But he turned his back on all that to work for the poor children of the slums of Reims, Paris, Rouen and many other town and cities of France.
In 1680, John was asked to step in and save a scheme to promote free schools for the poor of Reims, which had been started by Adrian Nyel, but which was in danger of collapsing because of the low morale of the teachers.
He reorganised and revitalised the whole project, placing great emphasis on the need to give the teachers in these schools a sense of self-esteem, a sense of the dignity of their vocation as Christian educators.
As the eldest son of a wealthy family, De La Salle had the world at his feet. Well educated by tutors at home and then in select schools, he could have become a prosperous lawyer like his father. Instead his sense of vocation led him to choose to be a priest, but even so he could have set his sights on a good career leading to wealth and dignities. But step by step he started to get involved with organising schools for the street kids of Reims, of Paris and then throughout France. His genius for getting things done made his work a success, but more important was his vision that, in the eyes of God, working-class children are just as important and have as much right to education as the children of the king. In 17th century France, people thought he was mad!
He changed his whole life to respond to a crisis. Find out more…
Our History in the UK
A group of French Brothers set up a school called Saint Joseph’s College, in Clapham, for a mixed clientele of English and French boys. In subsequent years, Saint Joseph’s subdivided and moved locations a numbers of times, but its name and traditions survive today in Saint Joseph’s College Beulah Hill and Saint Joseph’s Academy Blackheath.
Ten years later, the Brothers extended their presence to the cities of Northern England &emdash; Liverpool in 1866 and Manchester in 1884, where they concentrated their efforts on working for the increasing numbers of marginalised children in the cities that had developed in the wake of the industrial revolution.
The first Brothers in England were an international group which included French, Americans, Canadians and Irish. Along with many other religious, they played a key role in nurturing Catholic education throughout its infancy in the second half of the nineteenth century. The children they taught were also an international bunch, mostly of immigrant origin, reflecting the composition of the Catholic population in the major cities of that period. Life was not always easy, but it was thanks to the efforts of the religious orders and the sacrifices of the parents that the Catholic Church in England in the twentieth century could set itself the goal of providing a place in a Catholic school for every Catholic child.
The history of the De La Salle Brothers in Britain has followed closely the course of the progress of the Catholic Church over the same period.
In the course of the twentieth century, and especially after the dual system settlement of the 1944 education act, the Brothers worked in educational establishments of all sorts: primary, secondary and tertiary (teacher training), voluntary aided schools, private, direct grant and home office schools. Their presence stretched from Ipswich to Jersey (Founded in 1917) and from the Isle of Wight to Stirling. The peak of activity was reached in the early1960’s, when there were more than 380 Brothers operating in 41 establishments, including two provincialates, two novitiates and two junior novitiates.
Since that time, the story has continued to reflect the changes and developments in the Church in the light of the Second Vatican Council and in the secular world of the post-modern era.
A Governor's Message
My name is Steven Meiklejohn. I am a lawyer. More importantly today though, I am a Governor of De la Salle College. I address you also as a former student of the school. However my links with the school have lived on as my two elder sons Sam and Alex were educated here; and Iain, my wife Lisa and I’s youngest is in Year 13 and doing his final examinations in June this year. As you can see the school has been a very important part of my life, and even when Iain leaves, I shall remain close to the school because of my role as a Governor.
In thinking about what I was going to say this morning, I was drawn to a very important part of my life, and even when Iain leaves, I shall remain close to the school because of my role as a Governor. In thinking about what I was going to say this morning, I was drawn to a very important verse in the Old Testament;
The prophet Micah asked:
“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God”
Why was I attracted to that verse? I think the answer to that is because as I thought about what the Lasallian Order means to me, I could see that those commands of God; to act justly, (doing the right thing) to love mercy (which means helping others) and to walk humbly with God, were evidently manifested in the life of our Founder St John Baptiste De la Salle himself, and lies at the heart of what this school, De la Salle College, stands for, and therefore hopefully what we all should stand for.
Our Founder was a remarkable man. He was a man of noble birth. He was described as having a cultured mind and a great practical ability. However, his personal prosperity was balanced with kindness and affability; this means he liked people and he sought to get on with them. Initially, St John helped a religious order known as the Sisters of the Child Jesus, whose work was the care of the sick and the education of poor girls. Through this work, he met a man by the name of Adrian Nyell who St John helped set up a school for the poor in St John’s home town. This gradually became St John’s life work; as he set up a school himself, eventually establishing this great Order. St John was moved to help the poor; in particular he was moved to help poor boys gain an education. In doing so, St John turned his back on the privilege and wealth that he was born into. He acted justly; he loved mercy; and he walked humbly with God;
This school itself seek to uphold the values of St John Baptist De la Salle. I know as a previous pupil, and as a father of boys who have been educated here, that the school does seek to demonstrate what it says it stands for. For instance, we say on our website:
“We are interested in more than success that can be measured through certificates and trophies. A Lasallian education provides our boys with the moral principles and the generosity of spirit that guides and supports them through life in a world filled with moral uncertainty.”
Can you see the common thread running through the verse in the bible, the life of our Founder, and the mission of the school? Acting justly, treating everyone with equal respect and courtesy, and living humbly.
I hope you boys go on and like me, live full, professionally rewarding, and happy lives. I have been a lawyer for 30 years; life has been full on. Always active and busy, sometimes exciting, sometimes scary. Overall, I have loved every minute of it.
However, as I look back, I can see that I have been helped by trying to live by those principles; living justly; trying to show respect and courtesy, and being as generous as I can. My hope for you boys, is that as you go through the school you will appreciate these principles that St John Baptiste de la Salle lived by, and will try to apply them in your lives.
I wish you all a happy Founder’s Day.
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