St. John Baptist de la Salle
St. John Baptist de La Salle was born in 1651, in Reims, France. He was the eldest son of wealthy parents. At the age of eleven, La Salle was committed becoming a priest. At the age of sixteen, he was named Canon of Reims Cathedral. At the age of eighteen, he received a master's degree in classical literature and arts, as well as philosophy.
Sadly, La Salle's parents died within a year of each other in 1671 and 1672. La Salle had to manage his parent's estate which included educating his four brothers and two sisters. Once this was done, he was ordained to the priesthood on April 9, 1678. He was 26 years old. He continued his studies until he received his doctorate in theology.
During this time, La Salle also worked with the Sisters of the Child Jesus to educate girls, serving as chaplain and confessor for their school. While performing this work, he met Adrian Nyel, who was himself a supervisor of teachers at a boys school in Reims. Through Nyel, a wealthy woman asked La Salle to be involved with the endowment of a new school for poor children. She provided the money, as long as La Salle agreed to help run the school.
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La Salle gradually became preoccupied with work at the new school. He was aware that teachers needed training and direction, and that the children had few opportunities for success. He calculated that if he lent his talents to the school, and worked with both teachers and students, he could improve their lives.
La Salle worked with the teachers to educate them and teach them manners. He invited them to live in his home where he provided them with direction. This made them more effective with the students, and in turn improved outcomes for them.
There was a larger problem. Poverty was widespread in France during this time, and few families could afford to educate their children. La Salle felt the best way to approach this problem would be to establish a community devoted to the education of children, regardless of their ability to pay. He resigned his post as Canon at the Cathedral, left his comfortable family home to live with the teachers, and established the Brothers of the Christians Schools.
Surprisingly, this approach brought resistance from both the secular education system and the Church. The Church was initially opposed to the foundation of an order committed to education, and the secular educators were opposed to the elimination of tuition. They felt it would reduce the prices people would be willing to pay them.
Nonetheless, La Salle was successful. He even expanded his school to offer teaching to young men.
In 1685, La Salle established the first school for the training of educators in Reims.
La Salle worked as an educator all his life. He lived until 1719, when he died on April 7, which happened to be Good Friday.
La Salle was beatified by Pope Leo XIII on February 19, 1888 and canonized by him on May 24, 1900. His feast day is April 7. He is the patron saint of all educators.
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