The Classics of Western Spirituality is perhaps one of the best resources for the writings of the saints. The books are well designed and excellently illustrated, while the introductions allow us to enter more deeply into the text. Of the more recent volumes, the tome on St. John Baptist De La Salle’s writings may be one of the best introductions to La Salle himself and his spirituality.
As is usual with most books in the series, there is an opening essay of La Salle’s life and spirituality. After this, there is a critical analysis of his writings and an examination of how they fit into the overall scheme of things. Personally, I found this to be the most fascinating part of the book since I didn’t know very much about De La Salle at the time and because it also introduced me to his spirituality and the Order that he founded (the Brothers of the Christian Schools).
The main texts that are included are excerpts from La Salle’s letters to his brothers and from his main writings (The Conduct of the Christian Schools and The Duties of a Christian Toward God). These give us a composite picture of who La Salle was and why his methods were so revolutionary. Among the chapters included from The Conduct are those on discipline, the role of the student in the classroom, the behavior of students, and the role of the teacher. In each of these sections, La Salle’s practicality and love for education emerges.
Another point here is that La Salle’s writings are deceptively simple to read. While there are meditations and part of a treatise included here, all of these are pervaded by the spirit of someone who sought to speak to his neighbors and students in a way that was simple and familiar to them.
Like St. Teresa of Avila, La Salle was an extremely practical man who understood the problems that he faced together with his brothers. In the letters reproduced here, he is practical and non-sensical about the various spiritual and disciplinary matters. Yet in all of them one senses a deep humility and love as well as a heart-felt reliance on Divine Providence.
Yet another thing that should be of interest to educators is La Salle’s viewpoint of the child. Rather than looking at a child as fully-grown adult that was expected to act like one, La Salle viewed the student as someone who needed to be moulded by kindness and gentleness rather than severe discipline. In this, he was more than two hundred years ahead of his time and this is also one of the main reasons for why the Brothers’ schools were and still are so popular among students.
Yet for all this, this book is an excellent glimpse into the life and ideas of the patron saint of teachers. Indeed, it should be a source of inspiration to anybody that would like to become a teacher.
Copies of this book are available from amazon.com, here: http://www.amazon.com/John-Baptist-Salle-Spirituality-Christian/dp/0809141620/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1214072373&sr=8-2