Who was Saint John Baptist de La Salle?
Canon of the Cathedral of Reims and eldest son of a wealthy family in the days of Louis XIV, John was
expected to rise to an eminent position in the Church.
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 th
teachers in these schools a sense of self-esteem, a sense of the dignity of their vocation as Christian
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 UKA Governor's Message
The first De La Salle Foundation in England was opened in 1855, just five years after the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in Britain.
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 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
Steve Micklejohn's Founder's Day Speech
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