Following are the stories of two teachers motivated by love and compassion, as told in the Loyola Press Saints Kit, a tool for teaching children about saints of the Church.
April 7 is the feast day of St. John Baptist de la Salle (1651–1719), patron saint of teachers.
Born into a powerful, wealthy family, La Salle was educated and prepared for high offices in the Church. When he was ordained, his good looks, polished manners, intelligence, and wealth set him apart from the poor.
By chance, La Salle met Adrian Nyel, who was establishing charitable schools for poor boys. In those days education was reserved for the rich. La Salle disliked the rough behavior of the poor and the smells and sights of the slums, but he had sympathy for their poverty. He found five teachers, rented a home, and opened a school for poor boys. When he came to check on the school, he saw that the teachers were cruel to the children. Moreover, the teachers themselves could not read or write, and they spent their nights drinking and playing cards.
La Salle decided to train the teachers to be religious educators. When he talked about the problems and tried to give them a sense of self-respect, the teachers quit. Others who took their places grew under La Salle’s training in faith, prayer, order, and discipline. La Salle realized he must identify with his teachers. He gave away his fortune and dedicated himself to education. He founded the Brothers of Christian Schools (Christian Brothers). In La Salle’s community, no member would be a priest. The main purposes of his community were to train teachers and provide religious education for the poor.
The students in La Salle’s school went to daily Mass and were taught catechism and prayers; religious was included in all their subjects. The school prepared them for careers and taught them Christian principles that guided their lives. La Salle’s schools were so successful that they soon overflowed with students. Teachers from other schools were jealous and tried to bring lawsuits to ruin his work. Other people praised him. Even King James II of England, in exile in France, sent fifty young gentlemen from his court to be educated at la Salle’s school. La Salle also founded schools for delinquent boys from wealthy families so that they would not be sent to prison.
After suffering from asthma and rheumatism, John de la Salle died on Good Friday.
April 8 is the feast day of St. Julie Billiart (1751–1816), patron saint of catechists.
Julie lived in Cuvilly, a little village in France. Her father kept a shop where he sold laces, linens, and other fine cloth. One night thieves stole most of the cloth. Julie went to work in the fields, harvesting in order to earn money to help her family. During lunch breaks she taught the other workers about God. She also took some leftover material to a nearby town where an honest storeowner bought all the cloth for a fair price.
One day an enemy shot at Julie’s father in the room where Julie was also sitting. No one was hurt, but the shock of the event affected Julie’s nervous system. She was struck with paralysis and became an invalid.
In the years after the French Revolution, the people’s faith was weak. In some places the Church was still persecuted. Julie, firm in her faith, gathered children around her bed to teach them about God. She was reported to the government. To avoid arrest she had to be smuggled from house to house. Once a mob came to a house to burn her, and she escaped in a farmer’s haywagon. She finally found a safe home.
Women who heard of Julie’s holiness came to her for direction. A wealthy woman named Francoise Blin de Bourdon became her close friend. Together with Francoise, who gave her money to the project, Julie founded the Sisters of Notre Dame to care for orphans, to educate poor girls, and to train Christian teachers.
Several years later, a priest asked Julie to pray to the Sacred Heart of jesus for a special intention. Julie began a novena—nine days of special prayer. On the fifth day of the novena, the first day of June—the month dedicated to the Sacred Heart—the priest cane to Julie and said, “If you have any faith, take one step in honor of the Sacred heart of Jesus.” Julie stepped forward. Crippled for more than thirty years, she was completely cured at the age of fifty-three.
Julie’s constant message was “God is good.” Her work, however, was marked by the cross. Once Julie had a vision of sisters standing around the cross. A voice said,’ “Here are the daughters I will give you in the institute marked by the cross.” Although some of Julie’s own Sisters betrayed her, people withdrew support from her schools, and bishops didn’t trust her, Julie never lost hope. She never stopped repeating, “How good is the good God!” She is known as the smiling saint.