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"Most holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, prostrate in a profound respect before your infinite and adorable majesty, we consecrate ourselves entirely to you, to procure with all our power and with all our care the establishment of the society of the Christian Schools in the manner that appears to us to be the most agreeable to you and the most advantage to the said Society. And for this purpose I, John Baptist de La Salle, Priest; I, Nicholas Vuyart, and I, Gabriel Drolin, from this moment and for always until the last survivor, or till the establishment of the said Society has been completely achieved, make the vow of Abandonment and union to bring about and maintain the said establishment, without our being able to abandon it, even if we were to remain just we three in the said Society, and that we were obliged to beg alms and live on bread alone. In view of which, we promise to do unanimously and with a common consent, whatever we believe in conscience and without any human consideration to be for the greater good of the said Society. Done this twenty-first of November, the day of the Presentation of the Most Blessed Virgin, 1691, in faith of which we have signed."
Abandonment: to leave completely and finally; forsake utterly; desert
While John Baptist de La Salle has been proclaimed a saint and patron of teachers, he was first of all a human being. He experienced the emotional complexities each of us does throughout life. De La Salle, in some respects, lived from crisis to crisis and experienced a series of losses and rejection not only by people of casual acquaintance but more deeply consequential was the rejections by his family and brothers. We all find ourselves feeling isolated and alone from time to time. In the first semester we look at De La Salle's experience.
Several of the readings compare selections from two or three biographies: Maillefer, Brother Bernard, and Brother Luke Salm. Each has a unique take on De La Salle’s experience. And, it’s good to know there are several resources available.
The Death of his Mother and Father
He profited from his stay at Saint Sulpice to reflect seriously on the irrevocable step he was about to take in accepting the subdiaconate which he was preparing to receive. While awaiting ordination, he learned on July 20, 1671, of his mother’s death. However painful this blow was, it did not interrupt the course of his studies, though it did for some time keep him undecided about the future. God permitted that he should be the prey to severe uncertainty to teach him early on to preserve an interior calm amid the trials he would subsequently have to pass through in life as a purification of his virtue. We shall see ample evidence of this later on.
His sorrow was still acute when he received the sad news of the death of his father, so soon after the passing of his mother. In fact, there were only nine months between their deaths, for his father died on April 9, 1672.It is easy to imagine the sorrow that filled his heart. The more Christian one is, the more one is touched by such events.
He returns to Reims.
He resolved then to leave Paris, after being there for only eighteen months, to return to Reims. His presence was needed at home in these sad circumstances. He was only twenty-one years old when he thus took charge of the family affairs and of the education of his orphaned young brothers. He also had to manage domestic matters, which necessarily become more complicated under such circumstances. In all of this his thought was of the will of God, which orders all things, and he submitted himself to it.
The many activities that demanded his attention at this time did not prevent him from thinking of the resolution he had formed at Saint Sulpice in Paris to receive sacred orders. He was old enough for ordination, but in a matter of such importance he did not wish to act without the advice of enlightened persons. With this in mind, he consulted Nicolas Roland, canon and theologian of Reims.
(From Maillefer’s biography)
Step two recounts the death of De La Salle's parents from two different sources. As the biographer notes it was an interruption to his seminary training. It forced his return how to take care of his family.
John Baptist de La Salle was in the final weeks of his first year at the seminary in Paris when he learned of the death of his mother in July 1671. Less than nine months later, during the Holy Week retreat at the seminary, word came that his father had died on April 9. After only 18 months at Saint Sulpice De La Salle had to leave the seminary for good in order to attend to family affairs back in Reims. He arrived home just before his twenty-first birthday in April 1672.
A complex set of responsibilities awaited the young canon. As executor of his father's will he had to provide for the equitable distribution of the family inheritance, collect and manage the revenue from his father's property holdings and investments, and assume his own role as head of the household. Although himself legally a minor-the age of majority at the time was 25-he became the legal guardian of his four brothers and two sisters.
It might easily be presumed that under these circumstances De La Salle would have struggled through a crisis in his vocation to the priesthood. Man of faith that he was, he might well have been inclined to interpret these events as a sign that God was directing him along another path. But he had also learned in the months at Saint Sulpice not to trust his own judgment in such matters. Accordingly he looked about for a spiritual director to guide him through this difficult time.
He found such a one in the person of Father Nicolas Roland, a man ten years older than himself and a fellow canon in the cathedral chapter of Reims. In order to keep open the option of the priesthood, Roland suggested that he enroll at once in the University of Reims to complete the theology courses that he had begun the previous autumn in Paris. Then, as Pentecost approached, and supported in overcoming his hesitation by Roland's advice, De La Salle decided to present himself for ordination to the subdiaconate. The ceremony took place in the chapel of the archbishop on the eve of Trinity Sunday, June 11, 1672.
At the same time there were problems at home to be taken care of. Shortly after the ordination of John Baptist as subdeacon Marie, the older of his two sisters, went to live with the maternal grandmother, Perrette Lespagool Moet. She took with her their youngest brother, Jean-Remy, who was not quite two years old. The younger sister, Rose-Marie, had already entered the convent of the Canonesses of Saint Augustine in Reims shorty before the father's death. This left John Baptist with only three of his younger brothers to care for in the house on the Rue Sainte Marguerite: Jacques-Joseph, who was 13 years old; Jean-Louis who was eight, and Pierre who was six.
From the biography of Maillefer
Teachers Move into his house 1681.
He had the masters move into his own house, therefore, on the feast of his patron, Saint John the Baptist. From this moment the public, who had previously suspended judgment on his activities, began to criticize him. Now was the time to expect opposition, of which he had much, especially on the part of his relatives and friends. They could not resist blaming him for the bizarre move, as they called it, which he had just made. It required all the virtue he possessed to listen to the many objections and jokes made at his expense. Some people out of worldly considerations, others because of their irritation, blamed him for his action. The more thoughtful admired his zeal with-out passing judgment, but few approved of what he did.
Reproaches of his family.
The most difficult complaints he had to put up with were those of his own family, who were much attached to him but who were aware of what people were saying about him. In an effort to dissuade him from his resolutions, everyone brought up what seemed most disagreeable in his actions. A few of his relatives, more vexed and upset than the others, claimed that he had dishonored his family and his social class by assuming responsibility for the conduct of people of low birth and no education. They objected to his bringing these strangers to his table and making no distinction between them and his own brothers, who were not used to leading this unusual type of life and for whom it was most unbecoming. They warned him that this practice would alienate not only his own household but everyone else. His only answer to all these arguments was patience. In some cases his opponents were quite edified at his Christian spirit of moderation, and they re- fused to stand in his way further for fear of directly opposing the designs of God. Others saw their efforts have no effect on him or his resolutions, and from that time on they regarded him as a person so strongly attached to his own opinion that he could not be dissuaded. They resolved to have his three brothers taken from his house.
From the Biography of Brother Bernard
M. de La Salle invites the teachers into his own home; his relatives object and convince two of his own brothers to leave home;
It is not sufficient to form good resolutions; they must be put into practice. To do otherwise would be to become like those persons spoken of by Saint James who, gazing in a mirror, immediately forget what they looked like. But this was not the case with our man of God. His character and disposition were such that if he formed good resolutions, he put them into practice as soon as he possibly could. This is what he did when he decided to bring the teachers into his own home. In the preceding chapter we saw that his love for good order led him to invite the teachers to take their meals with him. Because he found no great problem with this, he then decided to bring them completely into his home. From the feast of Easter to that of Saint John the Baptist, the teachers had been coming to his home for meals and remaining there all the time they were not in school. During this period the good order and regular observance found there and the instability of M. Nyel, who was always on the go, confirmed M. de La Salle’s intention to bring the teachers to live in his own home. This he did on the feast of Saint John the Baptist in the year 1681. This date is noteworthy, for the saint whose name he received at baptism was his patron, and he had a particular devotion to him. We might note too that M. Nyel also lived with the teachers.
What the holy priest had foreseen soon came to pass. As soon as six or seven teachers of little standing in a worldly sense became noticed, simply dressed in rabat and short black robe without either mantle or hood, tongues began to wag. No one spoke directly to the holy priest, in view of the people’s great respect for him. His relatives and friends were quite disturbed, but because he acted completely independently of them, even their pain, which undoubtedly he keenly felt, did not shake his resolution.
It would take a person of his courage and fortitude to remain firm in the face of so many objections and reproaches from various people who thought he was bringing dishonor upon his distinguished family. But what should have shaken him served only, it seems, to strengthen him all the more. He displayed heroic patience by listening to objections and reproaches to which he answered not a word. This is borne out in the testimony of one of his virtuous aunts, whose piety was equaled by her nobility of birth. She told a person worthy of credence that the family would gather on occasion at M. de La Salle’s home to share meals and to foster their union, because he was responsible, as the eldest son, for his brothers’ upbringing. This was also the custom among many other pious families. Because our man of God held the first place in the family, he had to summon all his patience during these dinners to put up with the reprimands from the entire family for the foolishness they felt he showed in taking care of the schoolteachers at the expense of his own family. On these occasions he would simply cross his arms and listen patiently to the reasons each one brought forth as to why he should change his mind, and he would not offer a single word in his own defense.
It was particularly displeasing to his relatives that there was only one table and that, therefore, his own brothers and the teachers ate together. The oldest of his three brothers willingly followed the same regulations as the teachers, as much as his studies would allow. This brother had a great affection for John Baptist and did not want to leave him, despite the encouragement he received to follow the ex- ample of the two younger ones, who left the house. Because he was provoked to dislike John Baptist, the older of these two126 left six months after the events mentioned above to live with his brother-in- law. Some time later, the youngest brother was also taken away to reside as a boarding student with the Canons Regular at Senlis. Thus it was that only the oldest brother did not want to leave, as we have said.
From the Biography of Maillefer
Most of the teachers become discouraged.
The rapid success of these first ventures gave promise of what might be hoped for in the future. However, it was too early for De La Salle to be too pleased. God made him experience all those trials which ordinarily surround new foundations that are still fragile. Although he thought he had set up the schools so that they could take care of themselves, he soon saw his work on the brink of ruin. The teachers whom he had gathered together in the same house to accustom them to a regular life found this arrangement too tedious. Their religious exercises were bothersome, their food too simple, and their freedom limited. They preferred to throw off the yoke which they had considered sweet enough up to then and which they had freely accepted. They no longer considered the ordinary exercises of piety to their taste, although these had previously seemed so useful and sanctifying. It is easy to imagine how De La Salle, seeing this, was filled with sorrow. He did all he could to rekindle their fervor and to bring them back on the straight path. But so great was their distaste for this kind of life that he was obliged to renounce any further efforts to help them; he had to let them leave. His kind and touching words to them did not make any impression, for they had already made up their minds. The remedies he wished to use to heal their wounds only made matters worse. They thought nothing of what they owed him for having taken them under his care and for having received them into his own home. They forgot the respect and gratitude they owed to his kindness and good example, and they left his house, abandoning forever the resolution they had taken of consecrating themselves to the teaching of youth. There remained only a few, more faithful and better grounded in their vocation, who refused to follow the undisciplined ones who left.
De La Salle encourages those who remain.
It cannot be denied that De La Salle was shaken by these many defections and considered giving up all further involvement with the work. It seemed to him that after having undertaken the instruction of the poor for their good, from the purest of motives, and with all his energies, he could have expected greater success. However, human thoughts are too limited to penetrate the designs of God. After thinking over everything that had happened so quickly and unexpectedly, he profited by the humiliation he had suffered to renew his zeal. Filled with renewed confidence, he gathered together with thanksgiving what remained of his scattered flock. He strove to reassure them in the face of their companions’ defections; by his prayers, his example, and his kind and affectionate exhortations he strengthened them against temptation.
From the biography of Brother Bernard
Most of the teachers leave M. de La Salle;
This state of life was not acceptable to those living only according to natural inclinations. We read something of this in the life of Saint Ignatius, who with six companions founded his Society of Jesus in Spain only to have everyone leave him, but when he went to Paris, God sent others to take their place.
The same sort of thing happened to M. de La Salle. Most of the teachers who originally lived with M. Nyel in the house M. de La Salle had rented for them were undisciplined and led a life of freedom in- compatible with community life. They could not endure for long the well-ordered and secluded style of life envisioned for them by M. de La Salle. Because they preferred to live more freely and independently, they soon decided to leave. Several others had to be sent away, for although they were sufficiently devout, they lacked the talent and the vocation for teaching. They had been accepted originally only out of necessity. Soon, in less than ten months, an entirely new group was formed, except for one or two of the original number.
At the end of six months, toward the beginning of the year 1682, new candidates presented themselves who were apt for teaching, sufficiently devout, and disposed to living in community. It was at this time that a true community life began to exist in the house and that what have since come to be called the exercises were initiated. These are still observed today in all the Institute’s houses. The teachers took a common form of dress, as we shall see, and from this time on became known as Brothers.
M. de La Salle noticed that several teachers, from the time they first began to live in his home until the end of 1682, were tempted to leave because, as they said, they were not sure about what the future might hold for them in this form of life. The holy priest attempted to persuade them to remain and reassured them that they should abandon themselves to God, who would never fail them in their need. They in turn pointed out to him that it was easy enough for him to speak like this, for if the schools failed he could fall back upon his canonry and patrimony which would more than cover his needs.
Edified by the silence and recollection which reigned among these solitaries, his attraction for a retired life grew stronger than ever, and he would have wished to end his days among them. Among all the devotional places in the holy monastery that de La Salle visited, his heart was most charmed by the hermitage of Saint Bruno. His own associations with the saint touched him; and if he had followed his inclination, he would have been the second canon of Rheims who hid in a cleft of those rocks. He had to do violence to his piety in order to leave the place; but if he went away in body, his spirit remained behind.
What might also be mentioned, but the key was quite different, was the refuge he found “in the most retired room on the top floor of the house” where he devoted himself to mental prayer “that had no other measure than that of the day itself”. But the context at this stage was that of community life.
Finally, after submitting himself to a radical and painful treatment for the rheumatism that afflicted him, he went to convalesce in the home of a priest friend. This was Father Yse de Saléon living in the small village of Tullins, where, some distance away, on the hill of Parménie (Permeigne) the hermitage of Sister Louise was established. She was to be the one who would turn de La Salle away from the temptation to end his days as a hermit.
The holy priest admitted to her that he ardently longed to spend the rest of his days in solitude, which attracted him strongly so as not to have to think of anything except God and himself. Such is not God’s will,” replied Louise. “You must not abandon the family God has made you the father of. Labour is your lot; you must persevere in it to the end of your days, combining as you have done heretofore,
John Baptist de La Salle seemed to be seeking out his vocation, far removed from the Brothers, in solitude or rather in devoting himself “to the conversion of sinners”. Sister Louise made him become aware that he had already found it: his place was in the midst of his Brothers.
(Brother Jean-Louis SCHNEIDER
JOHN BAPTIST DE LA SALLE (1711 – 1714)
or “THE TEMPTATION of PARMÉNIE”
*Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat;r but if it dies, it produces much fruit.
This semester starts with revisiting De La Salle. We go on to look at our own life changes and transitions.
South of France
A Trouble at Mende (155?) / 158 The Work Is Yours
Whatever the state of the Founder's mind at the time, or however resolved or unresolved his doubts may have been after the weeks of retreat, De La Salle left the Sainte Baume, probably in June 1713, and headed for Mende, far to the west, where the community appeared to be in deep trouble. The sources are sometimes obscure and sometimes conflicting on the details of the situation, but there is a certain consistency in the accounts.
The villain of the piece seems to have been a certain Brother Medard. After being transferred from Calais to Marseille in 1708 and from there to Grenoble, he decided to leave the Institute. Welcomed back by De La Salle at Marseille in 1712, he again took the habit in the novitiate there and, quite possibly, became identified with the
malcontents. Sent by Brother Ponce from Marseille to the school at Mende, be soon resumed his errant ways. He gradually won over his companion, Brother Isidore, to an easy lifestyle and the cultivation of extensive social contacts with the notables of the town. The errant Brothers resisted all attempts of the Director, Brother Henri, to bring them to order. To make matters worse, Brother Ponce, who as regional superior should have dealt with the situation, was on his way back to Rouen, where he soon left the Institute.
When news reached Mende that De La Salle was on his way, Brothers Medard and Isidore hurried to the bishop and the mayor to get their support for maintaining the status quo. Thus, when the Founder arrived on the scene, he was utterly frustrated in trying to deal effectively with the problem. He did not want to alienate the new
bishop, Pierre Baglin de La Salle, by insisting on the Institute policy of assigning Brothers where they could do the most good. The bishop and the mayor, for their part, pointed out with some reason that in the six years since the school had been opened for too many Brothers had been transferred elsewhere or had left the Institute. It was a further blow to the Founder to be told point blank that he could not be accommodated in the Brothers' house and that the community did not have the resources to provide his meals. Forced to seek hospitality with the Capuchins for a time, De La Salle was then invited to stay at the house of Mlle Lescure, Foundress of the Ladies of the Christian Union, a new congregation similar in many respects to
that of the Brothers. De La Salle was happy to assist her in composing a Rule for these Sisters. Otherwise, during the two months that he stayed in Mende, De La Salle devoted himself to solitude and prayer, apart from the Brothers, and still undetermined about what it was God wanted of him. During this time, Brother Timothee came from Marseille to Mende looking for his Superior. Turned away from the community of the Brothers as the Founder had been, be found De La Salle at the Lescure house. He brought the news that the Marseille novitiate, where he had been Director, was now completely empty of novices, and he asked for a new assignment for himself. Blain quotes the Founder's response: "Why do you come to me with all of this? Don't you know that I am not competent to give orders to others? Are you not aware that there are many Brothers who no longer want to have
anything to do with me? They say they no longer want me as their Superior. And they are right. I am really incapable of that any more."
There is good reason to accept the authenticity of the account and the substance of the quotation, since Blain was writing under the direction of the same Brother Timothee, who had by that time become Superior General. Maillefer's version of this incident is even more forceful. He situates it in the context of the Founder's stay at Saint Maximin near the Sainte Baume rather than at Mende. In this version, the Founder says to Brother Timodlee (who is not named but identified simply as the "superior of the novitiate at Marseille') that "he was surprised" that the Brothers were still thinking about him; that "he had hoped by leaving Marseille and retiring into solitude that people would soon get used to forgetting about him altogether;" that he found his hideaway so much to his liking that he was resolved to stay hidden there and to condemn himself to perpetual silence."
Whether the interview with Timothee took place at Saint Maximin or Mende, the latter being the more likely since Blain was close to the source, it would seem that the Founder's sense of abandonment and betrayal carried from the one place to the other. The cool reception from the Brothers at Mende would have done nothing to dispel it. MIle Lescute meanwhile was trying to induce De La Salle to settle
permanently in Mende, promising to provide him with room and board for life and, after his death, to subsidize another Brother for the school. Brother Timothee's visit came at a providential time. According to Blain, it took all of Timothee's powers of persuasion to convince De La Salle that the Brothers still needed him and wanted him to continue at the head of the Society. So encouraged, De La Salle refused the temptiog offer of Mlle Lescure, yet he was still not entirely certain about what he eventually ought to do. When it came time for him to leave Mende, Mlle Lescure, though somewhat disappointed, graciously provided a horse for his long journey back to Avignon and Grenoble.
During the following winter, De La Salle came close to losing his life. He was returning from a visit to the country, probably On family business as was his custom, when he was caught in a blinding snowstorm. The road became obliterated, and he fell into a deep ditch. The more he struggled to free himself, the deeper he sank into the mire. Close to exhaustion and about to lose consciousness, he made one desperate effort and was finally able to free himself. He suffered a rupture as a result; whenever it acted up in later years, he would be
reminded to thank divine Providence for saving him from almost certain death in the freezing snow.
Luke Salm, This Work is Yours, p. 34
Brush with Death
Another Brush with Death (65)
Toward the end of 1690 De La Salle fell ill and almost died. Although he was only 39 years old, it is not surprising that his physical frame, which had always been somewhat delicate, should become exhausted from the excessive burden of the work, the stress and anxiety in facing almost constant opposition, the long hours devoted to prayer, and the austerity of a lifestyle that included rather severe penitential practices.
The first attack came after De La Salle had undertaken to go by foot on the long journey from Paris to Reims in order to attend to some urgent business. Although he wished to return quickly to Paris, he was unable to ignore or to conceal his weakened condition, and was forced to take to his bed. The Brothers at Reims, who had not seen him in two years, were horrified at first when they saw how emaciated he had become. But they lavished on him all the care that the love of devoted sons could devise and all the remedies that their meager resources could provide. In a short time the needed rest and nourishment began to have their effect in restoring him to health. It was during this illness that his maternal grandmother, Perrette Lespagnol, now the widow of Jean Moet, came to visit him at the Rue Neuve. She asked to be shown to his sick room. De La Salle sent word that she was not to be admitted to the upper floors of the house. She, who of all the family had always sided with John Baptist, insisted that it was her right to visit a sick man who was her very own grandchild and godchild. Instead, De La Salle made the effort to get dressed and to receive her in the parlor. He calmed her remonstrances by pointing out that it was a strict rule-as it was in most religious communities of men-that women not be allowed in the living quarters of the house. He did not want to make an exception in his own
case, but he assured her that he loved her all the same and that he was recovering nicely.
As soon as he was able, De La Salle set off again for Paris, much against the doctor's advice. When he arrived back at the Rue Princesse he was so exhausted and so ill that he again had to be put to bed. This time, despite the attentive care of the Brothers, he did not rally and his condition grew worse. Within six weeks he was suffering intensely from a retention of urine and it seemed that death was imminent.
Filled with consternation the Brothers began to storm heaven, praying that their Father not be taken from them so prematurely. They contacted the famous physician Adrien Helvetius, well known to the Sulpician community for his effectiveness in treating Father Tronson three years earlier. The doctor proposed a remedy, warning De La Salle that it would either cure him or kill him. In an attitude of submission to the will of God,John Baptist agreed to go through with the remedy. The doctor recommended that Holy Communion in the form of Viaticum be administered beforehand to support the patient.
Tbe procession with the Blessed Sacrament to the bed of the sick man was a solemn affair. Father Baudrand himself beaded the group of several priests from the Sulpician community and the seminary, all dressed in surplices and carrying lighted candles. In the sick room, the Brothers were all in tears, begging their Father's blessing. Baudrand assured them that if the worst were to happen, be himself would be a father to them. De La Salle, dressed in surplice and stole to receive his Lord, could barely speak, but Blain tells us that be finally whispered,
"I recommend that you remain closely united and in complete obedience." Someone bad to bold his band to give his blessing. He then received the sacrament with his customary fervor and faith.
After the priests bad left, Helvetius administered his remedy. He stayed with the patient for a considerable time until be was sure that the remedy was producing the desired effect. De La Salle soon began to show signs of recovery. Within a few days he was able to take some nourishment, and his strength began to return. During his long convalescence, the holy priest protested all the special care that was being taken of him, saying that be ought to be sent to the General Hospice with the rest of the sick poor. Through it all, he remained utterly calm and resigned to the will of God. Once his recovery was sufficiently advanced, he resumed his work and his austere life, confident that the success of the Christian Schools depended not on his health or even his life but on the will of God. As long as possible he would continue to exert himself to the utmost to
procure God's glory as far as he was able and as God would require of him.
Pages 164 and 170 from This Work is Yours
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
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