Hold prayer in high esteem. It is the foundation of all the virtues, and the source of all grace needed to sanctify ourselves and to discharge the duties of our employment.
Saint Jean-Baptiste was born in Rheims France on April 30, 1651 as the oldest child of Louis de La Salle and Nicolle Moet de Brouillet. The family ran a winery and was very wealthy - her mother was a relative of Claude Moet, the founder of the French fine winery company Moet & Chandon. At only sixteen, after receiving a very privileged education, Saint Jean-Baptiste was named canon of Rheims Cathedral and was sent to the College des Bons Enfants. He Graduated on July 10th, 1669 with a degree of Master of Artsand was then sent to Paris so that he could enter the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice on October 18, 1670.
Soon after joining the Seminary, tragedy struck Saint Jean-Baptiste twice in rapid succession. On July 19th, 1671, his mother suddenly passed away. While still grieving his mother's passing, his father died on April 9th, 1672. At only twenty one, Saint Jean-Baptiste had lost both of his parents and was now solely responsible for the upbringing and education of his four brothers and two sisters. He left the seminary on April 19th and headed home to care for his family while finishing his Theology studied. Six years later, on April 9th, 1678, Saint Jean-Baptiste completed these studies and was ordained to the Priesthood of the Catholic Church at the age of twenty-six.
As a young priest, he aided the Sisters of the Child Jesus in becoming an established religious order and served as their chaplain and confessor. Saint Jean-Bapiste's spiritual director, Nicholas Roland had introduced him to the order and helped form a strong desire to help the young underprivileged children of the town. In March of 1679, while aiding in the convent, Saint Jean-Baptiste was introduced to man by the name of Adrian Nyel. Adrian was an administrator at the hospice in Rouen and was recruiting teachers to help the young men of Rouen. Already he had opened four schools when he met Mme Jeanne Dubois Maillefer, a wealthy lady of the city. Jeanne gave Adrian money for more schools and sent him a letter of introduction to someone she thought could be helpful - her relative, Saint Jean-Baptiste. He hastily went to Reims and met with Saint Jean-Baptiste.
The two hit it off immediately, and Adrian was invited into his own home to help plan. Adrian opened his first school in Reims at the parish of Saint Maurice. Soon afterwards a wealthy widow reached out to Adrian hoping to establish another school in her own parish but had one stipulation - Saint Jean-Baptiste would have to be involved, a stipulation that Saint Jean-Baptiste met with eagerness. Momentum was now gaining in helping tackle one of the biggest issues of their time - the plight of poor children and their lack of education. During this time, most children from poorer backgrounds had no hope of social or economic advancement due to the high cost of schools (if one was even available where they lived). Saint Jean-Baptiste became determined to come into service of the children who
"often left to themselves and badly brought up"
Recruiting teachers was no easy task and the teachers that were available often lacked leadership and training. In a major break of social boundaries of the time, Saint Jean-Baptiste invited them to begin taking their meals in his own home. He found great success in teaching and instruction this time and soon took things even further - he invited these teachers he was instructing to come and live in his own home. His family members found this breach in social standing simply untenable and brought a lawsuit against him where they took his house at auction. Saint Jean-Baptiste was not dismayed or slowed in his efforts - he soon rented a large house where he could continue instructing and training teachers for the children. He resigned his post of canon to fully devote his time. While he had inherited a very large sum of money from his parents, he sent the money to the province of Champagne where the poor there were suffering terribly from famine.
To continue his mission, Saint Jean-Baptiste founded a brand new Religious Institute - the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools (also known as the De La Salle Brothers and in the United States as the Christian Brothers). The new institute was the first Roman Catholic teaching religious institute that didn't include any priests within it's ranks. The new design of the institute was met with resentment and opposition from both the ecclesiastical authorities and the educational establishment of the time. The authorities initially resisted the creation of a completely new form of religious life - a community of consecrated laymen that conducted free schools together and by association. The organization is completely dedicated to the Christian education of the children of artisans and the poor. Their schools had gratuity for all students, regardless of whether they could or could not pay. Also different to many of the schools in France at the time, the schools instructed in the vernacular, grouped students by ability, and heavily involved parents in their children's education. Matthew Arnold would later remark:
"Later works on the same subject have little improved the precepts, while they entirely lack the unction."
The first normal school (a school whose purpose is to train new teachers) in Rheims France in 1685 with a mission to provide highly trained and instructed teachers to the growing network of schools in France. On Good Friday 1719 (April 7), Saint Jean-Baptiste passed away at Saint Yon near Rouen, just shy of his 68th birthday.
Saint Jean-Baptiste La Salle was canonized by Pope Leo XIII on May 24th, 1900 with his feast inserted for celebration on May 15th. Pope Pius XII proclaimed him the Patron Saint of All Teachers and Youth on May 15th, 1950. His feast day was moved to April 7th, the day of his death, by Pope Paul VI in the 1969 revision of the General Roman Calendar.
As of 2017, 4,200 brothers and 69,000 lay colleagues worldwide were serving as teachers and guides to over 1 million students in over 1,500 educational institutions in 82 countries. The Shrine of Saint John Baptist De La Salle has recently been constructed in the Phillippines as a place of honor for Saint John-Baptiste - more information can be found here. La Salle University was founded in 1863 by the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools and can be found in Philadelphia, PA.