Jean-Baptiste de La Salle was born in Reims on April 30, 1651, the eldest of a bourgeois family. His parents sent him to the priesthood, and at the age of 11 he received the tonsure. At the age of 15, he became canon of the cathedral of Reims, with the social and financial benefits attached. Upon the death of his parents, the young Jean-Baptiste had to take charge of his six brothers and sisters and hesitated to continue his education at the Saint-Sulpice seminary in Paris leading to priesthood. Encouraged by his spiritual father, he was ordained a priest in 1678, at the age of 27. Two years later, he was accepted as a Doctor of Theology and promised a good ecclesiastical career.
Jean-Baptiste de La Salle was very concerned about the education of young people and embarked on a project for free schools. He wanted to set up schools for poor boys, since most families lived in poverty and did not have the means to educate their children, who had few opportunities for the future. In 1682, famine raged in France and the situation of the peasants worsened. Faced with increasing challenges and devoting himself to his work, Jean-Baptiste de La Salle shared his assets and renounced his position as canon. From 1686, he decided to live in poverty with the schoolteachers. His family did not understand this evangelical choice of renouncing his fortune and privileges.
His project met with opposition from the ecclesiastical authorities, who did not accept his innovative methods, and his absolute desire to make it free for all, since Jean-Baptiste did not care whether parents could pay or not. Moreover, the hierarchy of the Church did not support the creation of this new form of religious life: a secular community leading schools "together and by association". In 1704, the "master writers" of Paris demanded the closure of the Brothers' schools for illegal competition, and Mr. de La Salle was removed from his position as Superior. However, the Brothers of Paris wrote to Jean-Baptiste asking him, in the name of his "vow of obedience," to take over the management of their Society. Jean-Baptiste saw it as a sign from Heaven and agreed to take over.
Despite the obstacles and tribulations, Jean-Baptiste and his Brothers succeeded in creating a network of quality schools. They developed a new pedagogy, characterized by the use of the French language and not Latin, with groups of students grouped by level and results, religious instruction given by teachers with vocations both religious and missionary, and with an emphasis on the involvement of parents in instruction. In addition, Jean-Baptiste offered programs to train secular teachers, Sunday classes for young workers, and he founded one of the first institutions for the care of "criminals".
Exhausted by a life of austerity and hard work, he died in Rouen on Good Friday, April 7, 1719. Beatified February 19, 1888. Canonized on May 24, 1900 by Leo XIII and proclaimed the patron saint of Christian educators on May 15, 1950 by Pius XII.
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Jean-Baptiste de La Salle was a trailblazer in the field of education. It has developed a new and effective pedagogy that does not take into account social origin, seeking above all to offer every child an opportunity to learn. He is the first to have set up teacher training centers, apprenticeship schools for criminals, technical schools, and secondary schools for modern languages, the arts and science. His work quickly spread in France, and all around the world after his death. Jean-Baptiste de la Salle showed an example of Christian teaching that aims to develop all dimensions of each person. For him, caring for young people means helping everyone according to their situation and difficulties. Today, Lasallian schools exist in 80 countries.
Saint John Baptist de La Salle is the founder of the Institute of the Brothers of Christian Schools. The Brothers of the Christian Schools are non-priests who live in community and dedicate their lives to God through the education of young people. Today the Brothers work in 77 countries, with one million young people on all five continents.
Here are some quotations from Saint John the Baptist de la Salle that show his deep faith and intense spiritual life. The priest and educator had above all a deep love for Christ and the Virgin Mary, it was on them that he relied to carry out his work.
“An interior view of living and respectful faith brings the mind and heart to a silent disposition of love and admiration, gratitude of annihilation and a desire of the heart to unite with Jesus Christ and to participate in his spirit and graces.”
"Admire the goodness of God, to provide for all the needs of his creatures, and the means he takes to provide men with the knowledge of the true good, which is the one who looks to the salvation of their soul.”
“It seems to me that what I have to ask of God in prayer is that he should make known to me what he wants me to do and that he should put me in the disposition in which he wants me.”
Almighty Saviour, destroy and destroy in me all sin and all the works of the devil
Dare I, my Lord and my God, yet commit sin, knowing that You have come to blot out sin and to destroy the works of the devil, which are sins.
What, Lord, I will restore to myself what You came to destroy with so much pain and suffering!
It is my sins, Lord, that have reduced You to this state of childhood, of poverty and humiliation.
It was my sins that caused you to shed so many tears from your birth.
It was my pride and love for luxury and vanity that humiliated You until you were born in a stable lying in a manger on the straw between two vile animals.
It is to confuse and destroy-my greed and insatiable lust for goods and riches, my disordered love for amenities and pleasures, that You suffer such severe poverty.
And after considering these truths, I would still commit evil.
Oh, my God. Lord, do not allow me to be so distorted as to still love sin since it has cost you so much to destroy it.
You who are my Creator, my Father, my King, and my God. Oh, my God! Let it remain rather than to continue to do things so unworthy, or to return to those whom You have given me the Grace to leave.
Almighty Saviour, kind Jesus, by the virtue and grace of Your adorable Birth, destroy and destroy in me all sin and all inclination to sin, and mercifully forgive all those whom I have been so unhappy as to commit.
Prayer for Parents and Educators in Difficulty
Oh, Saint Jean-Baptiste de la Salle, what a difficulty to accompany the growth of our children!
Help all of us, parents, family, teachers, priests, not to give up our task of educators.
Saint John the Baptist de la Salle, help us, parents who resign in the face of the difficulties of dialog and authority that they encounter with their adolescents.
Often teachers do not want to be empowered as educators. We pray to you, Saint Jean-Baptiste de la Salle, for all the teachers of our colleges and high schools, help them to feel how much they look at them, expecting them to be models of their entire social behavior.