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Born: Apr. 30th, 1651
Died: Apr. 7th, 1719.
FEast: Apr. 7th
Patron of:  
Teachers, educators, Catholic Schools

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St. John
Baptist de la Salle

Bio

 

John was born in Reims, France to a wealthy family in 1651. He was the oldest child in this family that was descended from nobility, and therefore, he was able to have a privileged upbringing. His father wanted him to study law, but John, even from a very young age, had wanted to dedicate his life to his faith. When he was 11, he participated in a ceremony marking him for God's service, and he was ordained a priest by the time he was 27. It wasn't easy for him to get to that point, however.

While he was at college, studying in the program for Master of the Arts, both of his parents passed away. Suddenly having to return home to his siblings, John oversaw their education as well, until he could return to finish his own.

John was certain that after his ordination, he'd have an easy life in some sort of high-ranking Church position. This was not to be the case.

John was tasked with completing the work of establishing the Congregation of the Sisters of the Child Jesus. Their goal and mission was to care for and educate sick and poor children, and there,  John met a man named Adrian Nyel, with whom he first set up a free school for children. Not very long after, another wealthy woman said she would fund a school, but only if John helped set it up - and John did not want that at all. He was exhausted and overwhelmed by the hard work that he had not been expecting. Nevertheless, he agreed and began the next project.

As he worked on opening the school, John realized one huge problem was the lack of resources and education that the teachers were given. He began to invite them into his own home for meals and for teaching them about ways and what to teach. John's aristocratic family was upset and embarrassed over John crossing social boundaries to do such a thing - and even more so when he realized he would also need to house the teachers if they were to succeed by having their needs met.

A year later, John lost that family home due to a lawsuit, but he was not dismayed and immediately rented another to house the teachers.

Little by little, John began to realize what good he could do in this field, and he slowly became aware that it could be his life's mission. He saw that very few people could afford to send their children to school, and that children who did not have an education had little hope of being able to change their futures or climb out of the poverty they were born into. Once he was set on it, he gave up his position and all his belongings to live among the impoverished communities that he worked to serve. He began his group - the first Catholic teaching institute that did not include any priests - and called it the Brothers of the Christian Schools. The group grew very large very quickly, and worked to establish many schools. De la Salle also was the first person ever to create programs with which to train teachers. In addition, he created classes taught on Sundays so that children and adults who worked long hours all week could still attend them. He created an institution for taking care of and rehabilitating delinquents, and he established technical and secondary schools with courses based around certain subjects and trades. His writings and style, which were completely revolutionary at the time, have continued to be models for training teachers, running schools, and managing all things education for over 300 years.

The journey was not easy, however. He had many people oppose his ideas simply for their newness, he experienced the abandonment of many followers, and he combated a pessimism about the human condition that was popular in some circles at the time. His methods and group were opposed by bishops, and he made many great sacrifices for over 35 years.

Even in the schools, attendance was poor and the children extremely illiterate, proving a tough struggle. The children were also always causing trouble, but instead of reacting negatively to these things with punishment, John instead wished to study their behavior and figure out what he could do to help them.

John Baptist de la Salle's answers became rules for his schools and included  involving parents and families when possible in the child's education, teaching in the language the children spoke rather than the traditional Latin, assigning reading is essential, and children should be organized according to capacity and all then taught the same things together. He was a proponent of question and answer sessions, and of making courses flexible to adjust to changing social norms.

He passed away after working tirelessly for years in 1719.

Prayer

 

your vision was to establish schools in order to give every child the gifts of  freedom and dignity through education. Pray for us that no teacher or educator may ever forget this purpose. May all students be treated fairly and be taught honestly. May communities know the value of education and may students desire knowledge for the worlds it can open.

Amen.

Art Reflection

 

John Baptist was always so concerned for children - doing the absolute most he could to ensure better lives for all of them. His expression in this piece is one of concern, and of thoughtfulness, since he studied tirelessly to find the best answers. He is looking back over his shoulder - perhaps at a combative person who disagrees with his methods, but he isn't afraid. He wears simple plaid, since he gave up his riches and expectations to do much harder, involved work.

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