Saint John Baptist de La Salle was born in France in 1651. He belonged to one of the more important families in the city of Rheims. At the age of 27 he was ordained a priest.
Attentive to God’s voice, a voice calling him to place all his trust in Him, John Baptist stripped himself of everything: first of his title as canon, then of his patrimony which he distributed to the poor during a famine that desolated France in 1683 and 1684, thereby becoming completely poor himself just as the young people who came to his schools, and just like the teachers whom he encouraged to place their faith in God.
De La Salle felt himself “moved by the abandonment of the children of the artisans and of the poor.” A little while later, he found himself involved in helping a group of teachers, in order to establish schools for poor children. To offer them a good education, he established gratuitous, Christian Schools. He joined these teachers and founded a lay community with them, who took the name of “Brothers of the Christian Schools” (1680).
He then understood that God had led him into an unforeseeable undertaking: the birth of a new type of consecrated life, that of Religious Brotherhood.
In 1725 the Institute received the formal approbation of the Church in the papal bull: “In apostolicae dignitatis solio.”
John Baptist de La Sallewas canonized in 1900. In 1950, Pope Pius XII proclaimed him “Special Patron of all Christian educators.”
Today, the large Lasallian family is formed by about 5,000 Brothers, who together with 84,000 men and women teachers and numerous other Lay associates help in running 1,000 education centers, in 80 countries. 850,000 students, children, youth and even adults, receive the best education available in Lasallian educational establishments.
The Lasallian charism, always alive and renewing itself, has borne fruit, even in the birth of other congregations and groups of consecrated men and women: the Secular Institute of the Union of Catechists (present in Eritrea, Italy, Peru); the Guadalupana Sisters of de La Salle (present in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Italy, Madagascar, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, and the United States); the Lasallian Sisters (present in Australia, the Philippines, Thailand, the United States, and Vietnam); the “Signum Fidei” Fraternity (consecrated laypersons present in 35 countries).
Moreover they form part of the Lasallian Family and share the charism with the Lasallian Youth Movement, the worldwide Union of Former Students (UMAEL) and the International Association of Lasallian Universities (IALU/AIUL). The Lasallian Family recognizes and welcomes persons of other religions, believers of other faiths traditions who share the Lasallian Educational Mission and who call De La Salle “our Founder.” An example of this would be the University of Bethlehem where aside from the Brothers, teachers and students of other religions are present.
The educational activity of the Lasallian Family is carried out on all social levels. The Institute is also positively involved in the educational rights of children. During the International Year of Literacy/Schooling (1990), UNESCO awarded the NOMA prize to Lasallian Institutions. The Lasallian Family also works with the inter-congregational project of “Solidarity with South Sudan” of the Union of Superiors Generals; and is also a founding member of BICE (Bureau International Catholique de l’Enfance) and as a follow-up to the terrible earthquake that hit Haiti, the Institute is engaged in an important project on the scholastic, social and sanitary levels.
The educational centers of the Lasallian Institute exist on all levels: early education and primary schools, secondary /high schools, colleges, professional formation programs and universities. Today Brothers and Lay Lasallians support more than 300 informal educational centers for young children, teen-age youth and adults who live in areas of social decay.
In the footsteps of the Founder, 13 Brothers have been canonized, 77 are beatified and another 86, among them numerous martyrs, are on either on the way to sainthood with their process begun or nearing completion.