This work painted by
Pierre Leger, most likely the second such work. It is currently preserved in
the Archives of the Generalate. Dated 1734, it has been adopted as the official
portrait of the Founder. It reminds us of Blain's description:
"His face was always happy, tranquil, and imperturbable... The image of kindness that characterized him also produced a joy among those around him".
Life by Blain, Book 4, p.308
John Baptist De La
Salle was a man of his time. Born in
France in 1651 to a wealthy family (his father was high in the legal
profession), De La Salle would become one of the most innovative educators and
thinkers of modern times. He lived in an age of great thinkers and of great
people. He grew up whilst St. Vincent De Paul was establishing his great work
with the poor and when in England; the philosopher John Locke was penning his
'Thoughts on Education'.
De La Salle was
himself a well educated man, his
highest degree being Doctor of Theology. Amidst all this, in 1684, De La Salle
founded the first, non-clerical, male teaching order in the Church. Others had
tried but had failed to establish the connection between a life of prayer, the
apostolate and community life. De La Salle saw the connection of all three.
That is not to say
that life was easy. De La Salle (a priest) encountered many obstacles within
the Church and from civil authorities that had something to lose with the
establishment of a 'free' Christian Schools. Indeed, in 1691, De La Salle, with
two other Brothers, made a vow of association: to remain together, to achieve
God's work that had been entrusted to them, despite adverse circumstances.
John Baptist De La
Salle was very much an innovator when it came to education. In his time, he established schools for those unable
to obtain an education. De La Salle conceived the idea of having the students
in one classroom with the teacher. He established Teacher Training Colleges,
Technical Schools, and a Maritime College, wrote on Special Education and
conceived the notion that students would learn best in their mother tongue,
rather than in Latin.
De La Salle died on
April 7 (Good Friday) 1719. He was
canonized a Saint in 1900 by Pope Leo XIII.
Today, we take these things
for granted. Given the lasting effect that De La Salle has had on education, it
should not be a surprise to learn that in 1950, he was proclaimed by the Pope
to be the Principal Patron Saint of Teachers and Student Teachers. Over three
hundred years later, some seven thousand De La Salle Brothers and thousands of
Lasallian Partners and Teachers continue the work of St. John Baptist De La
Salle, people who "devote themselves whole heartedly, to the human and
Christian education of youth."