The De La Salle Christian Brothers, officially known as the Brothers of the Christian Schools, were founded in Rheims, France in response to a great need of education for the poor.
The Brothers were founded by Saint John Baptist de La Salle in 1679 - 1680. The Founder was responsible for establishing Christian Schools in France. Although he never had the intention of establishing schools nor of directing teachers he gradually found himself involved in the work of education by training teachers and founding parish schools. His desire in training teachers was for them to be good role models for the students as well as competent educators who would prepare their students for the world they would face in their futures.
De La Salle saw very clearly the importance of providing an education that could guarantee each child an opportunity to participate more fully in the life of society and of the Church.
Times were not always easy for John Baptist de La Salle. Although men came to the Brothers but many left because they had gained a career to support themselves as lay teachers. Many also left the Brothers because the life of the early Brothers was very strict and harsh. Because the vocation of a teaching Brother was new, the Brothers were ridiculed because of the new religious garb that they chose to wear. The schools the Brothers established were seen as a competitor with other schools that existed.
In fact, John Baptist de La Salle was taken by the School Masters. There was also disease that caused the death of many Brothers. In some situations the Brothers were torn between the Founder and the local pastor; there were times that the pastor wanted complete control over the Brothers in the parish school. In these situations John Baptist de La Salle would withdraw the Brothers immediately. Also there were times when the Brothers just abandoned the Founder.
Things looked so bleak on November 21, 1691 that John Baptist de La Salle and two Brothers pronounced what became known as the Heroic Vow. The three men vowed they would "work as long as life lasts in order to establish the Institute of the Brothers." They vowed before God and one another that they would remain faithful to their mission as Christian educators even if it meant they had to "beg for alms and live on bread alone".
The remainder of his life De La Salle established many more schools in France. At the time of his death, April 7, 1719, a Good Friday, John Baptist de La Salle had about 100 Brothers in his new religious community who were teaching in Lasallian schools. He left behind a legacy that continues today throughout the world in 83 countries.
The Brothers of the Christian Schools arrived in California in the year 1868. The Archbishop of San Francisco, Archbishop Alemany, had founded Saint Mary's College but it was floundering. He was desperately trying to get the Brothers to come to San Francisco to manage the college because he knew the Brothers to be successful school administrators. Although the Brothers had been approached by Archbishop Alemany there were simply not enough Brothers to send to the West Coast. Finally the Archbishop appealed directly to the Vatican. In his request he stated that the Brothers of the Christian Schools were desperately needed to save Saint Mary's College. And so a small band of Brothers from New York were sent to San Francisco.
In 1870 the Brothers expanded to Southern California. They took charge of an academy of about thirty students attached to Mission Santa Inez. This proved to be a successful work of the Brothers as they established a farm as part of the school. Poultry and produce from the school farm was sent to Saint Mary's College. In 1883 the Mission became part of the Monterey Diocese, at that time the Brothers decided to withdraw from this educational work.
In 1923, Right Reverend Monsignor George Donahoe requested that the Brothers take charge of the upper grades for boys at Sacred Heart School. Two years later the Most Reverend John J. Cantwell, Archbishop of Los Angeles, built a central high school in the city. The Brothers were then transferred from the parish school to Cathedral High School.
Here begins the long history of the Brothers service in the city of Los Angeles.