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Our Founder

In the beginning....

Significant events in the life of the Founder - St John Baptist De La Salle 
“To touch the hearts of your students is the 
greatest miracle you can perform.” (Med 139.3 
– feast of St Peter)1

The Legacy of St John Baptist De La Salle

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A Privileged Childhood

St John Baptist De La Salle was born in Reims, France on 30 April, 1651. He had a privileged upbringing as the eldest son of Louis De La Salle, a Magistrate and Nicolle Moet de Brouillet a noble woman. Rich, talented and influential, he had a bright career before him. At the age of 11, he decided to become a priest.

An Erudite Education

At the age of 16, he was a Canon of the prestigious Cathedral Chapter at Reims, which is a traditional breeding ground of bishops, cardinals, and saints. He was ordained a priest at the age of 27. He studied at the notable Sorbonne University and then the University of Reims, and graduated as a Doctor of Theology. A man so gifted and so well-positioned would almost certainly become an important member of the Church hierarchy or a distinguished professor. However, God had other plans for De La Salle.


Adrian Nyel introduced De La Salle into starting a school (March 15 1679)

A chance meeting with Adrian Nyel would change the course of his life. Adrian Nyel was a layman who had worked in Rouen for many years, providing schooling for the poor. A wealthy widow and relative of De La Salle had asked Nyel to start a charity school for boys in Reims. The lady gave Nyel a letter of introduction to De La Salle. Upon hearing Nyel's intentions and observing his lack of familiarity with the school situation in Reims, De La Salle invited Nyel to stay at his home so that they could consult with others in the town on how to start the proposed school for poor boys. They soon started the school.


De La Salle took in the teachers and instructed them (1683)

Gradually, and without really being aware of it, De La Salle found himself becoming drawn into a very different world, the world of the poor — a world of disadvantaged students, uncultured teachers, and parents who were chronically oppressed by poverty.

De La Salle knew that the teachers in Reims were struggling, lacking leadership, purpose, and training, and he found himself taking increasingly deliberate steps to help this small group with their work. He took them into his house and instructed them on the proper running of the schools.

In the winter of 1683-1684, during a particularly severe famine, he used the bulk of his family inheritance to feed the poor.


De La Salle found the brothers of the Christian Schools (1686)

De La Salle had to move to the poor part of the city, renting a house into which he and his handful of teachers moved. This house would come to be called "the cradle of the Institute”. It was here that they first began to call themselves "Brothers." Community life became more formalised, and teaching and procedures gradually became more regular under De La Salle's guidance. The small community was by now operating a good number of successful parish-based schools for the poor in and around Reims.

At the Brothers' General Assembly in 1686, a distinctive habit was approved, a vow of obedience was taken, and the name "Brothers of the Christian Schools" was officially adopted.


Growth of the Brothers of the Christian Schools

De La Salle spent time writing a variety of texts, both for use in the schools and for the Brothers and their life in community. These included everything from a student's text on politeness and decorum, to a detailed method for the Brothers' own interior prayer. In 1688 De La Salle started the schools outside Reims, in Paris. By then, he had developed a structure for the Brothers.

De La Salle breathed his last in the 68th year of his life. Even then, the power of his faith and spirit remained strong. Brother Barthélemy, his successor as Superior of the Brothers, asked him if he accepted his sufferings, and De La Salle responded with the last words that he would ever say: “Yes, I adore God guiding me in all the events of my life."