Saint Jean-Baptiste dedicated his life to the education of poor French children, providing a beacon of light in their otherwise difficult lives, and creating new educational practices that are used around the world today.
St. Jean-Baptiste de La Salle, also known as St. John-Baptist de La Salle, was born to a noble family in Reims, France on April 30, 1651. He was the oldest of the 11 children of Louis de La Salle, who was a magistrate of the royal court, and Nicolle de Moet de Brouillet, who belonged to a well-known clan of vineyard owners and wine producers. St. Jean-Baptiste had the best education available at a time when most in France lived in turmoil and extreme poverty.
Instead of pursuing a career in law as what was expected of him, he decided to pursue the priesthood. At the age of 26, he was ordained to the priesthood by the Archbishop of Reims. Little by little, God revealed greater plans for St. Jean-Baptiste when his spiritual advisor and beloved friend, Father Nicholas Roland, asked him to obtain official recognition from the local authorities for the newly-established Sisters of the Child Jesus. The Sisters of the Child Jesus still exists today and was a convent formed to care for needy girls. After St. Jean-Baptiste established official recognition for the Sisters, he worked with them. In March 1679, he was introduced to Adrian Nyel, an educator overseeing the education of poor boys and other social services. This introduction marked the beginning of St. Jean-Baptiste’s new vocation of educating youth. He renounced his wealth and his position in the church and then formed the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, a Roman Catholic order of lay people, for the education of poor boys.
He is invoked as the patron of teachers, the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools (also known as Christian Brothers, French Christian Brothers, Lasallian Brothers, or De La Salle Brothers), Lasallian Educational Institutions, educators, and school principals. St. Jean-Baptiste was named after John the Baptist, which aptly describes his life’s mission of bringing Christ’s message to the farthest corners of the earth. Here are 11 important facts behind the history of St. Jean-Baptiste de La Salle.
#1 Saint Jean-Baptiste Died Peacefully in 1719
After dedicating more than 40 years of his life to his ministry, St. Jean-Baptiste’s health had been declining and he became sick for months. Riddled with asthma, chronic rheumatism, and an accidental head injury, he settled and retired in Saint Yon in Rouen, France, where he had created a new boarding college. There, he served as confessor and counselor until he died at the age of 67 on April 7, 1719. Before his death, on the morning of Good Friday, he blessed his Brothers standing at his bedside and gave them words of counsel. With the last ounce of his strength, he exclaimed: “I adore in all things the will of God in my regard.” Then, he put his arms together in the form of a cross, and with a heavenward glance, he died.
#2 Saint Jean-Baptiste Was Canonized on May 24, 1900
St. Jean-Baptiste was canonized on May 24, 1900, by Pope Leo XIII at Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. According to the bull of his canonization, two miracles attributed to St. Jean-Baptiste were found to be authentic and certain. The first one was the instantaneous and perfect cure of Leopold Tayac, a young pupil of the Boarding School of Rodez, in France, of pneumonia considered by the doctors as absolutely incurable. The other miracle was the instantaneous cure of Brother Nethelme, of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, of complete paraplegia, swollen legs, and deep ulcers. Both miracles, which happened in 1888, paved the way for the canonization of St. Jean-Baptiste.
#3 Saint Jean-Baptiste Is Venerated as the Founder of the Lasallian Educational Tradition
On May 15, 1950, 231 years after his death, Pope Pius XII proclaimed St. Jean-Baptiste the patron saint of teachers. St. Jean-Baptiste is known for founding the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. The Institute runs schools across 81 countries and uses St. Jean-Baptiste’s “Lasallian tradition” of education, which emphasizes the dignity of each student, regardless of income level.
The Institute’s headquarters is in the “Generalate” of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, which is the residence of the Brother Superior General and his Council. It is where the De La Salle Institute is governed, where the Sanctuary of St. Jean-Baptiste de La Salle is located, and is the location of his remains, together with the remains of other Lasallian saints. Pilgrims come to visit the remains of St. Jean-Baptiste every year. In 2016, the Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage officially declared the Generalate as an institution “of exceptional historical interest.” In 2019, the De La Salle Brothers celebrated the 300th anniversary of St. Jean-Baptiste’s death by taking his arm bone to the 16 La Salle schools in the Philippines. The year 2019 was declared by Pope Francis as the Lasallian Jubilee Year.
#4 Saint Jean-Baptiste’s Symbol and Iconography Portray Him as a Teacher
As the patron of teachers, St. Jean-Baptiste is often portrayed stretching his right arm with a finger pointing upward, while instructing two children (or one child in some images) standing beside him. Other images of the Saint depict him writing at a desk, with a crucifix and books in the background. St. Jean-Baptiste’s official portrait, painted by Pierre Leger, shows him wearing a black habit with a white collar or “rabat.”
#5 Saint Jean-Baptiste’s Feast Day Celebration Is on April 7
His feast day is on April 7, the date of his death. However, this was not always the case. In 1904, Pope Pius X included the feast day in the General Roman Calendar as May 15. In 1969, there was a revision of the Church calendar during the reign of Pope Paul VI. Pope Paul VI changed his feast day to April 7. Schools run by the De La Salle Brothers celebrate “Founder’s Day” every May 15 in honor of St. Jean-Baptiste.
#6 Saint Jean-Baptiste’s Remains Are in Rome
His remains are currently in the Generalate (in Italian, called the “Casa Generalizia”) in Rome, where they have been since 1937. Initially after his death, he was buried in St. Sever Church in Rouen, France. Then, in 1734, his remains were transferred to the chapel of St. Yon, France. Then again, in 1906, his remains were transferred to the former Generalate of the Brothers of the Christian Schools at Lembecq-Les-Hal, Belgium. In 1937, they were moved for the final time to where they are today.
#7 The Location of Saint Jean-Baptiste’s Major Shrine Is in the Generalate, in Rome
A shrine in honor of St. Jean-Baptiste was erected in the Generalate of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, which is also the residence of the Institute’s Superior General and his Council. At the heart of such residence is the Sanctuary of St. Jean-Baptiste de La Salle. Aside from that, the Shrine of St. John Baptist de La Salle, envisioned as the world’s first sanctuary in honor of St. Jean-Baptiste, is under construction in De La Salle University in Laguna, Philippines. It will be a repository of the Saint’s remains and a pilgrimage site for educators.
#8 Saint Jean-Baptiste Is Known for Many Firsts
St. Jean-Baptiste is the patron saint of teachers because his life and works revolutionized the educational system in France and in other countries as well. He is the founder of the first “training school” for lay teachers where teachers were trained in the principles and methods of teaching. He is also the founder of the first Catholic schools, which he established in France. He pioneered using common language that people could understand, instead of Latin, to teach the poor children in France.
He was also credited as one of the first to use the principles of “Simultaneous Method.” During his time, it was customary for the teachers to engage in a one-on-one meeting with every student. St. Jean-Baptiste eliminated this practice. Instead, he had the students divided by age and taught simultaneously by one teacher using the same book. This method is the same as the current system of classifying students according to their educational level.
#9 Saint Jean-Baptiste Established a Religious Congregation Through a Simple Invitation for a Meal
It all started with dinner. When St. Jean-Baptiste, together with Adrian Nyel, established a free school for elementary students at Reims, he saw that the teachers lacked dedication to educating the marginalized youth. He invited the struggling schoolteachers to his home for dinner, a meeting, and prayer to encourage and give them effective teaching methods. After their gathering, the teachers, who were spiritually and financially poor, were left to fend for themselves. Seeing them as a lost sheep without a shepherd, he decided to provide them shelter in his home so he could continue to train them effectively. He gave up his prestigious position as a canon of Reims Cathedral and focused on his mission of educating poor children. Aside from that, he used nearly all his wealth to finance the teachers, his mission of educating youth, and to feed the poor during a famine in Reims. For the De La Salle Brothers, St. Jean-Baptiste’s act of fellowship with this group of schoolteachers is considered the founding of the Institute, although the formal approval of the Institute only came a few years after his death.
#10 Saint Jean-Baptiste Fought Against the Errors of Jansenism
A theological movement within the Catholic Church called “Jansenism” was prevalent in France during St. Jean-Baptiste’s lifetime. St. Jean-Baptiste defended the Catholic doctrine by publishing articles against the Jansenists, and so the Jansenists spread lies about the Saint to try to ruin his reputation. Undeterred, he urged his Brothers to be steadfast in their faith and to abide only by the teachings of the Catholic Church.
#11 Saint Jean-Baptiste’s Legacy Flourished in France and Beyond
From a small free elementary school in Reims, France, The Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools now has over 4,000 Brothers and has continued the legacy of its founder, St. Jean-Baptiste, for 295 years since the Institute was approved by Pope Benedict XIII. Today, the Institute serves nearly 1 million students across 81 countries.
God has a way of revealing His plans to mankind in a way beyond our understanding. Such unveiling can only be realized through constant prayer and reliance on His guiding hands. May the life of St. Jean-Baptiste teach us total submission to the will of God as we discern our vocation in life.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Masters Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.