DE LA SALLE was born in France on 30th April, 1651, the eldest son of a magistrate of Rheims. Rich, talented and influential, he had a splendid career before him but at the early age of eleven made up his mind to become a priest. After taking his Master of Art degree, he entered the Seminary and was ordained priest at the age of 27.
For some time, he was attached to the cathedral of Rheims. Then one day, there came a man who changed the course of his life. His name was Adrian Nyel. He had been sent by a lady of Rouen to establish a free school for poor boys in Rheims. He was to consult De La Salle. From the beginning, De La Salle took a keen interest in the new venture. He began to by inviting Nyel’s teachers to have their meals with him, teaching them how to teach, visiting them in their classes, and ended by lodging them in his own house. During a nation-wide famine, he sold his estates and distributed his fortune among the poor. Now he was as poor as his teachers. From then on, they looked on him as father and founder.
He had absolute faith and trust in God and he loved mankind. He was a man of great originality of mind who sensed the future educational needs of the ordinary people about to enter the industrial revolution. He broke the tradition of teaching through classical languages and firmly established the language of the street as the language of the classroom. He showed that teachers had to be trained and that teaching was a vocation and an honourable profession.
For forty years, he toiled at founding free schools for the poor and organising the Brothers of the Christian School, Fratres Scholarum Christianarum, to carry on his work. He met with opposition from all sides – from those whose vested interests suffered, from the Jansenists and from people who misunderstood him. He died on Good Friday, 9th April, 1719.
In 1950, Pope Pius XII proclaimed him Patron of Teachers, a fitting tribute to his Father of Modern Pedagogy and Founder of Popular Education.