John Baptist was the first-born child to wealthy parents in Reims, France. He received the tonsure at age 11 and became Canon of the Cathedral of Reims at 16.
When his parents died, he assumed the responsibility of administering the family’s affairs, but managed to complete his theological studies and was ordained a priest on April 9, 1678. Two years later he received a doctorate in theology.
In John Baptist’s time, only a few people enjoyed the privileges of wealth. Most children had little or no education. Moved by the plight of the poor who seemed so “far from salvation” either in this world or the next, he 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 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.
Ecclesiastical authorities resisted the creation of a new form of religious life, 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.
Nevertheless, De La Salle and his brothers succeeded in creating a network of quality schools throughout France that featured 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 in programs 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 died at St. Yon near Rouen early in 1719 on Good Friday, only weeks before his 68th birthday.
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.
Adapted by A.J. Valentini from: St. John Baptist de La Salle-La Salle Worldwide | lasalleorg | Rome. (n.d.). LaSalle.Org. Retrieved March 30, 2021, from https://www.lasalle.org/en/lasallian-holiness/st-john-baptist-de-la-salle/