Feast Day : May 15
Also known as: Jean-Baptiste de la Salle
Founder of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools; educational pioneer and reformer; the father of modern pedagogy, or the profession of teaching John Baptist de la Salle was born on April 30, 1651, in Reims, France, to a distinguished family. He was the oldest of 10 children. His parents, hoping he would continue the family tradition of a career in law, sent him to the College des Bons Enfants, where he earned a master of arts degree in 1669. John, however, had been attracted to the Church from age 11. On March 11, 1662, he received his tonsure, and he became a canon of the See of Reims on January 7, 1667. In 1670 he was sent to the seminary of Saint- Sulpice. He also attended theology lectures at the Sorbonne. As a student he was noted for his brilliance and his piety. In 1671 his mother died, followed by his father in 1672. John was required to leave and return home to become the head of his family. He was ordained subdeacon on June 2, 1672, and was ordained deacon in Paris on March 21, 1676. He attempted to resign his canonry in favor of work in the parish, but was refused. He was ordained a priest in 1678, and received his doctorate in theology in 1680. John’s pioneering work in education began with his administering of the last will and testament of Nicholas Roland, canon and theologian of Reims. The dying Roland had asked him to take over administration of the newly formed Congregation of the Sisters of the Child Jesus. He assisted in the opening of free elementary schools. John soon found that the teachers were disheartened and lacked the proper training. He took them in, first helping them in class, subsidizing their living expenses and even feeding them at his own table. In 1681, he created a community of teachers. It failed, but a second effort was successful. He resigned his canonry in July 1683 and gave his money to the poor the following winter. From then on he dedicated himself to training young men for teaching, and the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools was born. The teachers were prohibited from becoming priests, and priests were prohibited from entering the institute. John revolutionized how subjects were taught. One of the first reforms he instituted was the teaching of reading in the vernacular instead of in the traditional Latin, which enabled students to learn more quickly. He also used the “Simultaneous Method” in which students were grouped accorded to ability so that they could all learn the same lessons at the same pace. The Simultaneous Method was employed in all subjects in all levels of education. In 1684, he opened a seminary for lay teachers for instruction in the new methods of teaching, and an academy for youths who were preparing to enter the brotherhood. In 1699, he founded the Christian Academy, a Sunday school for adults in the parish of Saint- Sulpice. Its curriculum included geometry, architecture and drawing, in addition to religious studies. John endured many trials, criticisms and opposition in his work. He was deposed in 1702 for a time. From 1702 to 1713, he was engaged in a constant struggle for the recognition and survival of his institute. He was strongly motivated to improve the wretched condition of the masses under Louis XIV by providing them education. In addition to the elementary free schools, John established technical schools and colleges. In 1705, John established a boarding college at Saint-Yon, the first of its kind and a model for subsequent colleges. He later created a technical school. John desired to see his institute gain papal approval, but it did not happen during his lifetime. He spent his last years in retirement at Saint-Yon. He died on Good Friday, April 7, 1719. Nearly six years later, on February 26, 1725, Pope Benedict XIII (r. 1724–30) gave his approval to the institute. John is remembered as one of the greatest educational pioneers both of his day and of all time.