The story of St. La Salle

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

It was during a special visit to the Casa Generalizia de La Salle on Via Aurelia arranged in absentia by Br. Armin Luistro FSC, Superior General of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, for my wife Neni, who was then in Rome, that she came across books she knew would be of special interest to me. She was then staying at the Suore Benedictine Missionarie di Tutzing with the Benedictine Sisters headed by Mother Vicaress Sister Lumen Gloria Dungca, OSB just across the street. During the private tour with Br. Dante Amisola, FSC which brought her to every nook and cranny of the impressive grounds and buildings of the Casa Generalizia, she was invited to get as many of the Lasallian publications her luggage would allow, which she gladly did.

Among the books she brought home for me was a 650-page entitled “De La Salle: A City Saint and the Liberation of the Poor through Education” by Br. Alfred Calcutt FSC published by the De La Salle Publications, Oxford in 1993. This is the most sweeping and comprehensive history of the life of John Baptist de la Salle, founder of the Christian Brothers of the Order of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. He lived from 1651 to 1719.

This book is also a very detailed history of the founding of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, including the many travails and difficulties of the early years of this Order. For those interested in history, St. La Salle’s life largely overlapped with the reign of King Louis XIV who lived from 1661 to 1715. This highly detailed biography is also a very interesting illustration of some aspects of French life in this period. It is a vivid illustration of some aspects of French life not usually covered in history books. This tells the story of urban life, especially the poor and the power structure in the towns outside Paris.

One of the most interesting aspects in this book is the reason for the existence of this Order. In 1721, two years after the death of their founder, the Brothers described in a memoir addressed to the leaders of the town of Rouen how they saw the origin of their order. More than 300 years later, I find that the words in this memoir are still so relevant and should be read by everyone interested in the mission of this Congregation.

“This Institute was started in the year 1680 by Monsieur de la Salle who had great compassion for the large numbers of the children of the poor and of the artisan class, as much because their fathers and others were unable to instruct them in the principles of religion, being for the most part uneducated themselves and obliged to go out daily to earn their livelihood, as because these poor children were left to themselves, he conceived the idea of setting up schools where children of the poor and of the artisan class would learn reading, writing and arithmetic free of charge, and would receive a Christian education through catechism lessons and other daily instructions suitable for forming good Christians.”

There are many interesting stories in this formidable volume that even I did not know the details of. I discovered, for example, the story that St. La Salle did not originate schools for the poor but was inspired by others, especially Adrian Nyel who had started a couple of schools for the poor. St. La Salle started by working with Nyel, who was more interested in traveling and setting up schools rather than managing the schools that he founded.

Eventually, St. La Salle imposed some organization that eventually led to the founding of the Order.

To prepare for his eventual retirement, the Brothers elected, at the instance of St. La Salle, his successor whose name was Joseph Truffett, called Br. Bartholomew.

Last Sunday was the 305th death anniversary of St. La Salle who passed away on Good Friday, April 7, 1719. He was experiencing agonizing final hours which lasted from midnight till half past two the next day, Good Friday. His last words were: “I adore in all things the conduct of God in my regard.”

The Order that St. John Baptist de la Salle founded in 1680 has left a legacy of hundreds of educational institutions all over the world. This includes 18 Lasallian Educational Institutions in the Philippines, which include De La Salle University-Manila which is ranked as the highest private university in the Philippines. DLSU is a multi-campus university in Manila, Makati, Taguig (BGC) and Laguna.

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Summer has come and Writefest for young writers is back! The annual Creative Writing Workshop of Write Things is scheduled on May 20, 22, 24, 27, 29, 31 from 3-5 p.m. It will be a six-day hybrid workshop for kids and teens at Fully Booked BGC and via Zoom. For inquiries: [email protected]

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