Jean-Baptiste de La Salle

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Saint Jean-Baptiste de La Salle

Jean baptiste de la Salle.jpg
Founder of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools
Born(1651-04-30)April 30, 1651
Reims, Champagne,
Kingdom of France
DiedApril 7, 1719(1719-04-07) (aged 67)
Rouen, Normandy
Kingdom of France
Venerated inRoman Catholic Church
BeatifiedFebruary 19, 1888, Saint Peter's Basilica by Pope Leo XIII
CanonizedMay 24, 1900, Saint Peter's Basilica by Pope Leo XIII
Major shrineSanctuary of John Baptist de La Salle, Casa Generalizia, Rome, Italy
FeastChurch: April 7
May 15 (General Roman Calendar 1904-1969, and Lasallian institutions)
AttributesStretched right arm with finger pointing up, instructing one or two children standing near him, books
PatronageTeachers of Youth, (May 15, 1950, Pius XII), Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, Lasallian educational institutions, educators, school principals, teachers

Jean-Baptiste de La Salle /ləˈsæl/ (April 30, 1651 – April 7, 1719) was a French priest, educational reformer, and founder of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. He is a saint of the Catholic Church and the patron saint for teachers of youth. He is referred to both as La Salle and as De La Salle.

La Salle dedicated much of his life to the education of poor children in France; in doing so, he started many lasting educational practices. He is considered the founder of the first Catholic schools.


La Salle was born to a wealthy family in Rheims, France on April 30, in 1651. He was the oldest child of Louis de La Salle and Nicolle Moet de Brouillet. Nicolle's family was a noble one and ran a successful winery business and she was a relative of Claude Moët, founder of Moët & Chandon.[1]

La Salle received the tonsure[clarification needed] at age eleven and was named canon of Rheims Cathedral when he was sixteen.[2] He was sent to the College des Bons Enfants, where he pursued higher studies and, on July 10, 1669, he took the degree of Master of Arts. When De La Salle had completed his classical, literary, and philosophical courses, he was sent to Paris to enter the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice on October 18, 1670. His mother died on July 19, 1671, and on April 9, 1672, his father died. This circumstance obliged him to leave Saint-Sulpice on April 19, 1672. He was now twenty-one, the head of the family, and as such had the responsibility of educating his four brothers and two sisters. He completed his theological studies and was ordained to the priesthood at the age of 26 on April 9, 1678. Two years later he received a doctorate in theology.[3]

Sisters of the Child Jesus[edit]

The Sisters of the Child Jesus were a new religious congregation whose work was the care of the sick and education of poor girls. The young priest had helped them in becoming established, and then served as their chaplain and confessor. It was through his work with the Sisters that in 1679 he met Adrian Nyel. With De La Salle's help, a school was soon opened. Shortly thereafter, a wealthy woman in Rheims told Nyel that she also would endow a school, but only if La Salle would help. What began as an effort to help Adrian Nyel establish a school for the poor in La Salle's home town gradually became his life's work.[4]

Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools[edit]

Statue in the Church of Saint Jean-Baptiste de La Salle, Paris, France

At that time, most children had little hope for social and economic advancement. Jean Baptiste de La Salle believed that education gave hope and opportunity for people to lead better lives of dignity and freedom. 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".[2]

La Salle knew that the teachers in Reims were struggling, lacking leadership, purpose, and training, and he found himself taking increasingly deliberate steps to help this small group of men with their work. First, in 1680, he invited them to take their meals in his home, as much to teach them table manners as to inspire and instruct them in their work. This crossing of social boundaries was one that his relatives found difficult to bear. In 1681, De La Salle realized that he would have to take a further step – he brought the teachers into his own home to live with him. De La Salle's relatives were deeply disturbed, his social class was scandalized. When, a year later, his family home was lost at auction because of a family lawsuit, De La Salle rented a house into which he and the handful of teachers moved.[5]

La Salle decided to resign his canonry to devote his full attention to the establishment of schools and the training of teachers. He had inherited a considerable fortune, and this might have been used to further his aims, but on the advice of a Father Barre of Paris, he sold what he had and sent the money to the poor of the province of Champagne, where a famine was causing great hardship.[6]

La Salle thereby began a new religious institute, the first one with no priests, at all, among its members: the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools,[2] also known as the De La Salle Brothers (in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Malta, Australasia, and Asia) or, most commonly in the United States, the Christian Brothers. (They are sometimes confused with a different congregation of the same name founded by Edmund Ignatius Rice in Ireland, who are known in the U.S. as the Irish Christian Brothers.) The De La Salle Brothers were the first Roman Catholic teaching religious institute that did not include any priests.[citation needed]

One decision led to another until La Salle found himself doing something that he had never anticipated. La Salle wrote:

La Salle's 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 free schools "together and by association". The educational establishment resented his innovative methods.[6] Nevertheless, La Salle and his small group of free teachers set up the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools which is, according to the La Salle Web site, entirely dedicated to the Christian education of the "children of artisans and the poor", in a life close to that of the Catholic religious.[8]

In 1685, La Salle founded what is generally considered the first normal school — that is, a school whose purpose is to train teachers — in Rheims, France.[9]

Worn out by austerities and exhausting labors, La Salle died at Saint Yon, near Rouen, early in 1719 on Good Friday, only three weeks before his 68th birthday.[10]


Relics of John Baptist de La Salle in the Casa Generaliza in Rome, Italy

Pope Leo XIII canonized La Salle on 24 May 1900 and Pope Pius X inserted his feast in the General Roman Calendar in 1904 for celebration on 15 May. Because of his life and inspirational writings, Pope Pius XII proclaimed him patron saint of teachers on 15 May 1950.[10] In the 1969 revision of the Church calendar, Pope Paul VI moved his feast day to 7 April, the day of his death or "birth to heaven", his dies natalis.


Statue of Jean-Baptiste de La Salle, De La Salle University, Philippines

La Salle was a pioneer in programs for training lay teachers. Of his writings on education, Matthew Arnold remarked: "Later works on the same subject have little improved the precepts, while they entirely lack the unction."[11] His educational innovations include Sunday courses for working young men, one of the first institutions in France for the care of delinquents, technical schools, and secondary schools for modern languages, arts, and sciences. The LaSalle University says that his writings influenced educational practice, school management, and teacher preparation for more than 300 years.[12]

As of 2017 about 3,800 brothers and 92,000 lay and religious colleagues worldwide were serving as teachers, counselors, and guides to 1,000,000 students in over 1,500 Lasallian educational institutions in 82 countries.[9]

Hundreds of educational institutions around the world are named after La Salle. The De La Salle schools form a 300-year-old network in 80 countries[13] following La Salle's principles. A number of streets are named after De La Salle, often near to a Lasallian School.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Van Grieken, G. (1995). To Touch Hearts - Pedagogical Spirituality and St. John Baptist de La Salle (Doctoral dissertation). Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.
  2. ^ a b c "St. John Baptist de La Salle", La
  3. ^ a b  Graham, Matthias (1910). "St. John Baptist de la Salle" . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. 8. New York: Robert Appleton.
  4. ^ Wanner, R., Claude Fleury (1640-1723) as an Educational Historiographer 1975 "No survey of French education in the seventeenth century would be complete without reference to the educational work of Jean-Baptiste de La Salle."
  5. ^ "John Baptist de La Salle: His Life and Times", Signs of Faith, Winter 2000, De La Salle Institute Archived July 17, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ a b "St. John Baptist de La Salle", Lives of Saints, John J. Crawley & Co., Inc.
  7. ^ Koch, Carl (1990). Praying with John Baptist de La Salle. Saint Mary's Press. pp. 49–50. ISBN 9780884892403.
  8. ^ "Saint Jean-Baptiste de La Salle". La Salle France. 2016. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  9. ^ a b "Discover the Priesthood", Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri at the Wayback Machine (archived October 29, 2013). Archived from the original on 2013-10-29.
  10. ^ a b "Saint Jean-Baptiste de La Salle", nominis.cef
  11. ^ "Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 8.djvu/513". Wikisource. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  12. ^ "History", La Salle University
  13. ^ "De La Salle: Institutions and Activities". Archived from the original on 1 June 2009.

Further reading[edit]

  • Salm, Luke (1996). The work is yours : the life of Saint John Baptist de La Salle (2nd ed.). Christian Brothers Publications. ISBN 978-1884904080.
  • Van Grieken, George (1999). Touching the hearts of students : characteristics of Lasallian schools. Christian Brothers Publications. ISBN 9781884904189.
  • Koch, Carl; Calligan, Jeffrey; Gros, Jeffrey (2004). John Baptist de La Salle : the spirituality of Christian education. Paulist Press. ISBN 978-0809141623.
  • Calcutt, Alfred (1994). De La Salle : a city saint and the liberation of the poor through education : a figure for our times from the age of Louis XIV. De La Salle. ISBN 978-0952139805.

External links[edit]