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St. John Baptist de La Salle

John Baptist de La Salle (1651-1719) was a priest in Reims, France, a well-born young man who, almost by accident, was brought face to face with the unmet need for education of children from families that were poor and marginalized. Trusting that he was doing God's will, he gradually assumed the leadership of a small group of lay teachers who devoted themselves to providing free education for the poor. The community called itself the Brothers of the Christian Schools.

Despite opposition from the for-profit educational establishment and resistance from some church authorities, De La Salle and his Brothers persisted in responding to the needs of the poor with practical innovations — teaching the students in everyday French rather than in traditional Latin, engaging the whole classroom in each lesson, providing secure and focused learning environments, integrating religious instruction with secular subjects, and — perhaps most importantly — developing the vocation of the teacher as a "Brother" to students, religiously devoted to their welfare and relating to them with love.

Other innovations included teacher-training colleges, weekend schools for workers, and a home for wards of the court. John Baptist de La Salle devoted forty years to the establishment of this unprecedented educational enterprise. He died in Rouen in April 1719. He was canonized a Saint in the Catholic Church in 1900, and in 1950 was named the patron saint of teachers.

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