St John Baptist de la Salle was a priest and the founder of the De La Salle Brothers, officially named the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools.
He was born on April 30 1651 in Reims, Champagne, France.
He died on April 7 1719 at the age of 67 in Rouen, Normandy, France.
We celebrate his feast day on April 7 every year in the Catholic Church.
|St John Baptist de la Salle Biography
|Date of Birth
|April 30 1651
|Place of Birth
|Reims, Champagne, France
|Priest and founder of La Salle Schools and of the Brothers of the Christian Schools
|Place of Work
|Date of Death
|April 7 1719 (aged 67)
|Place of Death
|Rouen, Normandy, France
|By Pope Leo XIII on February 19 1888 in Saint Peter’s Basilica
|By Pope Leo XIII on May 24 1900 at Saint Peter’s Basilica
|Patron Saint of
St John Baptist de la Salle Life History
On April 30, 1651, St John Baptist de La Salle was born in Reims, France, to a family of considerable wealth.
His parents were Louis de La Salle, his father, who held a judicial post, and her mother Nicolle Moet de Brouillet, with Nicolle hailing from a noble family that owned a thriving winery business.
It’s worth noting that Nicolle was related to Claude Moët, the individual responsible for establishing Moët & Chandon.
Due to his remarkable devotion to religion, St John Baptist de La Salle was identified as a candidate for priesthood from a young age.
He displayed exceptional piety during his childhood, which prompted this designation. At the age of eleven, he underwent the tonsure ceremony, and by sixteen, he had already been appointed as a canon of the cathedral chapter at Rheims.
St John Baptist de La Salle was enrolled in the College des Bons Enfants, where he pursued advanced studies. He was sent there for this purpose.
He eventually earned his Master of Arts degree on July 10 1669, after completing his academic program.
After finishing his studies in classical literature and philosophy, St John Baptist de La Salle was sent to Paris to attend the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice, beginning on October 18 1670.
Unfortunately, his mother died on July 19 1671, and his father followed on April 9 1672.
This development compelled him to leave Saint-Sulpice on April 19, 1672, as he was now twenty-one years old and had become the head of the family.
This meant he was responsible for educating his four brothers and two sisters.
St John Baptist de La Salle received the minor order of subdeacon in 1672, and he was ordained as a deacon in 1676.
He then concluded his theological studies and, at the age of 26, was ordained to the priesthood on April 9 1678. Two years later, in 1680, he obtained a doctorate in theology.
St John Baptist de La Salle supported the Sisters of the Child Jesus in creating an establishment to care for the sick and provide education for disadvantaged girls. He acted as their chaplain and confessor.
In 1679, he collaborated with Adrian Nyel and founded a school. Later, a wealthy woman from Reims offered to fund a school, but only if St John Baptist de La Salle was involved.
Originally meant to help Adrian Nyel establish a school for the poor in St John Baptist de La Salle’s hometown, this endeavor eventually became his life’s work.
In seventeenth-century France, the social classes were firmly established and education was typically reserved for the wealthy and noble.
The vast majority of the population had little access to learning and remained woefully uneducated. John Baptist de la Salle was deeply troubled by this inequality and dedicated his life to addressing it.
He began his work by interacting with impoverished children, but he soon realized that he needed to train teachers to help him in his mission.
To do so, he invited a group of young schoolmasters to come and live with him so that he could provide them with the necessary training and guidance.
However, his brothers did not approve of this arrangement, so John Baptist de la Salle and his group relocated to a more suitable location.
Recognizing that a religious community would be necessary to provide a reliable and ongoing supply of teachers who were willing to work without pay, John Baptist de la Salle established the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools.
This institute was essentially a brotherhood of young men who were drawn to a life of service and focused on teaching.
While the novice teachers took the three traditional religious vows, they did not take Holy Orders. In addition to these vows, the Brothers also pledged to dedicate their lives to teaching the poor, with a particular emphasis on the catechism.
A rule was developed for the institute, which specified that the members must be laymen and that priests could not join the order.
St John Baptist de la Salle soon realized that he needed to commit all of his energy to establishing schools and training teachers.
Despite inheriting a significant fortune, he decided not to use his wealth for this purpose. He received guidance from the saintly priest, Father Barre, of Paris, and prayed for God’s direction, ultimately choosing to sell his possessions and donate the proceeds to the poor in the province of Champagne, where a famine was causing much hardship.
From that point on, he relied on the kindness of others to support his endeavors, and he embraced a life of austerity and self-denial.
The Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools quickly gained popularity, and numerous young men between the ages of fifteen and twenty sought to join.
The influx of applicants was so great that a junior novitiate had to be established.
Additionally, parish priests from various regions of France began sending their talented young men to be trained by the Brothers so that they could return to their home villages and serve as schoolmasters.
The novice house of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools became the site of what is now recognized as the first Normal School.
This institution was established to provide teacher training and was an integral part of the order’s efforts to improve education for the underprivileged.
While at the novice house, Father John Baptist wrote the “Manual for Christian Schools,” which outlined his innovative and practical approach to education.
St John Baptist de la Salle made several significant contributions to the field of education. One of his key innovations was the separation of students into different classes based on their level of mental development, a concept now known as “streaming” or “tracking.”
He also championed the use of the vernacular, or the local language, for teaching instead of Latin. In addition, he recognized the value of visual aids in the learning process and was a proponent of using the blackboard extensively in instruction.
St John Baptist de la Salle also believed in offering a comprehensive education that included not only basic subjects like reading and writing but also courses in ethics, literature, physics, philosophy, and mathematics.
His curriculum was designed to produce well-rounded individuals who would be equipped to make meaningful contributions to society.
The establishment of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools and its efforts to provide education for the underprivileged were met with opposition from various quarters.
In Paris, the schools for poor boys faced attacks from Jansenists, lay teachers, and tutors who may have felt threatened by the growing movement.
Others who believed that education for the “lower orders” should be limited to vocational training also opposed the initiative. These obstacles and protests had to be overcome through perseverance and dedication.
Despite the opposition, the schools established by the Institute gained popularity and demonstrated their effectiveness in improving the lives of the underprivileged.
Over time, it became clear that these schools were here to stay, and the persecutions gradually ceased. The success of the Institute and its efforts to improve education for the disadvantaged would go on to inspire similar initiatives across France and around the world.
When King James II of England, who was then in exile, requested a college for the education of his followers’ sons, mostly Irish, St John Baptist de la Salle opened such a school for fifty young men of noble birth.
At the same time, he established a school for boys of the working class, which combined technical training with religious practices and became very popular.
In addition, schools were established for “troublesome boys,” now commonly referred to as “juvenile delinquents.”
Thus, efforts were being made to address the needs of all types and classes of boys and young men. This rapidly expanding work required exceptional insight and adaptability.
During his later years, Father John Baptist lived at the College of St. Yon in Rouen. The novitiate had been moved there in 1705, after having been located in Paris for a period of time.
In 1716, he stepped down from his role in managing the Institute and stopped issuing commands. He chose to live a humble life, teaching novices and young boarders.
Father John Baptist wrote several works for them, including <A Method of Mental Prayer>.
St John Baptist de la Salle died on Good Friday, April 7 1719, at the age of sixty-seven, after struggling with illness and the demands of his austere lifestyle.
Six years after his death, Pope Benedict XIII officially recognized the Christian Brothers’ institute and approved its rules.
In 1900, St John Baptist de la Salle was canonized. Thanks to his courageous efforts, the concept of universal education was widely accepted.
Despite facing internal challenges, primarily related to the level of strictness in the Brothers’ lifestyle, the schools founded by the Christian Brothers continued to grow and thrive until the French Revolution.
However, during that time of persecution, the number of active members dwindled down to only twenty. Nevertheless, when Napoleon I lifted the ban in 1799, the community rebounded with remarkable resilience.
Throughout the nineteenth century, the schools continued to expand, but from 1904 to 1908, the community suffered another setback when 1285 schools were closed by legislative decree in France.
Despite this setback, the Christian Brothers established themselves in other countries, including England, Ireland, the Levant, North and South America, the West Indies, and Australia.
The first Christian Brothers school in the United States was founded in 1846, and today many of their schools operate at the college level.
Beatification and Canonization
St. John Baptist de la Salle was beatified on February 19 1888, at Saint Peter’s Basilica and declared a saint by Pope Leo XIII on May 24 1900.
In the revised Church calendar of 1969, his feast day was moved to April 7, the day on which he died.
St John Baptist de la Salle is the Patron Saint of
- Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools,
- Lasallian educational institutions,
- School principals,
Thanks to his exemplary life and inspiring written works, St. John Baptist de la Salle was named the Patron Saint of All Teachers of Youth by Pope Pius XII on May 15, 1950.
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