» April 7 – Death of De La Salle

April 7 – Death of De La Salle

This is the day on the Catholic Church calendar when the life of St. John Baptist de La Salle is celebrated.

April 7, 2019, will be the 300th anniversary of De La Salle’s death.

In the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, founded by St. John Baptist de La Salle in 1680 in France, the celebration of his life and charism usually occurs on May 15th, the date in 1950 when De La Salle was promulgated as the Special Patron of All Teacher of Youth by the Catholic Church.

 ONLINE RESOURCES

1) To learn more about his life and charism, go the www.dlsfootsteps.org for a virtual tour.

2) Further online information and links may be found at Wikipedia, WikiVisually, and other places.

3) Various kinds of artwork are collected on this Google Photos album.

4) The Motherhouse in Rome has a number of resources on its Biography page about De La Salle.

5) There are two Lasalliana articles – one by Br. Alain Houry (LINK) and another by Br. Charles Gatt (LINK) that speak about De La Salle as the Patron Saint of Teachers.


Description of De La Salle’s Death

Taken from “De La Salle: A City Saint and the Liberation of the Poor Through Education by Br. Alfred Calcutt, FSC

The Founder’s last weeks

Ash Wednesday fell on February 22nd this year. “Towards the beginning of Lent, the asthma increased and suffocated him so much that it prevented him breathing. In spite of this discomfort he could not refrain from wanting to keep the Lenten fast with as much exactness as if he had been in perfect health. The Brothers begged him in vain to take some relief. He answered them that the victim was ready to be immolated and that he had to strive to purify it. They believed that Brother Bartholomew, back from a journey he had made to Paris, would have more credit over his attitude. He joined his entreaties to those of the Brothers, but just as vainly. M. de La Salle told him that he knew his needs and begged him not to impose a ruling in this circumstance. They had recourse to his confessor, who acted with authority and forbade him to keep the fast. He was therefore obliged to submit and to accept the relief proposed to him.

His malady got worse. A violent headache arose with a pain in the side that brought him to exhaustion. “He could no longer find any rest nor peaceful position. The doctor was called and had no sooner seen him that he judged his illness was mortal. This holy man received this news with a joyful and tranquil expression, manifesting with Saint Paul the ardent desire he had to leave the earth so as to go and be reunited to Jesus Christ, his divine Master. Nevertheless, all the remedies were tried that were believed the most suitable to soothe his great pain. He took them, in spite of the extreme repugnance and the bad tastes that made him feel sick.”

Even at this late stage he had to put up with the inexperienced fervor of a novice and submitted with great docility. “One of them who was helping the Infirmarian, spoke to him on obedience with the language he was being taught in the Novitiate…When he presented him with something revolting, or it was necessary to move him so as to take another position – a movement that his great weakness made very painful – `Come, Sir,’ said the young man, `you must do this, you must take that through obedience.’” And La Salle “gathered his diminishing strength to lend himself to the Novice’s desires.”

“Everything that was used for his cure became useless. The malady increased noticeably. So he told the doctor that it was superfluous to go to so much effort, that his hour was approaching and that recourse should be had only to the sovereign Doctor who alone knew what was best for him.”  “The cessation of the remedies and his abandonment to God restored him so as to be able to go up to the holy altar again to offer the holy Victim…and to confess during almost a fortnight in spite of his pain… M. de La Salle was in a state in which any other would have stayed in bed. …People were astonished to see him on his feet active and forcing his body to obey him, to satisfy his devotion. But all that is too violent does not last…the sickness became towards the end of Lent so violent that it obliged the Servant of God to go back to bed. As he felt his body weakening, so joy grew in his soul, and showed on his face. `I hope,’ he said, `that I shall soon be delivered from Egypt, to be brought into the true promised Land.’”

He recovers enough strength to celebrate mass on the feast of St Joseph, March 19th.

Maillefer writes: “However, on the day of the feast of saint Joseph, Protector of the Institute of the Brothers of the (Christian) Schools, and for whom he had a special devotion, he wanted to say Mass again in his honor. The evening before he was so weak that it was impossible for him to support himself on his feet or to be able to recite his breviary. The Brothers were persuaded that he would never be able to satisfy his devotion. But towards ten o’clock at night he thought his pain was diminishing and that his strength was returning. He thought it was a dream and he spoke of it to no one. He was agreeably surprised the next day when he effectively felt in a state to get up and to say Mass. He profited with thanksgiving by this last favor. The zeal with which he celebrated the sacred mysteries led all the Brothers to believe that God had given him back his health through the intercession of Saint Joseph. They were all eager to go and show him their joy. But after having given them the satisfaction of speaking to each individually, and having said to each what befitted him according to his needs, he fell back into his earlier weakness, and from that moment on, his life was entirely despaired of.”

Blain picks up the story: “The parish priest of Saint Sever, warned of the danger in which the Founder of the Brothers was, came to visit him; and after telling him he sympathised with him in his illness, he exhorted him to patience. The pastor, accustomed to seeing worry and disquiet wherever he went to the houses of sick people at the approach of death, was quite surprised and almost put out to see this man peaceful and in state of indifference to the outcome. As though he had been shocked or little edified with the sense of security in which the Servant of God appeared to be, he felt it his duty to withdraw him from it by announcing bluntly approaching death and the Judgment that follows it. `Know,’ he said, ` that you are going to die, and you will then have to appear before God.’ `I know,’ answered M. de La Salle, `and I am quite submitted to his orders. My lot is in his hands. May his will be done.’” The effect on the parish priest was that “he was even inspired to end with peace and charity a small difference of opinion he had had with the holy man, who had not wished to agree with all he demanded of the Brothers who were on his parish: which gave a real consolation to the pious sick man.”

“A few days before the death of the holy man, Brother Superior being alone with him by his bed, noise and a sort of dispute was heard in which the Brother was raising his voice and showing emotion. That appeared surprising; for people knew the profound veneration Brother Bartholomew had for the holy Founder. To find out the reason another Brother entered the sick man’s room, and addressing Brother Bartholomew, he begged him to say nothing to M de La Salle that might distress him. `Ah! my Brother’, answered the Superior, `if you knew the reason that makes me heated, you would agree with it and you would speak even louder than I. M. de La Salle has just told me that his illness is ruining the house and that it is better to let him die than go to so great an expense.’”  …

On Holy Tuesday, April 4th, “he asked for holy Viaticum, which he called his passport, with an eagerness that surprised, and some difficulty was made about giving it him, because people did not yet believe he was so near his end; however, they promised to bring it the next day. This delay favored the great desire he had to get ready. All the night was spent in this preparation.”

Holy Wednesday, April 5th “As soon as day began to appear, he gave orders that everything should be set out to receive his Lord fittingly. To please him it was done with all the magnificence that the poverty of the house of St Yon could allow… Ashamed to receive in his bed the Prince of Eternity, he made so many entreaties to be taken out of it and be clothed in his stole and surplice that he could not be refused. And so, seated in his chair, he awaited his Lord and his God. But when the sound of the bell announced his approach, he was no longer master of himself. Confused at appearing seated before his Creator and his Judge, a transport of fervor seized him and made him prostrate himself before him to adore him and annihilate himself in his presence. Then, his face on fire with the excess of his joy and the ardor of his charity, he was seen to receive the holy Viaticum the way he had been seen so many times to celebrate Holy Mass, with the devotion of a seraph. This fire that appeared during this time on his face gave him an air of healthiness that led the assistants to believe that he was well. Some of them could not refrain even from showing their astonishment at giving communion as Viaticum to a man who seemed in good health.”

It was on or about this day that someone sent by the grand vicar on behalf of the archbishop chose to tell the dying man that his powers as chaplain had been revoked. “As they were well aware that the Canon (this refers to Blain) had not wanted to take on the office of policeman, they sent another who did so, and who announced to the holy priest the revocation of his powers two or three days before his death.” They could not even let Holy Week go by; and the one who came could see very well he was talking to a dying man who was struggling for breath because of his asthma. “The Canon who was a friend of M. de La Salle, having gone to see him two days before his death (therefore, on the Wednesday), learned from his mouth that someone had come to tell him of the revocation of his functions. `They had asked me,’ said the  Canon, `to bring it to you, but I was in no hurry to carry out such an unpleasant commission’. `I suspected it,’ answered the pious dying man, `from what you had the honor to tell me in your last visit.’ He received this ignominy, which was the last, without losing any of his peace and tranquillity.”

“What should not be forgotten”, Blain adds, “is that a few days afterwards, the Brothers having come to tell the Grand Vicar of whom we have just spoken, of the death of their holy Founder, he exclaimed: `He is a Saint: the Saint is dead’. He could have added that he himself had put the last stroke to his holiness. But how can a man of intelligence declare a Saint the one he had accused of imposture and against whom he had just issued a suspension?” Blain felt the absurdity and injustice and insensitivity of it, yet he concludes that God allows good men to turn against his favorites, without losing the esteem their virtue otherwise merits.

Canon Blain may well have come to hear La Salle’s last confession, for he records: “Being on his deathbed after making his confession, he was heard to say to his confessor: `My father, I am so cowardly that I have asked God to make me die.’”

Maundy Thursday, April 6th. The consolation of receiving holy Viaticum was not complete “until he was brought the last Sacrament, which he asked for with earnestness… Extreme Unction (the name then given to the Sacrament of the Sick) was given him the next day, Maundy Thursday, and he received it with the greatest presence of mind, answering all the prayers himself. When they were finished, he remained in a profound silence for the space of seven hours.” There were people around his bed, wishing “either to be witnesses of his blessed ending or to receive from him some advice, or to hear some word of edification. He satisfied them all, and even revealed to several what was most hidden in their souls, which astonished them greatly. A lay person who was present, whether by curiosity or by piety, wanted to make the same test and begged him to tell him what he thought of him. He answered: `It depends only on you to be saved; for God fills you with his graces, but you do not profit by them. You do not go to him as you ought. You bury the talents that have been given you.” Nothing was truer: this man admitted it.”

“However, as he had great difficulty in speaking, and that his voice was getting weaker, they thought he was about to enter into agony. Then all his children threw themselves on their knees to ask his blessing, and Brother Bartholomew, raising his voice, asked him to give it to all those present and to extend it to all the Brothers of the Institute. His humility at first offered resistance, but finally, yielding to the entreaties that were made him, he raised his eyes and hands to heaven and said: `May the Lord bless you all.’ This blessing made many tears flow from the eyes of his disciples…

“Towards the end of the day he began to lose consciousness, as his words without coherence made apparent. The prayers for the agonizing were said. They were no sooner finished than he came round. He profited again by this last moment that God gave him to pass on in a few words to his disciples the horror he had of worldly society. He said:

“If you wish to stay and die in your state, never have anything to do with society people. For little by little, you will take a liking for their ways of acting, and you will get caught up so much in their conversations that you will not be able to keep yourselves through policy from applauding what they say although very pernicious. The result will be that you will fall into infidelity, and being no longer faithful to observing your rules, you will get tired of your vocation and finally, you will abandon it.”

Good Friday, April 7th. “He could not say more because a cold sweat that came over him took away the use of speech. At that moment he entered on a severe agony, which lasted from midnight until half-past two the next day, which was Good Friday. Having then come to a little, the thought was suggested to him of imploring the assistance of the most blessed Virgin by this prayer of the Church, that it was his custom to address to her every day at the end of the day: Maria, Mater gratiae, etc.  Brother Superior who never left him, then asked him if he did not accept with joy the pain he was suffering. `Yes,’ he answered,

“I adore in all things the conduct of God in my regard.” [or “I adore God guiding me in all the events of my life.]

“They were the last words he pronounced. At three o’clock in the morning he fell back into agony which lasted till four o’clock. The agitation it caused him did not prevent there being seen on his face a tranquil and assured look. Finally, towards four o’clock he made an effort as though to go and meet someone, he joined his hands, raised his eyes to heaven, and expired. He died on April 7th 1719, the day of Good Friday, aged sixty-eight years.”

“He showed all during his illness only a happy and smiling face, which remained after his death so noticeably that people took pleasure looking at it. You could have thought he was still alive, for he appeared as he was when he made mental prayer, or when he listened to the personal account of some Brother.”

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