When they began their work of educating young people in 17th Century France, the men grouped around St John Baptist de La Salle chose the title "Brother" quite deliberately.
At first, when they moved into the house he provided, they were content to see themselves as "school masters". As their commitment to young people grew so did their ideas about their work, their relationship with each other and those whom they taught. They were opening "Christian Schools" not "Charity Schools" which already existed for the very poor.
The "Christian Schools" were free and open to all. The poor were especially welcome but not to an inferior position. The aim of these schools was to place everyone on an equal footing. The disorder of the 17th Century classroom was replaced by order: the harshness by an atmosphere of firmness and kindness. The "Christian Schools" instilled a sense of purpose into the lives of young people who were more used to roaming the streets. These schoolmasters came to see themselves as brothers, not only to each other, but older brothers to the students whom they taught.
Today, there are 9000 De La Salle Brothers, about 200 of whom work in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. There are no longer any de La Salle brothers at the school. Their time among us is commemorated at the schools main entrance.
St John Baptist de La Salle
John Baptist was quite an extraordinary man. Born in a wealthy, middle-class family, he spent his life working for the working class and poor.
Having achieved his childhood ambition of being a priest, at the age of 30 an apparent chance happening brought him into contact with the street kids of his native city, Rheims. Not content with short term solutions, he gradually formed a religious community of men to provide these young people with a Christian education - an education that spoke to the whole person, neither narrowly religious nor merely secular. The schools provided the basis for sustained contact that enabled the development of the type of relationship he saw as essential to education.
At the time of his death in 1719 there were 100 brothers. Today 9000 brothers and other Lasallian groups keep St. John Baptist's spirit alive.