“The Brothers have demonstrated permanency by providing for over three centuries an astonishing array of activities from the most basic literacy learning to the most complicated technological learning for both children and adults … so that they can be fully integrated into community and society.”
The Beginnings and Today
Deeply moved by the way in which “the children of the artisans and the poor families” – depending on menial jobs, poorly paid, and often unemployed – were abandoned and left to themselves, John Baptist de La Salle, as a practical response, after prayerful consideration of this fact in relation to God’s plan of salvation, devoted himself to forming school masters totally dedicated to teaching and to Christian education.
On June 24, 1681, De La Salle brought these first teachers to his own family home. On June 24, 1682, he moved out of his family house in order to live together with these teachers in community and subsequently founded with them the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools.
Today, in order to respond to this divine plan and to situations of distress similar to those that the Founder knew, the Institute (the Christian Brothers) seeks to be present in the world today as part of the Church’s work in spreading the gospel.
Today, like yesterday, the Brothers are concerned above all with the educational needs of the poor as they strive to become aware of their dignity and to live and be recognized as human beings and children of God. For that purpose, the Brothers establish, renew, and diversify their works according to what God requires of them.
De La Salle’s vision was to create a community of lay educators centered on the integration of two powerful elements: faith and zeal. De La Salle convinced the first members of his new congregation that their work as educators was first of all a work of God.
This passion for God and for his saving plan was ignited by a vision that they could only see and understand in the light of faith. At the same time, the passion for the educational service of the poor was the compelling force bringing them together. This passion for God and for the poor is at the heart of what is most important in the community of Brothers. Faith kindles in the Brothers an ardent zeal, a passionate love for those confided to their care in order to open their hearts to salvation.
Salvation revealed in Jesus Christ is not exclusively an “other-worldly” salvation. Rather, it offers the possibility of a life of fullness, participating in society as useful citizens and members of the church. These two gifts – faith and zeal (the compassionate love for the poor) – have been hallmarks of the congregation and qualities that imbue the schools the Christian Brothers sponsor.
What Does It Mean to be a Brother Today?
In the modern world, Christian Brothers are considered to be “religious” laymen in the Catholic Church. They are not priests. They do not take Holy Orders and do not have sacramental responsibilities. De La Salle and his Brothers decided that they could best fulfill their founding purpose if they concentrated solely on the ministry of teaching.
Brothers, in fidelity to the call of the Spirit and the charism of their Funder, consecrate themselves to God in order to exercise, by association, their apostolic ministry. They are not called by any other name than “Brother” – Brothers to one another, Brothers to the families they serve, Brothers to their colleagues in the implementation of their projects, Brothers to the children and youth entrusted to their care. They live in community. By the fraternal character of their relationships in community and by their selfless and creative presence among students and colleagues, they bear witness to the possibility of creating true brotherhood among people and nations, regardless of ethnic background or religious views.
In response to the call of the Holy Spirit, each Brother freely and without any thought of turning back, bases his whole existence on the gospel in order to follow Jesus Christ. Accordingly, he consecrates himself entirely to the Holy Trinity to procure the glory of God in the ministry of Christian education.
This consecration is expressed in the following vows which Brothers take:
- Chastity … rooted in the gospel and lived celibacy as an expression of love;
- Poverty … in order to follow Jesus Christ who was poor and in order to serve all his brothers and sisters, especially those most in need;
- Obedience … based on the gospel, is a communion with the Holy spirit who unites the will of the brothers progressively to that of Christ;
- Association … for the service of the poor through education, having in view always the promotion of justice, especially providing education to the economically deprived, victims of social injustice, delinquents and those neglected by the rest of society;
- Stability … with the intention to guarantee the continuity of the mission, remaining in community for the mission.
Brothers are convinced that their lives are transformed by the presence of the Lord who calls, consecrates, sends and saves. Consecration, community and mission are not disconnected dimensions of their identity. Over the years, in their life journey, they respond to the successive calls of God in the various stages of their lives, personally integrating, again and again, their “consecration in community for mission.”
A Worldwide Dimension
Over their history, the De La Salle Brothers have been remarkably creative in adjusting to changing needs and circumstances. Throughout their history, this creativity has become a hallmark of the congregation. They have expanded their attention from the first days of the congregation to include traditional schools at all grade levels. Today, their ministries include an exhausting array of educational opportunities throughout the world. Their schools range from centers for street children in Kenya to elementary and secondary schools to sponsoring top colleges and universities in the United States and elsewhere. In terms of the latter, they now have a well established network of post secondary institutions, professional schools, and ministries for populations with special needs. In 2008, the congregation’s schools were responsible for the education of one million students around the world.
Schools in the United States
Christian Brothers schools, now called Lasallian schools, provide a Catholic education in more pre-college schools in the United States than any other religious congregation. In 2008, these schools include: