In 17th-century France, education was reserved for those who were rich, and only by special providence did John Baptist de La Salle become interested in schools for boys who were poor. Born into a powerful, wealthy family, John’s background and early training for the priesthood prepared him for high offices in the Church. By chance, John met Adrien Nyel, who was establishing some charitable schools for boys in need. John disliked the rough behavior of those who were poor and the smells and sights of the slums, but he sympathized with their poverty. John helped open a school for boys in need. He secured five teachers and rented a building. As John checked on his school, he witnessed shocking conditions. John decided he had to bring order to the school. He planned to upgrade the standards of the teachers and train them to be religious educators. His teachers quit. But soon men of better quality took their places and thrived under John’s training. John began to see that he must identify with his teachers, so he gave away his fortune and dedicated himself to education.
John founded the Brothers of Christian Schools to educate those who were poor. “The more religious a school is, the more successful it is,” was John’s philosophy. His boys attended daily Mass, were taught the catechism and prayers, and had religion integrated into other subjects.
John motivated the students to prepare for a career and to live their lives by Christian principles. His schools attracted boys from fee-paying schools. Jealous instructors tried to bring lawsuits to ruin his work, but his efforts were praised by the people. John opened boarding schools for boys in need and gave them courses in practical skills. He founded schools for troubled children from wealthy families so that the young boys would not be sent to prison. John died on Good Friday in 1719. He is the patron of teachers.
Excerpted from Christ Our Life, by Sisters of Notre Dame of Chardon, Ohio
Image credit: Saint Jean-Baptiste de la Salle by unknown artist, unknown date. Public Domain via Wikimedia.