April 6, 2017

Saint John the Baptist de la Salle, Patron of Teachers

Saint John Baptist de la Salle

April 7th, is the optional memorial for Saint John Baptist de la Salle. He was born at Rheims, France in 1651, became a member of the cathedral chapter at Rheims when he was sixteen, and was ordained a priest in 1678. Soon after ordination he was put in charge of a girls' school, and in 1679 he met Adrian Nyel, a layman who wanted to open a school for boys. Two schools were started, and Canon de la Salle became dedicated to the field of education. He took an interest in the teachers, eventually invited them to live in his own house, and tried to train them in the educational system that was forming in his mind. This group ultimately left, unable to grasp what the saint had in mind; others, however, joined him, and the beginnings of the Brothers of the Christian Schools was well underway

Seeing a unique opportunity for good, Canon de la Salle resigned his canonry, gave his inheritance to the poor, and began to organize his teachers into a religious congregation. Soon, boys from his schools began to ask for admission to the Brothers, and the founder set up a juniorate to prepare them for their life as religious teachers. At the request of many pastors, he also established a training school for teachers, first at Rheims, then at Paris, and finally at St. Denis.

Realizing that he was breaking entirely new ground in the instruction of young people, John Baptist de la Salle wrote books on his system of education, opened schools for tradesmen, and even founded a school for the nobility, at the request of King James of England. He became known as the Father of Modern Pedagogy. He would open additional free schools for poor children soon after securing formal Church recognition of his new Order, the Brothers of the Christian Schools, which would go on to make immense contributions to popular education the world over.

The congregation had a somewhat tumultuous history, and the setbacks that the founder had to face were many; but the work was begun, and he guided it with rare wisdom. In Lent of 1719, he grew weak, met with a serious accident, and died on Good Friday. He was canonized by Pope Leo XIII in 1900. In 1950, Pope Pius XII proclaimed him patron of schoolteachers. 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 academic and Christian formation of the young. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and with the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Adapted excerpt from The One Year Book of Saints, Father Clifford Stevens.

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