Born at Reims into a devout and influential family, John Baptist de La Salle received the tonsure at age eleven and was named Canon of the Reims Cathedral at sixteen. Though he had to assume the administration of family affairs after his parents died, he completed his theological studies and was ordained priest on 9 April, 1678. Two years later he received the doctorate in theology. Meanwhile he became tentatively involved with a group of rough and barely literate young men who wanted to establish schools for poor boys. Almost by accident, the young De La Salle gradually assumed the leadership of the small group of lay teachers. Moved by the plight of the poor who seemed so “far from salvation” either in this world or the next, he determined to put his own talents and advanced education at the service of the children “often left to themselves and badly brought up.” To be more effective, he abandoned his family home, moved in with the teachers, renounced his position as Canon and his wealth, and so formed the community that became known as the Brothers of the Christian Schools.
His enterprise met opposition from the ecclesiastical authorities who resisted the creation of a new form of religious life, a community of consecrated laymen to conduct gratuitous school “together and by association.” The education establishment resented his innovative methods and his insistence on gratuity for all, regardless of whether they could afford to pay. Nonetheless De La Salle and his Brothers succeeded in creating a network of quality schools throughout France that featured instruction in the vernacular, students grouped according to ability and achievement, integration of religious instruction with secular subjects, well-prepared teachers with a sense of vocation and mission, and the involvement of parents. In addition, De La Salle pioneered in programs for training lay teachers, Sunday courses for working young men, and one of the first institutions in France for the care of delinquents. Worn out by austerities and exhausting labors, he died at Saint Yon near Rouen early on Good Friday, only weeks before his sixty-eighth birthday.
Reflection: Charity makes us fearless even to the point of losing one’s valuables. It makes us to stand for what is true and genuine. It gives us the courage to fight for what is right and just. Like Truth, it may suffer yet it never dies. We may suffer because of it but it in the end we are victorious because we know that we are doing His Will like Saint John Baptist De La Salle does.
Prayer: O God, who chose Saint John Baptist de la Salle to educate young Christians, raise up, we pray, teachers in your Church ready to devote themselves wholeheartedly to the human and Christian formation of the young. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.