The Lasallian Heritage supports education that is truly transformative, both for the individual and the society around them, and is part of the essential nature of Saint Mary's College.
The College's foundation is built on the life of Saint John Baptist de La Salle (1651 – 1719), founder of the Brothers of the Christian Schools and patron saint of teachers. The Lasallian Mission is shared by students, Christian Brothers, faculty and staff in 82 countries. Together we strive to understand and live by the five Lasallian Core Principles: Faith in the Presence of God, Concern for the Poor and Social Justice, Quality Education, Inclusive Community, and Respect for All Persons.
The life of our Founder is perhaps best understood as the story of one man's openness to God's providential will, an openness that took many years and countless decisions to cultivate. His biography is not filled with miraculous tales, great adventure or dramatic moments of epiphany. Instead, De la Salle's steps toward heroic virtue were sometimes unsteady and unsure.
John Baptist de la Salle was born on April 30, 1651 in Rheims, France during the reign of Louis XIV to a family of privilege and modest wealth. He entered the priesthood, and was made a canon in the cathedral while still a teenager, putting him on the road to high ecclesiastical power. The death of his parents before ordination temporarily changed his plans — he left seminary to care for his younger brothers, but was eventually ordained and resumed his climb to high-church rank.
In March 1679 De la Salle met Adrien Nyel, a layman and social services administrator for the poor, when the two coincidentally met while visiting the same convent. Nyel recruited the young priest to help open a parish school for poor boys. It was the first step on a lifelong journey that De la Salle had not foreseen. He went on to found many more schools for poor boys and establish a religious community of lay teachers, men he called "Brothers," to conduct those schools.
Led by God, De la Salle threw himself into the work of providing desperately-needed education for the poor. Challenged by his Brothers to rely on Providence, he resigned his canonry in Rheims and spent the next 30 years establishing institutions to meet the needs of the poor throughout France: primary schools, teacher training centers, boarding schools and homes for delinquents. His insistence on teaching practical subjects and religion in his students' native tongue and his use of the simultaneous method of instruction (rather than private tutorials) made him an educational innovator, but De la Salle was seen above all as a visionary who regarded schools as communities of faith. "Teachers are 'ambassadors of Christ' and 'ministers of grace'," he wrote later. He believed that teachers have a providential and priviliged relationship with their students.
In his later days De la Salle reflected on the challenges and difficulties of his earlier life, noting that he might never have taken the first step of his journey if he had known all of the challenges that awaited him. Among those challenges were the deaths and departures of many Brothers, lawsuits from competing educators and tensions with high-ranking French church officials. In April 1719 the Archbishop of Rouen, over some minor point of contention, stripped priestly faculties from De la Salle as he lay dying. On Good Friday a Brother asked De la Salle if he accepted his sufferings, and he replied "Yes, I adore in all things the will of God in my regard." Those were his last words. De la Salle was a man of untiring faith and zeal who inspired in modest revolution in Christian education, and whose vision continues to stir the hearts of educators around the world over 320 years later.
“The Brothers of the Christian Schools began making a difference in people's lives over 320 years ago. We were founded by St. John Baptist de La Salle, a French priest, who saw the need for a group of lay men who would dedicate their lives to the ministry of Christian education, especially for the poor. Our mission has always been 'to give a human and Christian education to the young, especially the poor.' Today we minister with over 73,000 lay colleagues and teach over 900,000 students in 80 countries.”