St. John Baptist de La Salle, by following one small decision to another, became completely devoted to the education of children and to the training of those who would educate and form them.
Who was John Baptist de La Salle?
He was a French priest in the 17th century who came from a well-to-do family and was on the fast-track of a priestly career when he became involved with a group of men who were teaching poor children in parish charity schools. Within about five years he became completely devoted to the education of these children and to the training of these men, forming them into a dedicated, competent, committed, and holy group of educators whose whole lives were dedicated to the ministry of teaching, to the students entrusted to their care, to each other, and through all of these … to God.
Did he want to get involved in education?
He got involved without meaning to do so. Much later in his life, De La Salle said that if he had known what his charitable help with those first schoolmasters would have led to, he would have dropped the whole thing immediately. But, he says, God “who guides all things with wisdom and serenity, whose way it is not to force the inclinations of persons, willed to commit me entirely to the development of the schools. He did this in an imperceptible way and over a long period of time so that one commitment led to another in a way that I did not foresee in the beginning.”
What happened once he did get involved?
Once involved, he gave away his wealth and became fully associated with the Brothers and with education. In the process, he wrote a school handbook that became a standard for Catholic education throughout Europe, a set of meditations for teachers, textbooks for students in the areas of reading, politeness, religious education, and many other works. By the end of his life in 1719 there were some 23 houses of Brothers teaching throughout France and a large body of educational writings. The educational movement that he began continues to be shaped by his life, his writings, and his inspirational presence.
The Patron Saint of Teachers
John Baptist de La Salle was canonized as a saint on May 15, 1900, and his statue stands in the middle of nave of St. Peter’s in Rome (right side, top level). Exactly fifty years later, in 1950, Pope Pius XII declared him to be the “Special Patron of All Teachers of Youth” in the Catholic Church. Today, throughout the Lasallian world, May 15th is the day when his legacy, his heritage, and his charism are celebrated.