The first son of a wealthy Roman Catholic family, John Baptist de La Salle was born in the year 1651 in Reims, France. At the age of sixteen, John was appointed to the prestigious position of Canon of Reims Cathedral. As a young man, he was forced to assume the administration of family affairs after the death of his parents, yet he still completed his theological studies and was ordained a priest at the age of twenty-six. Two years later, he received a doctorate in theology. He also became tentatively involved with a group of rough and barely literate young men who sought to establish schools for poor boys.
At that time, few families lived in luxury, and most were extremely poor: peasants in the country and slum dwellers in the towns. Very few could send their children to school, and most children had little hope for the future. Moved by the plight of the poor and working-class, de La Salle decided to use his talents and education in service of these children. He left his family mansion, moved in with these untrained teachers of poor boys, renounced his wealth and his position as Canon, sold all of his possessions, and used the proceeds to buy bread for the poor. Ultimately, John founded and trained the community of consecrated laymen that would become recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as the Brothers of the Christian Schools, now known as the De La Salle Christian Brothers.
De La Salle and his Brothers created a network of schools that featured instruction in the vernacular rather than in Latin, grouping of students by ability and achievement, integration of religious and secular instruction, well-prepared teachers with a sense of vocation and mission, and parental involvement. De La Salle also founded programs for lay teacher training, Sunday courses for working young men, and one of the first institutions in France for the care of delinquents.
His work quickly spread throughout France and, after his death in 1719, continued to spread across the globe. In 1900, he was canonized a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, and in 1950, he was declared patron saint of all those who work in the field of education. St. John Baptist de La Salle inspired others to teach and to care for young people, to meet failure and frailty with compassion, and to affirm, strengthen and heal.
Today, 5300 Brothers serve 875,000 students in 900 schools in 84 countries. CBHS in Memphis is proud to be one of 54 Lasallian high schools in the United States. In addition to a common history and philosophy, Lasallian schools share a common symbol, the Signum Fidei star, Latin for "Sign of Faith," which recalls the star of Bethlehem and reminds us of our purpose.