Saint John Baptist de La Salle (1651 –1719) was born in Rheims, France, into a wealthy family of the nobility. At an early age, he entered the religious life and, due to his background and intelligence, seemed to be destined for a career as a prelate. God, however, had a different plan for him. Soon after being ordained, at the age of twenty-seven, he was asked to assist in the establishment of some charity schools. There were very few good free schools for the poor at the time resulting in a population that was mostly illiterate. He would later write that he was moved by the plight of the poor, because they seemed far from salvation in this life or the next, for they were often left to themselves or badly brought up.
As part of the project of instituting the schools, Saint John found himself instructing young men how to teach. This eventually led to his establishing the Brothers of the Christian Schools, also known as De La Salle Brothers, an order composed by lay brothers. Part of the rule of this order, still extant today, is that the members cannot be ordained priests so as to be able to dedicate themselves solely to teaching.
After establishing the order, Saint John realized that his vocation was to work in the instruction of the poor. He resigned his position as canon at Rheims, sold all he had, gave the funds to the needy, and dedicated the rest of his life to their education. He founded schools in France, Switzerland and Italy. He also created colleges for the preparation of secular schoolmasters, the first of such kind in the history of education.
In his last years, Saint John Baptist de La Salle was afflicted with asthma and rheumatism. He died at age 68, on Good Friday, and was canonised in 1900. He is considered the founder of the first Catholic schools and is the patron saint of teachers.