St. John Baptista de la Salle

From Catholic Encyclopedia 1913:
Founder of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, educational reformer, and father of modern pedagogy, was born at Reims, 30 April, 1651, and died at Saint-Yon, Rouen, on Good Friday, 7 April, 1719. The family of de la Salle traces its origin to Johan Salla, who, in the early part of the ninth century, was Commander-in-chief of the Royal forces of Alfonso the Chaste. It was not, however, until about 1350 that the younger branch of this family, from which our saint is descended, removed to France and settled in Champagne. John Baptist was the eldest child of Louis de la Salle and Nicolle de Moet de Brouillet. His parents were very solicitous in the care they bestowed upon their child, especially in regard to is moral and intellectual development. After due preparation, he was sent to the College des Bons Enfants, where he pursed the higher studies and, on 10 July, 1669, he took the degree of Master of Arts. Canon Pierre Dozet, chancellor of the University of Reims, was the presiding officer at the academic sessions, and in the discharge of his function had opportunity to study the character of his young cousin, de la Salle, with the result that he determined on resigning his canonry in his favour. Louis de la Salle, however, cherished the hope that John Baptist would select the profession of law, and thereby maintain the family tradition. But young de la Salle insisted that he was called to serve the Church, and accordingly he received the tonsure 11 March, 1662, and wa solemnly installed as a canon of the metropolitan See of Reims, 7 January, 1667.

When de la Salle had completed his classical, literary, and philosophical courses and had read the Schoolmen, he was sent to Paris to enter the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice on 18 October, 1670. While residing here he attended the lectures in theology at the Sorbonne. There, under the direction of Louis Tronson, he made such rapid progress in virtue, that M. Lechassier, superior general of the Congregation of Saint-Sulpice, renders this testimony of him: "De la Salle was a constant observer of the rule. His conversation was always pleasing and above reproach. He seems never to have given offence to any one, nor to have incurred any one's censure." While at the seminary de la Salle distinguished himself by his piety as well as by the vigour of his intellectual progress and the ability with which he handled theological subjects. Nine months after his arrival in Paris, his mother died, 19 July, 1671, and on 9 April, 1672, his father died. This circumstance obliged him to leave Saint-Sulpice, 19 April, 1672. He was now twenty-one, the head of the family, and as such had the responsibility of educating his brothers and sisters. His whole attention was devoted to his domestic affairs, and he provided for every circumstance by his discreet, businesslike administration. Canon Blain says that he underwent at this time many mental struggles. Distrusting his own lights, de la Salle had recourse to prayer and the guidance of discreet advisers, among them, Nicolas Roland, canon and theologian of Reims, a man of great spiritual discernment. Acting upon the advice of the latter, the future founder was ordained subdeacon at Cambrai, by Archbishop Ladislas Jonnart, 2 June, 1672.

When not occupied with the duties of his canonry or with his theological studies, he was engaged in good works, under the guidance of his spiritual director. After four years, he was ordained deacon at Paris, 21 March, 1676, by Francois Batailler, Bishop of Bethlehem. On this occasion de la Salle sought to obtain the permission of Maurice Le Tellier, Archbishop of Reims, to resign his canonry and prepare for parish work. Nicolas Roland urged him to take this step, alleging that a rich canonry was little in harmony with youthful zeal and activity. His archbishop, however refused his request. With humble submission, de la Salle accepted the decision and returned to Reims to pursue his studies and to make final preparations for his ordination to the priesthood. He was ordained priest by the Archbishop of Reims, on Holy Saturday, 9 April, 1678. The young priest was a model of piety, and his biographers say that persons went to assist at his Mass to be edified, and to share his piety. After Mass there were many who sought his counsel and put themselves under his spiritual guidance. De la Salle never omitted Holy Mass, save when prevented by sickness. In June, 1680, he submitted to his final examination and took his doctorate in theology. At this period of his life de la Salle evinced a docility of spirit, a self-diffidence, that bespoke the character of the man and saint. In physical appearance he was of commanding presence, somewhat above the medium height, and well-proportioned. He had large, penetrating blue eyes and a broad forehead. His portraits present a picture of sweetness and dignity, beaming with intelligence and breathing an air of modesty and refined grace. A smile plays about the finely chiseled lips and illumines a countenance to which the large lustrous eyes give an air of commanding intelligence.

During the few years that intervened between his ordination to the priesthood and the establishing of the institute, de la Salle was occupied in carrying out the last will and testament of Nicolas Roland, who, when dying, had confided to him the newly established Congregation of the Sisters of the Child Jesus. "Your zeal will bring it to prosperity", said Nicolas Roland to him. "You will complete the work which I have begun. In all this, Father Barre will be your model and guide." Thus was de la Salle imperceptibly drawn towards his life-work. "The idea never occurred to me", de la Salle wrote in a memoir. "If I had ever though that what I did out of pure charity for the poor school teachers would make it incumbent upon me to live with them, I would have given it up at once." This sentiment he again expressed towards the close of his life in these emphatic words: "If God had revealed to me the good that could be accomplished by this institute, and had likewise made known to me the trials and sufferings which would accompany it, my courage would have failed me, and I would never have undertaken it." At this period de la Salle was still occupied with his functions as canon. He was, however, aroused to the higher calling by a message from Madame Maillefer, in March, 1679, requesting him to aid Adrien Nyel in opening a free school at Reims. But hardly had he succeeded in establishing the school of St-Maurice when he quietly withdrew from the work, as if it were not his mission. Shortly afterwards the opening of another free school in St-Jacques parish lured him again from his seclusion, but he soon retired again.

Although instrumental in opening these elementary free schools at Reims, de la Salle seemed to allow Adrien Nyel to share all the honours resulting therefrom, while he was content to labour assiduously for the real progress of both schools. He was unconsciously attracted to the work. Daily he visited the teachers to encourage the or suggest practical methods to attain definite results. But when he found that the teachers became discouraged, owing to the lack of proper guidance after school hours, he undertook to house them, that he might be able to direct them and give them practical lessons in the useful employment of time, and to prevent weariness and disgust. Not only did he aid them in class and after class, but he made good any deficit in the cost of living. He even admitted them to his own table and later on sheltered them under his roof. Thus was he drawn closer and closer to them, forming an intimate fellowship with the teachers of the poor. "It was, indeed", says Mgr. Guibert, "his love that induced de la Salle to devote himself to the young teachers of Reims. They were like abandoned sheep without a shepherd. He assumed the responsibility of uniting them." As yet de la Salle had no definitive plans for the future, even as late as 2 June, 182, when he transferred his little community to the vicinity of rue Neuve. He simply kept himself in readiness to follow the guidance of Providence. He resigned his canonry in July, 1683, and he distributed his fortune to the poor in the winter of 184, thus giving convincing proofs that he would not hesitate to make any sacrifices necessary to complete the good work he had begun. Pere Barre counselled de la Salle to give up whatever might divert his attention from procuring God's glory. In reply to the earnest remonstrances of his friends and kinsfolk, he meekly answered: "I must do the work of God, and if the worst should come to pass, we shall have to beg alms." Reliance upon Providence was henceforth to be the foundation of the Christian Schools.

Follow us:

Check out Catholic News Agency Polls on LockerDome on LockerDome