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Saint John Baptist de la Salle

Saint John Baptist de la Salle
  • Century: 17th & 18th Century
  • Patronage: Teachers, Educators, Principals
  • Feast Day: April 7th

St. John Baptist de la Salle was born to a wealthy family in Rheims, France, on April 30, 1651.  He was the eldest child of Louis and Nicolle.  La Salle was named canon of Rheims Cathedral when he was fifteen. He was sent to the College des Bons Enfants, where he pursued the higher studies, and took his Masters degree there.  He was sent to Paris to enter the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice, in October 1670.  His mother died in July 1671, and in April 1672 his father died.  This caused him to have to leave the Seminary, since he was not yet twenty-one, and as the head of the household he had the responsibility of his four brothers and two sisters.  He did not complete his theological studies and become ordained until the age of 26, in April 1678.  Two years later he received a Doctorate in Theology.  

He became involved in education little by little without ever consciously setting out to do so.  The Sisters of the Child Jesus was a new order, whose work was to care and educate poor girls.  The young priest had helped them in becoming established, and then served as their chaplain and confessor.  It was through his work with the sisters that in 1679, he met Adrian Nyel.  What began as a charitable effort to help Adrian establish a school for the poor became his life’s work.  The teachers in Reims were struggling, lacking leadership, so he did all he could to help this small group of men with their work.  He invited them to take their meals in his home, as much to teach them table manners, as to instruct them.  Eventually he had to bring the teachers into his own home to live with him, which scandalized those of social class around him – that he would live with teachers of the “poor”.  

He began a new Religious Institute, the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, also known as the De Las Salle Brothers.  They grew to the UK, Ireland, Malta, Australia, Asia, and the United States.  One thing led to another until he found himself doing something that he had never anticipated doing.  Society’s standards between the rich and the poor divided the times he lived.  St. John believed that education gave “hope” and the opportunity for people to lead better lives, and do better than the generation before them.  Most of the children had little hope for their future.  Moved by the plight of the poor, he was determined to put his own talents and advanced education at the service of the children.  

Worn out by austerities and exhausting labors, St. John Baptist de la Salle died at Saint Yon near Rouen, early on Good Friday, 1719.  This was just three weeks before his 68th birthday.  His work quickly spread through France and after his death, continued to spread across the globe.  Pope Leo XIII canonized him in May 1900.  His feast is celebrated on April 7th, and he is the patron saint of teachers.  Currently there are about 6,000 Brothers and 75,000 lay and religious colleagues worldwide, who serve as teachers, counselors, and guides to 900,000 students in over 1,000 educational institutions in 84 countries.

Practical Take Away 

St. John Baptist de la Salle was born in Rheims, France to a noble family.  He was well versed in manners and became highly educated.  He lost his parents at an early age, and had to leave the seminary to take care of his siblings.  After they grew, he was ordained.  He began a new Religious Institute, the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, also known as the De Las Salle Brothers.  They grew to the UK, Ireland, Malta, Australia, Asia, and the United States.  He gave all he had to open schools for the poor, so he could give hope to the children who would otherwise not have it.  His work in opening schools for the poor was simply miraculous for his time.