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By 1683, during a time of extreme famine in France, John Baptist de La Salle gave away his wealth to the poor of Reims, and became completely involved in the education of the poor.
What started as charitable work with the Sisters of the Child Jesus and helping Adrian Nyel open a school in Rheims, France, for poor boys in 1679, John Baptist de La Salle found himself becoming more involved in the education of the children “left to themselves,” and “far from salvation.”
By 1681, De La Salle had invited the uneducated and disorganized teachers into his home for meals, and later to live with him, so as to be better trained. By 1684, De La Salle and the first educators recognized they were doing the work of God, and called themselves The Brothers of the Christian Schools, even though they were not officially recognized by the international church.
In 1691, after meeting much resistance from ecclesiastic authorities who disagreed with this new religious community of consecrated laymen, De La Salle and two other Brothers, Nicolas Vuyart and Gabriel Drolin, took what is today known as “The Heroic Vow.” They pledged to work “together and by association” to continue the work of educating the poor, even if they had to beg for food and water.
The fledgling Institute continued to grow, with more men joining the Brotherhood, more poor boys and their families enrolling in the “Gratuitous Schools,” and more detractors calling for the close of the rogue educational model and community.
This mission would carry on beyond his death and inspire generations of men to take up this mission of education. By the early 1800’s, the Brothers made their way to North America.
Moving to North America
In 1845, the first U.S. citizen to become a Christian Brother completed his training in Montreal, where the Institute traces its North American beginnings back to 1837. This young man was John McMullen, who was given the name of Brother Francis. In 1845, he and an Irish-Canadian novice, Brother Edward, started conducting the already-existing school (previously staffed by laymen) at Calvert Hall in Baltimore. Today known as Calvert Hall College High School, this became the first permanent Lasallian school in the United States.
In 1848, four Christian Brothers journeyed to New York from France, and within two months they established St. Vincent’s Parochial School on Canal Street. St. Vincent’s relocated to Second Street in 1856, and in 1887 changed its name to La Salle Academy, which stands today.
At the request of Bishop De Charbonnel, five Brothers came to Toronto, Ontario in 1851, opening the first Lasallian school in English-speaking Canada, today known as De La Salle College “Oaklands.”
Loyal to the charism of Saint La Salle, the Christian Brothers responded generously to the tremendous need for Catholic education in many other cities and towns throughout the U.S. By the late 1860s, the New York District was created and quickly became too large for one Brother Visitor (Provincial) to administer, with the schools and communities in the mid-Atlantic becoming the Baltimore District in 1878. With the New York District’s additional growth, the Institute established the Long Island-New England District for the schools in Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island, and Rhode Island, in 1956.
By the 1950s, expansion of the mission and a growing understanding of vocation moved the Brothers to share their mission widely with lay partners. This creative approach has continued today in this country and across the world.
Constituted in 1914, the Toronto District was an integral part of the Institute until a sharp decline resulted in the status of Delegation, effective in 2001. In January 2007, the Delegation of Toronto was incorporated into the New York District.
Years of discussion and diligent planning in light of changing realities, the Districts of Baltimore, Long Island-New England, and New York were canonically combined by the Institute on Wednesday, September 9, 2009 creating the new District of Eastern North America, with its Provincialate in Eatontown, NJ.
Today DENA administers, operates, and educates in more than 30 ministries throughout Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ontario Canada, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Washington D.C. As Lasallians we meet the unique realities and situations of each of our Lasallian students in:
Historical facts & figures provided by: Brother Joseph Grabenstein, FSC