priest April 9, 1678
Died April 7, 1719
Beatified February 19, 1888
Canonized May 24, 1900
Proclaimed Patron of Christian Teachers May 15, 1950