St. John Baptist de la Salle was born in Reims
, on April 30, 1651. His family was a devout Catholic
family, and he was greatly involved in the church
from a young age. He grew up, greatly involved in the church. Even after the death of his parents, he continued to study greatly, and on April 9, 1678, he was ordained
as a priest
, at the age of 26. After another two years, he also received a doctorate
During his work as a priest, he increasingly became involved with helping out the common people. He hadn't had much experience with this, as his family had been fairly wealthy. One way in which this desire to help the common man manifested itself was his involvement with a group of poor, and relatively uneducated men who wished to help with the teaching of poor boys. This involvement began when, in March of 1679, he met a man, Adrien Nyel, who provided many services for the poor. This man quickly convinced de la Salle to help him with his mission, and John Baptist de la Salle's involvement with education began. His involvement increased until he eventually became the leader of these men. One thing that inspired de la Salle was the deplorable conditions that these people lived in. To him, they seemed "far from salvation." He decided to help in their education.
He renounced both his wealth and his position of canon at the local church, which he had held since age 16. He thought that not having these material possesions would make him better able to connect with his students. He soon abandoned his family home and moved in with the teachers, and the order of the Christian Brothers was established. This new order met with a great deal of resistance from the local authority, as well as from other, more established educational institutions. The church rejected the creation of a new order, and the other schools resented the methods that he used: new forms of teaching, and free education for all.
John Baptist de la Salle used many methods of teaching that were unheard of in 17th Century France. He grouped students together, generally by their ability, in order to help them learn better. He also promoted well educated teachers, something that wasn't very common in his day. Another of his controversial methods was teaching in the vernacular. Most schools, especially religious ones, were taught almost entirely in Latin. He also integrated religious studies with more traditional subjects.
After a lifetime of care for the poor, John Baptist de la Salle died on April 7, 1719, at the age of 67. His priestly duties had been revoked by the Archbishop of Rouen, over some trivial issue. His death came on Good Friday. He died at Saint Yon, near the French town of Rouen. Both of these towns are featured in Gustave Flaubert's novel, Madame Bovary. On February 19, 1888, de la Salle was beatified. He was officially canonized as a saint on May 24, 1900. And, on May 15, 1950, Pope Pius XII proclaimed him to be the patron saint of all teachers.
According to St. John Baptist de la Salle, teachers are "ambassadors of Christ" and "ministers of grace." He believed that teachers have a providential and privileged relationship with their students.
The network of schools that he created, now known as Lasallian Schools, still exists today, in many countries around the world. The schools are primarily high schools and universities. After prayer students at these schools still often say, St. John Baptist de la Salle, pray for us. Live Jesus in our hearts, forever. The lines "St. John Baptist de la Salle" and "live Jesus in our hearts", are said by the prayer leader, and "pray for us," and "forever" are recited by the students.