A Memoir written in Rouen in 1721 expresses succinctly what John Baptist de La Salle had achieved between 1679 and 1719. "Monsieur de La Salle had the idea of setting up gratuitous schools where the children of workmen and the poor would learn reading, writing and arithmetic, and would also receive a Christian education through catechisms and other forms of instruction appropriate for forming good Christians.
For this purpose he brought together a group of young unmarried men.
He strove to have them live in a way which was consistent with the end of their Institute, and in order to recreate the life of the first Christians . . . he composed Rules for them. The formal approval of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools by the Church was done by the issuing of an official document, called a Papal Bull, by Pope Benedict XIII.
Unfortunately, the legal existence of the Institute in France was terminated from 1792 until 1805.
Only a small group of Brothers in some of the Papal States and in Rome continued to exist officially.
The restoration of the Lasallian mission in France in 1805 initiated a century of extraordinary growth in the land of its origin
It saw its expansion beyond France into 35 different countries of the world and the development of a missionary policy far beyond anything which De La Salle and the first generation of Brothers could ever have envisaged.
The 160 Brothers in France and in Italy in 1810 were to become some 14,631 Brothers by the end of the century that culminated in the solemn canonization of our founder in 1900.
The profile of our institute, accelerated by the series of "secularization laws" which touched the Institute in France 1904-1912, changed it dramatically.
Schools were often summarily forced to close by severe legislation against the religious congregations that were responsible for them.
In face of many prohibitions, some religious were prepared to forego aspects of their previous lives in order to maintain their work. Others considered this a betrayal, even an "apostasy," and sought to continue their religious life and apostolate outside of France.
Southern Belgium, Canada and Spain profited most strongly initially from the expatriate Brothers adding to the impetus given to already existing communities in Argentina,
Ecuador and Egypt from previously self-exiled Brothers, as well as the foundation of what were to become new Districts in Brazil, Panama, Mexico, North Africa and Australia.
After 1966, when the Institute knew its greatest number at any period of its history, there followed a period of rapid decline when a significant number of members, for varius reasons, decided to leave it.
At the same time, there was a marked diminution of younger members entering so that the overall numbers of 1986 were about half of those of twenty years before
Yet, paradoxically, the apostolic works for which our Institute was responsible in 1986 were more numerous because of the growth of the Lasallian Family.
Today, the Brothers minister, together with over 73,000 lay colleagues, to more than 900,000 students in 80 countries.