The story of John Baptist de la Salle begins with the roots of faith plunging deep into the heritage born of God. The Archangel Michael, Commander of the Lord’s army, cradles a child behind a shield bearing the coat of arms for St. Michael’s High School as he holds up the scales of the heavenly Father’s good judgment, giving a child the vision for a future and a hope.
Next, we see the European countryside began and a young Catalonian Knight named Johan Sala mounted on his horse. He joined the Crusades and later established the fellowship of the De La Sala Knights as the country of France took form.
The book of Jeremiah 29:13 tells us, “Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will find Me, When you search for me with all your heart.” In fact, if you look for Him in this mural, you too will find the Good Shepherd.
Through ongoing struggles and conflict, the peace of Christ began to take root and bear fruit in the rolling hills and vineyards of agrarian France, cultivated by a brotherhood of believers who beat their weapons into plowshares. With the spoils of war and the bounty of God’s providence, France grew into one of the wealthiest kingdoms in Europe.
But unfortunately, King Louis the XIV, known as the Sun King, the longest reigning monarch in Europe, became blinded by riches of God’s exceedingly abundant provision. His eyes turned to all the best the world could offer and his royal court became self-absorbed and intoxicated. Strutting the finest skills, they turned their backs on the common man and families, whose child wore rags in the street. Only the wealthy had the privileges of an education, and the doors of opportunity that it could open.
But the grace of God made a way, the descendants of Johan Sala spilled across France making a name for themselves. They became known as the de la Salle family which established itself in the city of Reims. John Baptist de la Salle, born in 1651, was the first of eleven children born to Louis de la Salle and Nicole de la Salle. John’s father, Louis, was a well respected cloth merchant for the king's court.
In John’s youth, Louis and Nicole and their children lived in a spacious mansion known as La Cloche.Three of John’s siblings died in infancy as he grew under the rule of Louis XIV (whose reign ran parallel with his own life). As a child, he had a fascination for the church; and family resources allowed him the privilege of a tutor. At the age of 10, he entered the College de Bons-Enfants in Reims.
At the end of John’s first year at school, he received “clerical tonsure.” The crown of his head was shaved in preparation for the priesthood. By the time he was eighteen, De La Salle entered the Doctorate Program in the school of Theology and eventually the Seminary Saint Sulpice and beyond to the Sorbonne in Paris. At the age of 20, both John’s mother and father died, and he returned home to raise his younger brothers and sisters. Though still considered a minor, he became executor of his father’s will and assumed the role as head of the household and legal guardian for all his four brothers and three sisters. The youngest child was only two years old. He completed his studies at home in Reims.
At the age of 28, De La Salle had a chance encounter with Adrien Nyel at the door of the Sisters of the Christ Jesus in Reims. Their fellowship would give birth to a vision establishing quality schools, first for poor girls, then for boys. As the Spirit moved, a Brotherhood of teachers was formed with a special mission, set apart by the distinctive garb they wore and commitment to God in the service of education for all. On June 6, 1694, John and the twelve principal Brothers signed the first formal Perpetual Vow. They educated their young students, that their names “shall be found written in the book.”
John Baptist De La Salle was canonized on May 24, 1900.
TURNING THE CORNER IN TIME
Today, the commitment continues at St .Michael’s High School, lifting up the young to a better vision for “a future and a hope,” as promised in the Word of God. Shepherded in the Lasallian tradition, the young men and women of Santa Fe, the City of Holy Faith, have been given the privilege to emerge out of childhood and sink roots to bear fruit.
Brother Brian, with the Fellowship of Brothers and others, was granted resources to help establish the College of Santa Fe with a branch in the New Mexico State Prison. The heart of the Lord supplied the keys to unlock the underprivileged prisoners of circumstance in our community.
With the answered prayers of John Baptist De La Salle, a new chapter had opened, as St. Michael’s High School began to branch out in new and unexpected ways. Today’s campus was established in 1969, when Brother Benedict helped welcome girls from Loretto Academy into coeducational classrooms.
It was at that time that young Leon Rios,a woodcutter’s son, received a scholarship to team up with the other boys and win the New Mexico State Basketball Championship. Here was the living proof of the commitment to encourage young people to “keep pedaling” and fulfill their God-given potentials. The firm foothold of faith, prayer and hard work in the face of overwhelming challenges had begun to gain traction.
Early in the morning of November 30, 1926, a devastating fire broke out in a classroom in the main building and destroyed much of the school at the original downtown campus. That campus located next to the San Miguel Chapel, the oldest church in the United States. Out of those ashes, rose victory as Brother August brought Christ’s healing touch to the St. Michaels community.
Miguel Chavez, a former student of the school in the early years, came to the rescue as he remembered the voice of his former mentor and teacher, Brother Botulph. On November 2, 1870, Brother Botulph had saved the school when he answered the call to Santa Fe to “MAKE IT GO.” Miguel Chavez hired a local woodcutter named Jesus Rios to demolish the remains of the charred ruins of the school and make a way to rebuild what his mentor had saved 56 years before.
On October 27, 1859 at 2:00 in the afternoon, the good Bishop, RIght Reverend Lamy, welcomed the first team of four De La Salle Brothers to arrive by wagon train in Santa Fe. The Brothers Hilarien, Gondulph, Germanius and Galmier Joseph settled into a dirt floor adobe hut next to the Old San Miguel Chapel and with many prayers set to work laying the foundations for St. Michael’s High School.
The mission of John Baptist De La Salle had reached around the world, across two countries to Santa Fe on the heels of the Sisters of Loretto. Their Order had begun educating girls of Santa Fe in the fall of 1853. By the grace of God, vaqueros began to share the vision of how caterpillars turn into butterflies.
Special faces in the mural include, Archbishop Lamy, Leon Rios Junior, Miguel Chavez, Brother Botulph, King Louis XIV, Young John Baptist de la Salle with his parents, John Baptist de La Salle as a young man, and as an older man. More contemporary faces are Brother Brian and Brother Benedict, Taylor Gantt, a president of the school, and Sam Govea, a principal of the school. Glen Strock also included his friend Annette Legits, (the executive assistant to the president of Saint Michael’s High School), his daughter Tessa Strock, and his son, Joshua de Lira.
Glen Strock, a fine artist, muralist and book illustrator, began this mural for Saint Michael’s High School with the intention that this would be his finest work. As he began to develop the story, he quickly realized that he would need much more space and time than he had already committed to. The mural kept growing and growing until he had blown past the dates of the original contract and the mural had quadrupled in size. The visual story told by the mural captivated him. He was driven to tell the story of the history of this ministry. He enjoyed coming to work at the school and visiting with and praying with the students and staff and his son Joshua. Friends and students would often drop in and help him paint. Working one day on the mural, he stopped for a moment, feeling dizzy. Glen was soon after diagnosed with a cancer of the brain. He died six months later April 25th, 2020, with the work on the mural still unfinished. Realizing the importance of this great work, his wife Alida Strock stepped in to bring the mural to completion in June of 2020. Her hope is that this mural will be an inspiration to students and educators and young artists for many years to come.