St. John Baptist de La Salle, founder of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, educational pioneer and father of the modern classroom, was born to wealth and privilege in Rheims, France, on April 30, 1651. Although his father wanted him to become a lawyer, young De La Salle was called to the priesthood. He began clerical training in 1662, at age 11, and five years later was installed as a canon in the Cathedral of Rheims.
In 1670, after completing his classical, literary and philosophical studies, De La Salle was sent to the Seminary of San Sulpice in Paris. He was ordained to the priesthood in April 1678 and two years later received his doctorate in theology. De La Salle became active in educational outreach and reform soon after his ordination when he assisted his mentor, who had founded a teaching sisterhood. Later he helped to establish the first free school in Rheims. When he found that lack of guidance was discouraging to the schoolmasters, he took them into his home, fed and clothed them, and began directing and instructing them. To better devote himself to this new work, De La Salle resigned his canonry, gave his fortune to the poor, and began living in community with the men he was directing. Gradually he molded this group into what is known today in the Catholic Church as the Brothers of the Christian Schools.
John Bapstist de La Salle, worn out by his arduous labors in the cause of Christian education, died on Good Friday, April 7, 1719. He was canonized by Pope Leo XIII on May 24, 1900. In recognition of De La Salle’s contribution to Christian education, in 1950 Pope Pius XII proclaimed him the patron saint of all teachers. St. John Baptist de La Salle lives on today in the worldwide work of the Christian Brothers and the lay people dedicated to Lasallian ideals who work alongside them. While De La Salle’s main contribution to education was the establishment of the Christian Brothers teaching order, whose sole ministry is education, he is in fact the founder of popular education. He is credited with inaugurating instruction in the language of the people being taught, rather than in Latin; the simultaneous method (teaching to a group rather than individual instruction); tuition-free schools; and the first center for teacher training.
The Christian Brothers operate over 100 Lasallian schools in the United States, with hundreds more throughout the world. A Lasallian education is characterized by schools centered on and attentive to the needs of young people; schools that are open to all and that function well; schools in which teachers see themselves as ministers of grace; schools maintained “together and by association”; and schools that celebrate and help people live in accordance with the Gospel.