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Catechetical Saints: St. John Baptist de la Salle
After all these years of writing these articles, I surprised myself just recently when I realized that in all the many saints I have discussed in these pages, I had yet to talk about the life and work of St. John Baptist de la Salle. He is known as the Father of Modern Pedagogy. He was the first educator to desire that lessons be taught in French, and not in Latin, as was the case. He believed that students should be grouped in classes according to their age and ability. He believed that the textbooks should be the same for all students in that class. These things are so commonplace for us teaching in the western world that we probably have not realized that these things were revolutionary in the 17th century - and that we owe them to a French priest, the founder of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, also known as the Christian Brothers. Unfortunately the limited space of these articles does not allow us to delve fully into the life of these catechetical saints. But what we can observe here is that de la Salle became enamored with the education of children and the training of teachers, even to the point of taking the teachers into his own home, to provide them with both physical as well as emotional support in their difficult and often discouraging efforts. Eventually, de la Salle gathered about him young men who were desirous of following him. In 1864, he distributed his inherited wealth to the poor, and thus the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools had its very humble and simple beginning. He determined that there would be no priests in the Institute. The brothers were to devote their entire lives to the education of youth, and priestly duties would not allow them to be free to engage in such a focused ministry.