St. John the Baptist de la Salle
St. John Baptist de la Salle, Priest and Educator
Like most Saints, Fr. John poured himself out for others, like the Savior whom he followed, Jesus Christ. Also, like the Master, he endured opposition. However, he persevered in the work because he knew that neither he - nor the work - were his own. He died in the Lord on April 7, 1719 in Rouen, France
On April 7, Catholic Christians who follow the western Church year commemorate the life of St. John Baptist de La Salle. He was born in Rheims, France on April 30, 1651 into privilege. He had wealth and all that his noble family status entailed. However, the Lord had different plans for this young man. Very early in what we now call his “pre-teen years” John decided he wanted to follow Jesus Christ.
He was tonsured at the age of eleven. This was the sign that a young man was seeking ordination. It was also considered then to be the first entrance into the clerical state. The candidate would have a lock of hair cut from his head and receive a surplice, a liturgical vestment. John was named Canon of the Cathedral of Rheims at the age of sixteen. Soon both his parents both died and he had to assume the administration of the family affairs.
This did not distract the young man from pursuing theological studies. In 1670 he entered St. Sulpice Seminary in Paris. On April 9, 1678, after receiving the Order of deacon months before, he was ordained to the holy priesthood. Two years later he received a Doctorate in Sacred theology. The Holy Spirit was truly at work in and through this young priest, calling him to what would become his special vocation, working with poor boys whom others had abandoned.
In 1679 he met a layman named Adrien Nyel who was working to educate poor boys who could not afford schooling in Rheims. Fr John became dedicated to this apostolic work, seeing it as his own calling. He began, with Adrien Nyel, to help many rough, ill mannered and barely educated boys to read and write. He witnessed the wonderful change which occurred as he taught them the Christian faith and the skills they would need to progress in life. Others began to join in the effort.
Soon, Fr. John became so consumed by his apostolic and evangelical work that he decided that his considerable wealth, inherited from his family, would accomplish much more if given to the Church and the kingdom she was called to proclaim. He gave it all away in order to accomplish this apostolate of educating young boys. He saw in each of their faces the face of Jesus Christ who had become poor for us.