Jean-Baptiste de la Salle (1651 – 1719), a French nobleman, ordained a priest, founded the first order in the Church’s history entirely without priests, and this came about almost by accident. I say ‘almost’, for, of course, there are no accidents with God.
Destined for ordination from an early age, Jean-Baptiste never looked back, even though both his parents died during his formation. He could have lived a rich, successful and laissez-faire life in pre-revolutionary France, where the land was a veritable paradise for the nobility, but brutal and degrading for the vast swathes of the working, and not working, poor. And the young priest could not turn his eyes, nor his soul, away from their plight and condition.
So he decided to dedicate his life to educational reform, not only for poor students, offered for free, but for teachers, many of whom were themselves ill-educated. So, to his relatives’ consternation, he had them live with him, so he could not only teach the teachers, but also help them in such things as proper etiquette, decorum and proper manners, which maketh the man.
For example: In taking soup, it is necessary to avoid lifting too much in the spoon, or filling the mouth so full as almost to stop the breath.
It was a tough go for Father de la Salle, and he later admitted:
I had imagined that the care which I assumed of the schools and the masters would amount only to a marginal involvement committing me to no more than providing for the subsistence of the masters and assuring that they acquitted themselves of their tasks with piety and devotion … Indeed, if I had ever thought that the care I was taking of the schoolmasters out of pure charity would ever have made it my duty to live with them, I would have dropped the whole project. ..
Many readers of a certain age may perhaps sympathize, looking back at their own path. If God had revealed to us how difficult it might be, well. But as our saint went on to wisely conclude:
God, who guides all things with wisdom and serenity, whose way it is not to force the inclinations of persons, willed to commit me entirely to the development of the schools. He did this in an imperceptible way and over a long period of time so that one commitment led to another in a way that I did not foresee in the beginning
And one thing did indeed lead to another, and a new religious institute was founded, the Brothers of the Christian Schools, which has done more than perhaps any other to reform and improve education within and outside the Catholic Church. To this day, they have 3000 members spread across the world, teaching and forming a million or so young souls for the kingdom.
Saint Jean-Baptiste died on this day, April 7th, a Good Friday of 1719, not long before his 69th birthday. He was canonized on May 24th, 1900 by Pope Leo XIII, and Pope Pius XII later declared him the Special Patron of All Teachers of Youth in the Catholic Church.
So, especially to all you teachers out there, keep up the good work, and may this great saint intercede for you and all your students. +