By Devin Watkins
The Brothers of the Christian Schools, also known as Lasallians, are commemorating the 300th anniversary of the death of their Founder, St. John Baptist de La Salle.
He established the Institute of religious brothers in France, in 1680, to provide quality education for poor children.
In an address on Thursday, Pope Francis praised St. de La Salle as “a pioneer in the field of education, who created an innovative education system for his time.”
The Pope said the Saint’s legacy is still remarkable today for its vision of the school, the concept of the teacher, and innovative teaching methods.
Right to education
Considering these three elements separately, Pope Francis said de La Salle’s vision of the school made clear that all people, even the poor, have a right to education.
“He gave life to a community of lay people to carry out his ideal, and was certain that the Church cannot remain a stranger to the social contradictions of its times,” he said.
Most education in 17th century France was done by priests. The formation of the laity as teachers was therefore revolutionary, and the Lasallians became a type of “lay monk” dedicated to teaching poor children.
Teaching as a mission
Pope Francis then reflected on St. John Baptist de La Salle’s concept of the teacher.
“He was certain that schooling was an important reality, which requires adequately-prepared instructors,” said the Holy Father.
Taking stock of the structural deficiencies of his day’s educational system, de La Salle decided that teaching is not just a job but a mission, and surrounded himself with people who had natural qualities conducive to education and formed them in the “dignity of the teacher”.
Revolutionary teaching methods
The Pope said the Saint also put into practice new teaching methods, enlightened by “an extraordinary pedagogical realism”.
He held lessons in French – rather than the Latin that was widely used at the time – and divided pupils into homogeneous groups in order to better educate them. De La Salle even held seminars to form teachers in the countryside and founded Sunday Schools for adults.
“He dreamed of a school open to all,” said the Pope, “and thus dealt with even the most extreme educational needs, introducing a method of rehabilitation through school and work.”
Offer hope through education
Finally, Pope Francis urged the Brothers of the Christian Schools to “imitate his passion for the least and discarded” and to contrast the culture of death with a “culture of the resurrection”.
“Never tire of seeking those who find themselves in the modern ‘graves’ of bewilderment, degradation, discomfort, and poverty,” he said, “to offer hope for a new life.”