John Baptist de La Salle

John Baptist de La Salle is the Founder of the Brothers of the Christian Schools

He was the eldest child in a family of eleven brothers and sisters, and was born in the French town of Rheims in 1651. When he was still young, he wanted to become a priest and, as was allowed in those days, he became a canon of Rheims Cathedral when only sixteen.

He was ordained priest at the age of twenty-seven, and not very long afterwards, almost by accident, he found himself helping a group of teachers who were looking after poor children in the city.

He gradually became more involved with them, seeing to their needs, organizing their lives, assisting in their teaching and improving their preparation as educators.

When people saw the good done by these teachers under his management, he received requests to open schools in other towns. More importantly, young men asked to spend their lives as educators like those who were living with John Baptist.

Hearing God's call to trust Him completely John Baptist gave up everything: first his canonry and then his inheritance by supplying food to the starving during the famine of 1684 and 1685. Finally he was a poor as the children attending his schools and as the teachers whom he was now able to advise to trust entirely in God. His schools in fact depended for survival on God's Providence.

John Baptist began to realize that God had been leading him to a role he had never foreseen, which was to begin a completely new kind of consecrated life in the Church, because, with the men who were under his direction, there gradually evolved the Institute of the "Brothers of the Christian Schools." This congregation was unique, for its members, though belonging to a religious order, were laymen, who spent all their energy and the whole of their lives in educating children, especially those who were very poor.

Of course difficulties started to appear, but this is usually the case when worthwhile work is being done for God. For example, some of the authorities had no idea what John Baptist was aiming at in his educational endeavors; certain priests began to interfere in his work in the schools; teachers in rival establishments took him to court because their students had moved over to John Baptist's Christian schools, where studies were free of charge; he lost some court cases; even some of his friends let him down; people in power attacked him in an underhanded way and thwarted some of his plans.

Yet in the midst of all this, he resolutely kept his vision on just one goal: the Will of God. And God's Will was in the end accomplished, for when on April 7, 1719 at the age of 68, Our Lord called John Baptist to himself, the Brothers' Institute had spread throughout France, and the schools were performing excellent work. John Baptist's last words were: "I adore in all things the conduct of God in my regard.", and those words summed up his life.

John Baptist de La Salle was historically one of the greatest practical pioneers of education for ordinary people, first in France and later in the rest of the world. His imaginative ideas, the schools he founded and the reforms he made in teaching completely changed the educational system. It was he, for example, who spread the idea of using one's own language in learning to read and for career training. He composed reading-books and wrote others for children and families on religious formation and good manners. A great contribution of his was the teacher-training manuals and spiritual writings he produced for the Brothers and other Christian teachers.

John Baptist de La Salle was canonized in 1900, and in 1950 Pius XII announced that he was to known in the future as the "Special Patron of all Christian Educators."

The Mother House is the headquarters of the Institute and is the residence of the Brother Superior General and his Council. It is here also that those connected with the administration of the Institute are stationed.

The present address of the Mother House, opened in 1936, is 476 Via Aurelia, Rome. Before then, the headquarters of the Institute was in different places in France, for most of the time Paris. For a short period it was in Belgium.

In the Mother House can be seen relics of St. John Baptist de La Salle. The apse of the Mother House chapel contains a reliquary where the bones of the Saint are kept. There is also a room where various items belonging to the Founder can be examined, such as some of his church vestments.


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