John Baptist de La Salle was born of a noble, well-to-do family in Reims, France, in 1651. Hence he received a good education. As a young student he felt the call to be a priest and even became a Canon of Reims Cathedral at the early age of sixteen. While studying for the priesthood in Paris, he suffered the loss of both his parents. Since he was the eldest of the family he had to return home to look after his brothers and sisters. However, the call to priesthood was very strong and he later returned to the seminary and was ordained a priest at the age of twenty seven.
After a short time working as a priest, he noticed the lack of education for poor boys. Their parents could not afford to send their sons to school. The parents had to work all day while their children roamed the streets of Paris, becoming involved in petty crime. To John Baptist they seemed "far from salvation".
John Baptist de La Salle was a man of great vision and intellect, enriched with a deep faith and an ardent zeal. He was also a practical man, a man of action. He knew that God loved these poor children and was calling on him to express this love in a practical manner. He realised too, that a basic education would help these children contribute to the good of society and lead them to salvation. He therefore set about taking these boys off the street by finding good teachers and establishing schools. The boys were taught reading, writing and arithmetic. They were also taught how to pray, to receive the sacraments, to behave politely and to respect each other.
John Baptist’s reputation grew rapidly and in time, many young men, inspired by his vision and work, joined him. He gathered them, as a small community, in his own house, gave them some basic teacher training and sent them out to teach. He faced opposition from his family, from some members of the Church, and from established schoolmasters but he carried on believing his work to be the work of God.
In this way, the Brothers of the Christian Schools, otherwise known as the De La Salle Brothers, came into being. John Baptist realised that God had been leading him on a journey he himself had never foreseen. The institute he founded was unique. Its members, though belonging to a religious order, were laymen who spent all their energy, indeed their whole lives educating children, especially those most in need.
De La Salle was declared a Saint in 1900 and in 1950 was proclaimed the universal patron of teachers.
"Those who have taught many to do what is right will shine like the stars forever." (Daniel 12:3)
Adapted from: “Lasallian Family in Hong Kong” - http://www.lasalle.org.hk