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Patron Saint: Teachers Symbol: Book
Jean-Baptiste de La Salle (Reims, April 30th, 1651 – Rouen, April 7th, 1719) was an innovator in the field of pedagogy and is venerated as a saint by the Catholic Church for having dedicated his life to teaching poor children. He contributed to standardizing educational practices in France, he wrote inspired meditations on the ministry of teaching as well as a catechism, texts on “good manners” and other resources for teachers and students. He became the catalyst and source of many other religious congregations dedicated to education that were founded in the 18th and 19th centuries. Born into a noble family (in both blood and virtue) of jurists, he was the first of the ten children had by Louis de La Salle and Nicole de Moët de Brouillet. His father wanted him to become a jurist. However, Jean felt the religious vocation. He studied at La Sorbonne and in the Seminary of St. Sulpice, whose spirituality affected him deeply. On January 7th, 1667, at the age of 16, he was appointed canon of Reims Cathedral. He studied theology in Paris and was ordained priest at 27, on April 9th, 1678. Two years later, in 1680, he received his doctorate in Theology. The bishop entrusted him with the task of establishing parochial schools for the underprivileged children of his native city. Beginning in 1679, he therefore opened a free school for the poor. In 1683, he left his position as canon and founded a religious community dedicated to teaching. During a particularly harsh winter, he distributed his possessions among the needy. On May 25th, 1684, he founded the Congregation of the Brothers of Christian Schools, and began opening vocational schools, Sunday schools and institutes for street children. He realized then that what these children were missing most were good educators. He therefore went in search of young teachers to whom he offered a life consecrated to God, though remaining non-clerical. For them he drafted a sort of code. Hence he paved the way for the future Brothers of Christian Schools, dedicated to the education and teaching of lower-class children. For both the spiritual and educational forming of the “brothers,” in 1692 in Vaugirard he created the first novitiate and in 1698 he completed the drafting of the Congregation rules. In 1685, he founded a seminary in Reims that constitutes a veritable normal school for teachers. It was something absolutely new, if one excludes the education given to their own by the Jesuits for teaching the more well-to-do classes (actually, the Jesuits also provided education for the poor). In 1688, he moved to Paris and opened one of the first schools. In 1694, he was elected superior of the new congregation, providing it with a more elaborate rules. He continued his educational and spiritual work by producing catechistical and educational writings, including Rules of Christian Decorum and Civility (1703), a book of etiquette for all and a reading book for students, in which daily life was examined to describe “Christian” and socially dignified and proper manners and behavior. Called to Rouen in 1705 by the archbishop of that diocese, Jacques-Nicolas de Colbert, he opened a boarding college in Manoir de Saint-Yon, a suburb of Rouen. Just before his death, he stepped down from all his functions. He died in the mother house of the congregation he established in Rouen. Following his demise, his institute continued to develop rapidly in France and around the world. He was buried in Saint-Sever. In 1734, his body was brought back to Saint-Yon in the chapel of his boarding college and, in 1835, in that of the Normal School of Rouen. In 1898, a church dedicated to him was built in Reims. In 1937, his relics were transferred to Rome. His beatification process began in 1835 and on May 8th, 1840, he was declared venerable. He was proclaimed blessed on February 19th, 1888, and saint on May 24th, 1900, canonized by Pope Leo XIII. His liturgical memory is celebrated on April 7th. On May 15th, 1950, Pope Pius XII declared him patron saint of teachers.