St. John Baptist de la Salle
Founder of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, educational reformer, and father of modern pedagogy, was born at Reims, 30 April, 1651, and died at Saint-Yon, Rouen, on Good Friday, 7 April, 1719. The family of de la Salle traces its origin to Johan Salla, who, in the early part of the ninth century, was Commander-in-chief of the Royal forces of Alfonso the Chaste. It was not, however, until about 1350 that the younger branch of this family, from which our saint is descended, removed to France and settled in Champagne. John Baptist was the eldest child of Louis de la Salle and Nicolle de Moet de Brouillet. His parents were very solicitous in the care they bestowed upon their child, especially in regard to is moral and intellectual development. After due preparation, he was sent to the College des Bons Enfants, where he pursed the higher studies and, on 10 July, 1669, he took the degree of Master of Arts. Canon Pierre Dozet, chancellor of the University of Reims, was the presiding officer at the academic sessions, and in the discharge of his function had opportunity to study the character of his young cousin, de la Salle, with the result that he determined on resigning his canonry in his favour. Louis de la Salle, however, cherished the hope that John Baptist would select the profession of law, and thereby maintain the family tradition. But young de la Salle insisted that he was called to serve the Church, and accordingly he received the tonsure 11 March, 1662, and wa solemnly installed as a canon of the metropolitan See of Reims, 7 January, 1667.
When de la Salle had completed his classical, literary, and philosophical
courses and had read the Schoolmen, he was sent to Paris to enter the Seminary
of Saint-Sulpice on 18 October, 1670. While residing here he attended the
lectures in theology at the Sorbonne. There, under the direction of Louis
Tronson, he made such rapid progress in virtue, that M. Lechassier, superior
general of the Congregation of Saint-Sulpice, renders this testimony of him:
la Salle was a constant observer of the rule. His conversation was always
pleasing and above reproach. He seems never to have given offence to any one,
nor to have incurred any one's censure. While at the seminary de la Salle
distinguished himself by his piety as well as by the vigour of his intellectual
progress and the ability with which he handled theological subjects. Nine months
after his arrival in Paris, his mother died, 19 July, 1671, and on 9 April, 1672,
his father died. This circumstance obliged him to leave Saint-Sulpice, 19 April,
1672. He was now twenty-one, the head of the family, and as such had the
responsibility of educating his brothers and sisters. His whole attention was
devoted to his domestic affairs, and he provided for every circumstance by his
discreet, businesslike administration. Canon Blain says that he underwent at
this time many mental struggles. Distrusting his own lights, de la Salle had
recourse to prayer and the guidance of discreet advisers, among them, Nicolas
Roland, canon and theologian of Reims, a man of great spiritual discernment.
Acting upon the advice of the latter, the future founder was ordained subdeacon
at Cambrai, by Archbishop Ladislas Jonnart, 2 June, 1672.
When not occupied with the duties of his canonry or with his theological studies, he was engaged in good works, under the guidance of his spiritual director. After four years, he was ordained deacon at Paris, 21 March, 1676, by Francois Batailler, Bishop of Bethlehem. On this occasion de la Salle sought to obtain the permission of Maurice Le Tellier, Archbishop of Reims, to resign his canonry and prepare for parish work. Nicolas Roland urged him to take this step, alleging that a rich canonry was little in harmony with youthful zeal and activity. His archbishop, however refused his request. With humble submission, de la Salle accepted the decision and returned to Reims to pursue his studies and to make final preparations for his ordination to the priesthood. He was ordained priest by the Archbishop of Reims, on Holy Saturday, 9 April, 1678. The young priest was a model of piety, and his biographers say that persons went to assist at his Mass to be edified, and to share his piety. After Mass there were many who sought his counsel and put themselves under his spiritual guidance. De la Salle never omitted Holy Mass, save when prevented by sickness. In June, 1680, he submitted to his final examination and took his doctorate in theology. At this period of his life de la Salle evinced a docility of spirit, a self-diffidence, that bespoke the character of the man and saint. In physical appearance he was of commanding presence, somewhat above the medium height, and well-proportioned. He had large, penetrating blue eyes and a broad forehead. His portraits present a picture of sweetness and dignity, beaming with intelligence and breathing an air of modesty and refined grace. A smile plays about the finely chiseled lips and illumines a countenance to which the large lustrous eyes give an air of commanding intelligence.
During the few years that intervened between his ordination to the priesthood
and the establishing of the institute, de la Salle was occupied in carrying out
the last will and testament of Nicolas Roland, who, when dying, had confided to
him the newly established Congregation of the Sisters of the Child Jesus.
zeal will bring it to prosperity, said Nicolas Roland to him.
complete the work which I have begun. In all this, Father Barre will be your
model and guide. Thus was de la Salle imperceptibly drawn towards his life-work.
The idea never occurred to me, de la Salle wrote in a memoir.
If I had ever
though that what I did out of pure charity for the poor school teachers would
make it incumbent upon me to live with them, I would have given it up at once.
This sentiment he again expressed towards the close of his life in these
If God had revealed to me the good that could be accomplished
by this institute, and had likewise made known to me the trials and sufferings
which would accompany it, my courage would have failed me, and I would never
have undertaken it. At this period de la Salle was still occupied with his
functions as canon. He was, however, aroused to the higher calling by a message
from Madame Maillefer, in March, 1679, requesting him to aid Adrien Nyel in
opening a free school at Reims. But hardly had he succeeded in establishing the
school of St-Maurice when he quietly withdrew from the work, as if it were not
his mission. Shortly afterwards the opening of another free school in St-Jacques
parish lured him again from his seclusion, but he soon retired again.
Although instrumental in opening these elementary free schools at Reims, de
la Salle seemed to allow Adrien Nyel to share all the honours resulting
therefrom, while he was content to labour assiduously for the real progress of
both schools. He was unconsciously attracted to the work. Daily he visited the
teachers to encourage the or suggest practical methods to attain definite
results. But when he found that the teachers became discouraged, owing to the
lack of proper guidance after school hours, he undertook to house them, that he
might be able to direct them and give them practical lessons in the useful
employment of time, and to prevent weariness and disgust. Not only did he aid
them in class and after class, but he made good any deficit in the cost of
living. He even admitted them to his own table and later on sheltered them under
his roof. Thus was he drawn closer and closer to them, forming an intimate
fellowship with the teachers of the poor.
It was, indeed, says Mgr. Guibert,
his love that induced de la Salle to devote himself to the young teachers of
Reims. They were like abandoned sheep without a shepherd. He assumed the
responsibility of uniting them. As yet de la Salle had no definitive plans for
the future, even as late as 2 June, 182, when he transferred his little
community to the vicinity of rue Neuve. He simply kept himself in readiness to
follow the guidance of Providence. He resigned his canonry in July, 1683, and he
distributed his fortune to the poor in the winter of 184, thus giving convincing
proofs that he would not hesitate to make any sacrifices necessary to complete
the good work he had begun. Pere Barre counselled de la Salle to give up
whatever might divert his attention from procuring God's glory. In reply to the
earnest remonstrances of his friends and kinsfolk, he meekly answered:
do the work of God, and if the worst should come to pass, we shall have to beg
alms. Reliance upon Providence was henceforth to be the foundation of the
Up to this period (1684) the institute had lacked the characteristics of a
permanent organization. From 1694 to 1717, the struggle for existence was most
critical. In 1692 the institute was so weakened by deaths and defections that de
la Salle could hardly find two Brothers who were willing to bind themselves by
vow to maintain the free schools. The death of Henri L'Heureux in December, 1690,
materially affected the rules of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. De la
Salle, intending this gifted young Brother to be the future superior of the
congregation, entertained the hope of having him ordained priest, and with this
view he sent him to Paris to pursue his theological studies at the Sorbonne.
After a brilliant course, Brother Henri L'Heureux was ready for ordination, but
before this event took place the young candidate fell sick and died. The loss of
this Brother was a blow to the founder. After passing the whole night in prayer,
he rose up, not only comforted but strengthened, but also enlightened as to the
character of his future institute. He then determined that there should be no
priests among the members of his institute. Although there were priests and lay
brothers in nearly all existing religious orders, de la Salle was convinced that
the time had come for a change in this matter in the new congregation. Brother
Lucard, the Annalist of the institute, thus sums up the matter:
Since the death
of Henri L'Heureux, de la Salle was firmly convinced that his institute was to
be founded on simplicity and humility. No Brother could, without compromising
his congregation, allow himself to be diverted from his functions as a teacher,
by devoting himself to special studies, the saying of the Divine Office, or the
fulfillment of other duties obligatory on the sacred ministry. Therefore, no
Brother can aspire to the priesthood nor perform any priestly function, and no
ecclesiastic can become a member of the institute. This is the new rule that de
la Salle added, and it is embodied in the Constitution of the institute.
From 1702 the founder began to endure a long period of trial, aggravated by persecution on the part of certain ecclesiastical authorities. In November, 1702, he was deposed by Cardinal de Noailles, and supplanted for a time by the Rev. B. Bricot. In 1703 one of his most trusted disciples, Nicolas Vuyart, treacherously deserted him. For the next ten years the holy founded was engaged in a series of struggles for the preservation of his institute, in the course of which his name was attacked, and justice denied him before the civil tribunals. After thirty-five years of hard labour, his work seemed to be almost on the verge of ruin. His confidence in God was so firm and unshaken that he was never really discouraged. In 171 he convoked a chapter for the purpose of solidifying the work and for the election of a superior general. His aim was to have a Brother elected during his lifetime and thus perfect the government of the institute in accordance with the rule he had formulated. The choice of the assembled Brothers fell upon Brother Barthelemy, a man whom all esteemed for his learning and virtue. The institute was now an accomplished fact. And from the first interview with Adrien Nyel, in 1679, de la Salle belonged wholly to the Brothers, sharing with them the burden of labour and observing the common rule. He never left them to engage in other works.
De la Salle was too prudent and too well inspired by God, not to give his institute a positive character in its twofold object: the Christian education of youth and the cultivation of that spirit of faith, piety, mortification, and obedience which should characterize its members. His gift of gaining souls to God, and of leading them to make great sacrifices, was supplemented by the splendid executive ability that enabled him to found an institute and to supervise and direct its gradual development. A study of the extraordinary religious, social, and educational conditions, at the time the institute was founded by de la Salle, will show the peculiar character of the difficulties he had to encounter and overcome. Jansenism had gained the ascendancy in France and spread broadcast its pernicious doctrines; it fostered internal dissensions and promoted Gallicanism, to the great detriment of the Faith and of loyalty to the Holy See. In the social order, a spirit of exaggerated independence was abroad, condemning authority or thrusting it aside. When such conditions prevailed in the upper classes, one may well ask, what must have been the condition of the masses? The incessant foreign and internal wars, with their consequent evils, told with disastrous effect upon the people. Exorbitant demands on the part of army officials, the violence of the soldiery, the rapine of supervisors, the wholesale plunder of crops, followed by famine and ruin, left whole provinces of France under the weight of terrible sufferings and untold misery. The peasants frequently had no bread, and when they had it the circumstances were such as to deprive them of any hope of sustenance for the morrow. Even when the gloom of internal turmoil had been momentarily brightened by the splendid victories abroad, the sad effect of the glory of the reign of Louis XIV made the mourning in cottages only the more bitter owing of the loss of the loved ones on foreign battlefields. Evidently, morals among the masses under these dire circumstances were threatened with ruin, as were the social and economic conditions; for false doctrines were spread and took hold among the people, destroying their faith and stultifying their consciences. Schools there were, but they were poorly attended and shamefully neglected. The children and the people generally were ignorant, and vice, according to contemporary authorities, was rampant among all classes. De la Salle carefully studied these conditions and, moved to compassion for the poor, resolved to improve their social and moral status. The founder grasped the situation and proposed as a remedy, popular free schools thoroughly graded and supplied with zealous teachers, who would implant in the hearts of the children the germs of those virtues that would tend towards the regeneration of both the pupils and the parents. He saw that a religious congregation composed of enlightened men, eager for the salvation of souls, could alone stem the tide of irreligion, vice, and ignorance. He clearly perceived that, in the peculiar conditions which surround any institute at the period of its origin, the work proposed to be done should embody in its ends the special requirements of the age in which it originates. He also foresaw that, while the guiding spirit of such an institute must ever remain fundamentally the same, its scope, as a permanent organization working for the welfare of humanity, should have the character of a social force answering to the needs and conditions of any age and country.
The various educational reforms which de la Salle introduced prove that he legislated wisely. The courses of study for elementary free schools, technical schools, and colleges are evidences of his broad culture and wide grasp of educational problems. Hence, if the needs of a certain locality called for special branches, or if the times and conditions demanded certain advanced studies, de la Salle was not slow in responding nor in giving these subjects a place commensurate in importance with their educational value. De la Salle, furthermore, displayed his genius in giving is institute a distinctive character, that of a teaching body, consecrated to the work of popular education. Thus he became the author of a system of psychologic pedagogy which included the essential principles adopted by later workers in the field of educational reforms, notably by Pestalozzi, Fröbel, Herbart, and others. In making the vernacular the basis of all instruction, de la Salle appealed to the intelligence of the child, prepared the way for the study of national literature, and opened up to the grown man those avenues of real knowledge and delight that had hitherto been closed against the eager multitude. With true scientific insight he perceived the absurdity of retaining Latin texts to teach the art of reading. For this change he gave the following reasons:
- The teaching of the art of reading, in primary and elementary schools, through the vernacular, is of greater and wider utility than by Latin texts.
- The vernacular is more easily taught to children, who already possess some knowledge of it, than the Latin of which they are wholly ignorant.
- It requires considerably less time to learn the art of reading through the vernacular than through a foreign tongue.
- The boys and girls attending the primary and elementary schools, can spend only a few years under instruction. Now, if thy are taught reading from a Latin text, they generally leave school without being able to read the vernacular, and with only an imperfect knowledge of how to read the Latin. Hence, they will soon forget the little they have learned, and, perhaps, even how to read the vernacular.
- Reading is one of he most efficacious means of acquiring knowledge. With due care in the selection of books, children who can read in the vernacular could spread the Christian doctrine in the family circle, and, on evenings, read some useful or instructive books to the assembled household; whereas, if they could read the Latin only, without understanding it, they would be deprived of many valuable benefits resulting from the intelligent reading of a good book.
- It is impossible for children in primary and elementary schools to master the reading of Latin texts, because they are not acquainted with its subject matter. It is, therefore, the part of wisdom to train children thoroughly to the intelligent reading of works written in the vernacular. Thus, having mastered the art of reading in the vernacular, a few months would suffice to make them read the Latin fluently, whereas, if the traditional method were followed, it would require at least several years [Annales de l'Institut, I (1883), pp. 140, 141].
This fact proves that de la Salle was a profound thinker, a genius in the work of popular education. He embraced all classes, all conditions of society. By making the free schools popular, he grasped the growing needs of society in his own day and for all times. No phase of the educational problem escaped his penetrating vision.
As de la Salle is especially identified with the
Simultaneous Method of
teaching, an explanation of the method and its history will prove of interest to
the educator. By the
Simultaneous Method the pupils are graded according to
their capacity, putting those of equal attainments in the same class, giving
them the same text-books, and requiring them to follow the same lesson under one
and the same teacher. This method has best stood the test of time and experience,
and is that which the Brothers of the Christian Schools employ in all grades of
instruction even at the present day. Like all fruitful ideas, the
Method is not the exclusive property of any one man. Others besides de la Salle
discerned its value, and even partially applied its essential principles, long
before the founder of the Christian Schools made it live in his institute. It
had no place in the university system of the Middle Ages. The plan adopted in
those time was that which prevails to a great extent in the universities of our
own day, namely, listening to lectures, taking notes thereon, and holding
disputations upon the subject-matter. The Jesuits organized each class in
subdivisions; each division being headed by an advanced pupil called a decurion,
to whom the boys recited their lessons at stated times, while the teacher
corrected exercises or heard the lessons of particular pupils. The whole class
afterwards received explanations form the teacher. St. Peter Fourier (1565-1640)
saw in Christian education the remedy for many of the disorders existing among
the poor and labouring class. He was far-seeing, and anticipated more than one
of our modern educational improvements. Indeed, he was one of the first to apply
some of the principles of the
Simultaneous Method. In his constitutions he
prescribes that, as far as it can possibly be carried out, all the pupils of the
same mistress shall have each the same book, in order to learn and read therein
the same lesson; so that, whilst one is reading hers in an audible and
intelligible voice before the mistress, all the others, hearing her and
following this lesson in their books at the same time, may earn it sooner, more
readily, and more perfectly. Herein the principle of the
is for the first time, clearly stated. Yet, when he enters into the details of
practice he seems to lose sight of the principle which he lays down. In the very
next paragraph of the Constitutions, it is provided that the mistress shall call
up two pupils at a time, and place them one at each side of her desk. The more
advanced pupil shall read her lesson; the other shall listen to her, shall
correct all the faults she may make, in the use of words, in pronunciation, or
in the observance of pauses. This is the individual method. For the smaller
pupils he recommends that four or six at a time come to her desk, and to make
use of some graded cards, containing letters and syllables. (Sommaire des
Constitutions des Religieuses de la Congrégation de Notre-Dame, 1649, 3rd part.)
Cornelius (or Amos Komensky, 1592-1674), in his
Didactica Magna, requires
the teacher to instruct his pupils semel et omnes simul,
all together at one
and the same time (edit. 1647, cap. xix, Probl. I, Col, 102, 103). Mgr. de
Nesmond (1629-1715) divided the class into four or five groups, each having the
in order that all the children of the same group or bench may
receive the same lesson, and when one begins to read, the others are to read in
a low voice at the same time (Méthode pour instruire en peu de temps les
Enfants, p. 59). About 1674, Charles Démia, of Lyons, adopted the method of Mgr.
de Nesmond. Life him, he gave the same reading-book to each group, requiring
that each one follow, holding his finger or a marker on the words that are being
read. The immediate precursor of St. John Baptist de la Salle was a theorist,
the anonymous author of
Avis touchant les Petites Exoles (Bibl. Nat., 40 R.
556). In this little work, which Leopold Delisle places prior to 1680, the
author complains of the condition of the primary schools and proposes a method
by which a large number of pupils might be taught, by one teacher, one book, and
one voice. The school, he tells us, should be so regulated that one and the same
book, one and the same teacher, one and the same lesson, one and the same
correction, should serve for all, so that each pupil would thereby possess his
teacher wholly and entirely, and occupy all his care, all his time, and all his
attention, as if he were the only pupil (pp. 14 and 19). It is reasonable to
presume that de la Salle frequented the schools taught by the Congregation of
Notre-Dame, which were founded at Reims in 1634, and observed the method of
teaching employed in that congregation. We can have no doubt that he was equally
well acquainted with the defects which rendered such methods useless. In 1682 de
la Salle had organized the Brothers of the Christian Schools, and had given them
Simultaneous Method. Brother Azarias says:
What St. Peter Fourier touched,
what Komensky and Mgr. de Nesmond and Charles Démia had glimmerings of, what the
anonymous author could nowhere find and thought to realize, had become a fact.
De la Salle applied the Simultaneous Method not only to reading, as was done by
his predecessors, but also to catechism, writing, spelling, and arithmetic in
the elementary classes, and then to all the specialties taught in the colleges
which he founded. He is, therefore, the genius who introduced and perfected the
Simultaneous Method in all its practical details. De la Salle definitely points
Simultaneous Method as the one which he wished his disciples to follow.
It is no longer the one teacher governing a whole school; it is two or three, or
more, according to the number of pupils, each taking those of the same capacity
and teaching them together. His instructions on these heads are exact:
The Brothers shall pay special attention to three things in class: (1) During the lessons, to correct every word that the pupil who is reading pronounces badly; (2) To make all who read in the same lesson to follow therein; (3) To have silence strictly observed in the school. (Common Rules)
The pupils follow in the same lesson, they observe strict silence, the
teacher in correcting one, is correcting all. Here is the essence of the
Simultaneous Method. De la Salle generalizes the principles for all lessons,
in all the lessons from alphabet-cards, syllabaries, and other books, whether French or Latin, and even during arithmetic, while one reads, all the others of the same lesson shall follow; that is, they shall read to themselves from their books without making noises with their lips, what the one reading pronounces aloud from his book. (Conduite des ecoles chrétiennes, Avignon, 1724)
With truth has Matthew Arnold said, in speaking of this handbook of Method:
Later works on the same subject have little improved the precepts, while they
entirely lack the unction. In the management of Christian schools, de la Salle
states concisely the following practical rules for teaching methodically:
1. The teacher determines the relative intelligence of every pupil in his class. 2. He adapts his language and explanations to the capacity of his class, and is careful never to neglect the duller pupils. 3. He makes sure that the pupils know the meaning of the words they employ. 4. He advances from the simple to the complex, from the easy to the difficult. 5. He makes it a special point to insist greatly on the elementary part of each subject; not to advance until the pupils are well grounded on what goes before … 9. To state but few principles at a time, but to explain them well … 10. To speak much to the eyes of the pupils, making sue of the blackboard … 11. To prepare every lesson carefully. 12. To place no faulty models or standards before the pupils; always to speak to them in a sensible manner, expressing one's self in correct language, good English, and with clearness and precision. 13. To employ none but exact definitions and well-founded divisions … 18. To assert nothing without being positively certain of its truth, especially as regards facts, definitions, or principles. 19. To make frequent use of the system of question and answer. (Chap. V, art. ii, pp. 31-33)
It is true that de la Salle, in establishing his institute, had in mind principally the primary and elementary school, which was the real raison d'etre for the existence of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. He was the organizer of the public instruction of his time, and no master of pedagogical science will deny him that distinction. But, if the primary and elementary school was the principal masterwork of de la Salle, there was yet another field of labour which likewise reveals his creative genius. At the opening of the eighteenth century, he was confronted with singularly perplexing conditions. The rising generation was weary of past glories, disgusted with the present and was ambitious to achieve renown in hitherto unexplored fields of activity. As education was gradually extending to the masses, with the light of instruction came new ideas, new occupations, new ventures, and a breaking away from the old civilization, with the desire to wrestle with the problems born of the new conditions. Even those who were trained in traditional methods became aware of a mighty change in men and things. They felt that there was a desideratum in the actual educational system. With their sons, they experienced the world-spirit breathing upon the moribund civilization of Louis XIV. The political horizon had changed, society became more degenerate, the intellectual world was awakened and cast off its lethargy, assuming a bolder attitude and aspiring to greater freedom in the realm of thought and research. De la Salle had been struck with the serious hiatus in the instruction reserved for the wealthy children, who were destined for the liberal professions. So, while organizing the primary and elementary school, he also created, in 1705, a special establishment until then unknown in the educational world. This new creation was the boarding college at Saint-Yon, wherein he inaugurated the system of modern secondary instruction. Saint-Yon became the type of all such colleges, and that of Passy, Paris, became the modern exemplar of similar institutions in France and elsewhere. M. Drury, in his report upon technical education, states that France is indebted to de la Salle for the practical installation and popularization of that form of instruction.
Hence, from the origin of the institute, there was a constant adaptation of programmes to the needs created by the social transformations which were taking place. This flexibility, which contrasted with the fixedness of the university programmes, excited surprise and no little opposition among the representatives of academic authority in those days. The instruction given in the college founded by de la Salle and his successors was peculiarly adapted of the needs of a very interesting class of young men. The educational reforms thus planned and carried out by him give unmistakable evidence that Providence had raised him up to be the lawgiver of primary and elementary teaching, as well as the creator of a new system of intellectual training, combining the precision of the traditional method with the wider scope of the new one. It was but natural that de la Salle, who had assimilated the best that the seventeenth century could give, and who had become cognizant of the inefficiency of the old system to meet the requirements of the new conditions, should create schools which were then, and have been since, the admiration of educators. The boarding colleges founded by de la Salle for the modern secondary instruction are, therefore, a distinct creation. The date of the Saint-Yon college is 1705. He later added a technical school to develop the mechanical skill of the students, and also a special garden for botany.
There were Sunday schools prior to the seventeenth century. But the Christian Academy, founded by de la Salle for adults in the parish of Saint-Sulpice, in 1699, was of a different character, the first of its kind in the history of education. The programme of this academy, or Sunday school, included not only the ordinary branches taught in the other Sunday schools, but it added geometry, architecture, and drawing.
Alain claims that the first normal schools were the novitiates of the teaching orders. But there were no normal schools for lay teachers. De la Salle had been frequently asked by clergy to send a Brother to take charge of their school. This request was refused, for he had established the rule that not less than two Brothers teach in any school. Accordingly, he offered to open a seminary for teachers, an institution in which young men would be trained in the principles and practices of the new method of teaching. The normal school was opened at Reims in 1684. Indeed, thirteen years before Francke organized his teachers' class at Halle, and fifty years before Hecker founded the Prussian normal college at Stettin, de la Salle had given a programme which is even today deemed excellent. In the same year he established for youths who were destined to enter the brotherhood, a Christian academy, or preparatory novitiate, in which they were taught the sciences, literature, and the principles of scientific pedagogy.
De la Salle is entitled to be ranked among the advanced educators of the eighteenth century and among the greatest thinkers and educational reformers of all time. His system embraces the best in the modern educational methods. He gave an impetus to the higher educational progress which is the distinctive mark of modern times, and bequeathed to is own disciples, and to educators in general, a system of teaching which is adaptable to the wants of school-going youth in every country. But it was especially as a priest that John Baptist de la Salle loved his vocation as an educator. Like St. Ignatius Loyola, he taught letters that he might have the right to teach Christian doctrine. In claiming this privilege de la Salle was actuated by the highest and purest motives. There was nothing narrow in his educational plans. He was too wise not to realize the necessity that the truest and best children of the Church should be among the most skilled in human affairs. His view was from the summit, therefore, broad and comprehensive. Intellectual training was supplemented by a complete course of Christian morals. Man had a destiny, and the teacher was to inculcate this truth by cultivating and developing the theological virtues in the souls of the children.
This thought seemed to be uppermost in the mind and to haunt the soul of de
la Salle, when he drew up those excellent programmes for his schools, colleges,
and technical institutions. His pedagogic principle was that nothing human
should be foreign to the students, and the teaching of science and letters
appeared to him to take nothing from the teacher in his ministry as an apostle.
In September, 1713, Clement XI issued the Bull
Unigenitus, condemning the
errors of Quesnel, culled from his
Moral Reflections. M. de Montmartin, Bishop
of Grenoble, promulgated the Bull in a circular letter, in February, 1714. De la
Salle was then making a retreat at Parmenie. When he left this place, he entered
the arena to defend the Church against Jansenism. He assembled the Brothers of
Grenoble and explained the meaning of the Bull, in order to safeguard the purity
of their faith. Not satisfied with this manifestation of loyalty, he published
several articles in defence of the true doctrine. This irritated the Jansenists,
but their opposition only served to give greater lustre to the purity of his
faith and zeal. He was a fearless and uncompromising champion, and he seemed to
forget his habitual calm and reserve when there was question of the integrity
and purity of the Faith. To show his inviolable attachment to the Church and to
the Sovereign Pontiff, he always signed himself Roman Priest.
Hold fast to what
is of faith, he writes to the Brothers;
shun novelties; follow the traditions
of the Church; receive only what she receives; condemn what she condemns;
approve what she approves, either by her Councils or by the Sovereign Pontiffs.
In all things render her prompt obedience. He was even eager to go to Rome to
cast himself at the feet of the pope and request his blessing for the institute.
However, not being able to go himself, he sent Brother Gabriel Drolin to
establish a school there in 1700. Even the consolation of seeing his rule
approved by the Holy See was denied the saint, for he had been dead nearly six
years when, on 26 February, 1725, Benedict XIII, by his Bull,
dignitatis solio, placed the seal of approbation upon the institute, empowering
the members to teach and explain Christian doctrine, and constituting them a
The last years of de la Salle were spent in close retirement at Saint-Yon.
There he revised his rule before giving it to Brother Barthélemy, the first
superior general. During the last days of his life he showed the same spirit of
sacrifice which had marked his earlier years. In Holy Week of 1719, he gave
unmistakable signs that the end was near. On Holy Thursday, at the request of
Brother Barthelemy, he blessed the Brothers assembled at his bedside, and gave
them his last words of counsel. His final words were:
In all things I adore the
will of God in my regard. On Good Friday morning, 7 April, 1719, he breathed
his soul into the hands of his Creator. He was canonized by Leo XIII on 24 May
1900. His feast is celebrated on 15 May.
The principal writings which he has bequeathed to his spiritual children are:
Conduite des écoles (1717), a treatise on pedagogic method, presenting
fundamental principles in a scientific manner. It is remarkable that the methods
herein given have not been considerably changed since the time of its author,
and that the principles laid down are as applicable today as when they were
Les Règles de la bienséance et de la civilité chrétiennes, is a
volume written in 1695, and used as a treatise on politeness and as a text in
the reading of manuscripts. The style is simple and direct. It contains
excellent rules for cultured manners. Les devoirs du chrétien (73), a simple
and precise exposition of Christian doctrine is remarkable for its accuracy, and
for the practical lessons it inculcates. It was intended as a reader and a
catechism. It still retains its place in many schools and colleges.
différents petits traités à Pusage des Frères des Ecoles chrétiennes (1711) is
a noteworthy treatise, stating in remarkably simple terms the fundamental
principles of the religious life. It abounds in Scriptural quotations and is a
valuable guide for persons striving after perfection.
Explication de la méthode
d'oraison (1st printed ed., 1739). In point of clearness and adaptation, this
method of mental prayer is eminently suited to the needs of the Brothers. It
appeals to every degree of capacity, for all can find therein the spiritual food
necessary for their special condition and state of perfection.
le temps de la Retraite (1st printed ed. 1730), written for the exercises of
the annual retreat, and, combining he principles of the spiritual life with
pedagogics, tends to promote the Christian Apostolate in the school. These
méditations contain some of the soundest principles of pedagogy ever enunciated.
Meditations pour tous les Dimanches de Panée, avec les Evangiles de tous les
Dimanches; Meditations pour les principales fetes de Panee (Rouen, 1710?), is
an epitome of spiritual doctrine, based upon the Gospels of the year and applied
to the needs of the teaching profession and the principles of the religious life.
This treatise reveals the greatness of de la Sale and shows him to be a man of
deep religious conviction. His language is always simple, direct, and vigorous.
The spirit of de la Salle has even permeated other religious families, either in giving them a special character or suggesting their rules. Thus, the Brothers of St. Gabriel, founded by Blessed Grignon de Montfort and M. Deshayes, in 1795 and 1821; The Brothers of Christian Instruction of Ploërmel, founded by J.-M. de Lamennais, in 1816; The Brothers of Christian Doctrine of Nancy, founded by Father Fréchard, in 1817; The Little Brothers of Mary (Marists), founded by Père Champagnat, in 1817; The Brothers of the Sacred Heart of Paradis, founded by Father Coindre, in 1821; The Brothers of the Society of Mary, founded by Père Chaminade, in 1817; The Brothers of the Holy Family, founded by Brother Gabriel Taborin, in 1821; The Brothers of the Cross of Jesus, founded by Père Bochard, in 1824; The Clerics of St-Viateur, founded by Père Guerbes, in 1829; The Congregation of the Holy Cross, founded by M. Moreau and M. Dujarris, in 1835; The Congregation of the Holy Ghost and the Sacred Heart of Mary, founded by Father Liebermann, in 1841; The Brothers of Mercy, founded by M. Delamare, in 1842; The Christian Brothers of Ireland, founded by Brother Ignatius Rice, in 1805; and the Institute of the Sisters of the Christian Schools of Mercy, founded by Ven. Julie Postel, in 1802-all exemplify in the character of their work and in the rules adopted, a striking similarity to the methods and aims proposed by Saint John Baptist de la Salle in founding the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools.
BLAIN, Vie de M. Jean-Baptiste de la Salle (Rouen, 1733); CARRON, Une Vie (Paris, 1885); IDEM, L'Esprit et les Vertus du bienheureux J.-B. de la Salle (Paris, 1890); The Spirit and Virtues of Bl. J.-B. de la Salle (Tours, 1895); GARREAU, Vie de M. J.-B. de la Salle (Paris, 1875); CARRON, Le Tendre Ami des Enfants du Peuple (Lyons, 1828); L'Ami de l'Enfance (Lille, 1831); Le Veritable Ami de l'Enfance (Paris, 1838); DUROZIER, L'Abbe de la Salle (Paris, 1842); SALVAN, Vie de M. Ven de la Salle (Toulouse, 1852); AYMA, Vie de M. de la Salle (Aix, 1858); LUCARD, Vie du Ven. de la Salle (Paris, 1876); RAVELET, Vie du B. J.-B. de la Salle (Paris, 1888); GAVEAU, Vie de M. de la Salle (Paris, 1883); Life of M. de la Salle (Italian) (Rome, 1888); KREBS, Leben von J.-B. de la Salle (Ratisbon, 1859); GUIBERT, Histoire de Jean-Baptiste de la Salle (Paris, end ed., 1901); IDEM, Vie et Vertus de S. J.-B. de la Salle (Tours, 1901); DELAIRE, Saint Jean Baptiste de la Salle (4th ed., Paris, 1902); BAINVEL, Saint Jean Baptiste de la Salle (Paris, 1901); GUIBERT, Renouvellement religieux (Paris, 1903); IDEM, Doctrine spirituelle de Saint J.-B. de la Salle (Paris, 1900); BROTHER NOAH, Life and Work of the Ven. J.-B. de la Salle (New York, 1878); WILSON, The Christian Brothers, their Origin and their Work (London, 1883); DE DONCOURT, Remarques Historiques (Paris, 1773); FELLER, Dictionnaire Historique (Paris, 1797); CERF, Maison ou dut naitre le B. J.-B. de la Salle (Reims, 1870); CHEVALIER, Les Freres des ecoles chretiennes (Paris, 1887); RAVELET-O'MEARA, The Life of Bl. J.-B. de la Salle (Tours, 1888); BONVALLET, Sur la Noblesse de la Salle in La Revue de Champagne (December, 1888); PIN DE LA GUERIVIERE, Les aieuls maternels du Bienheureux J.-B. de la Salle (Reims, 1897); KNECHT, Leben von Johan Baptist de la Salle (Freiburg, 1879); SPEH., Der Heilige Johannes Baptista de la Salle und sine Stiftung (Kaufbeuren, 1907); HUBERT, Leben von Johan Baptist de la Salle (Mainz, 1887); LUCARD, Annales de l'Institut des Freres des Ecoles Chretiennes (Tours, 1883); CONSTANTIUS (M.M. GRAHAM) in Am. Cath. Review (July, 1900); IDEM, in Cath. World (August, 1900); BEDEL, La Vie du Rev. Pierre Fourier (Paris, 1666); ARNOLD, The Popular Education of France (London, 1861); SAINT-SIMON, Memoires (Paris, 1886); ALAIN, L'Instruction primaire avant la Revolution (Paris, 1881); ARNOLD, Notes et Documents sur les Etablissements d'Instruction Primaire de la Ville Reims (Reims, 1848); BABEAU, L'Instruction Primaire dans les campagnes avant 1789 (Paris, 1896); BUISSON, Dictionnaire de Pedagogie (Paris, 1887); RENDU, De l'Instruction Publique (Paris, 1819); BARNARD, De l'Enseignement elementaire en France (Paris, 1894); H. BARNARD, Normal Schools and other Institutions (Hartford); JUSTINUS, The Educational System of the Brothers of the Christian Schools in France; Report of the Commissioner of Education (Washington, 1898-1899).
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