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Saint Jean Baptiste de La Salle

Saint Jean Baptiste de La Salle

Artist unknown. Saint Jean Baptiste de La Salle portrayed in central medallion of the stained glass in Saint-Sulpice in Paris. Image in public domain

 

Saint Jean Baptiste de La Salle (1651 –1719) was born in Rheims, France, into a wealthy family of the nobility. He entered religious life at an early age. Due to his background and intelligence, he seemed destined to become a prelate, but God had a different plan for him. Soon after being ordained, at the age of twenty-seven, his superiors asked him to assist in establishing some charity schools. There were very few good free schools for the poor at the time, and the population 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 Jean Baptiste found himself instructing young men on 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 of 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 Jean Baptiste realised that his vocation was 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. Saint Jean Baptiste founded schools in France, Switzerland, and Italy. He also created colleges for the instruction of secular schoolmasters, the first of such kind.

Saint Jean Baptiste de La Salle was afflicted with asthma and rheumatism in his last years. He died at age 68, on Good Friday. He was canonised in 1900 and is considered the founder of the first Catholic schools, and is the patron saint of teachers.

 

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