St. John Baptist de La Salle:
Founder of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools
St. John Baptist de La Salle was born into a devout and influential family in Rheims, France, in 1651. He was named a Canon of the Rheims Cathedral at the age of 16. Though he assumed the administration of family affairs after his parents died, he completed his theological studies and was ordained to the priesthood in 1678. Two years later he received a Doctorate in Theology.
Meanwhile, he became involved with a group of "rough and barely literate" young men who wanted to establish schools for poor boys. Almost by accident, the young De La Salle gradually assumed the leadership of this small group of lay teachers. Moved by the plight of the poor who seemed so "far from salvation" either in this world or the next, he used his talents in educating to serve the children who were "often left to themselves and badly brought up." To be more effective, he abandoned his family home, moved in with the teachers, gave up his position as Canon and his wealth, and so formed the community that became known as the Brothers of the Christian Schools.
De La Salle and his Brothers created a network of quality schools throughout France, featuring instruction in the vernacular, simultaneous instruction of 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's vision of Christian education was based on a high ideal for the teacher-student relationship. He insisted that the teacher know each student as an individual person, reaching out and treating each student differently according to each one's special needs. The teacher's love for each student must be expressed in kindness, gentleness, sensitivity, and tenderness. He understood that there could be no significant learning without this kind of relationship.
Today, the small group of Christian Brothers who originally gathered around De La Salle has grown into a worldwide congregation with a myriad of ministries in 80 countries, serviced by nearly 7,400 Brothers and 1,045 communities. The Brothers, in partnership with more than 55,000 lay people, have become renowned for the quality, commitment, and spirit of their educational mission.
- 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