This was the start of something entirely new for the men. This “Cradle of the Institute” in what was then known as the Rue Neuve (presently called Rue Gambetta) now has its entrance at number 20 Rue de Contrai.
De La Salle distributes his wealth to the poor of Reims, circa 1683
The present day school occupies the site of the original FSC school here on Rue Gambetta. This is the first de facto Mother House. De La Salle resided here for six years (1682-88) until his departure for Paris. Many important events in his life took place here. In August 1683, he renounced his position of Canon of Reims, dedicating himself fully to the work that he had begun with the schoolmasters. The community sang the Te Deum in thanksgiving. In the famine of 1683-1684, he distributed his rich inheritance (about $500,000 in today’s money) to the poor through the daily handing out of bread to everyone who needed it.
In view of the objections of his family and relatives to having the school teachers living in the De La Salle family home at Rue St. Marguerite, and the lawsuit that resulted in the family home being sold and its assets distributed among the heirs, De La Salle rented a building in the Rue Neuve and went to live there with the schoolmasters on June 21, 1682.
This was the anniversary of taking the masters into his own home. But the move was not made because it was his patron’s feast day (the Feast of John the Baptist is celebrated in the church on June 21 each year) but because that was the only day each year when contracts came due, new rents were signed, and people moved houses.
The property consisted of two houses with outer offices, yards and gardens and so was quite spacious. For close to 20 years after they moved in, the property was held on a lease. In 1700, De La Salle purchased the property outright. As the Institute as such did not have a legal corporate existence, the house had to be vested in trustees, so the Founder prevailed on his brother Louis, at the time a canon at Reims Cathedral, Claude Pepin, and a priest, Pierre Laval, to form a committee of trustees.
After the death of the Founder, his brother, Louis, and later his youngest brother Pierre, were careful to fill any vacancies in this committee and to ensure continued ownership of the property for the Brothers.
When they realized they were being turned into some kind of religious group, most of the early teachers cleared out and found jobs elsewhere. However, they were quickly replaced by generous young men who responded to the Founder’s ideals. Then in a “Chapter of 1684,” attended by Brothers from the schools in Reims as well as those from Guise, Laon, Rethel and Chateau-Porcien — all places where new schools had been established by the Brothers — the crucial decision was made that henceforth they would consider themselves “religious,” “Brothers of the Christian Schools,” and that they would wear a special habit and bind themselves to the service of God by vows.
On Trinity Sunday of that year (1684) twelve of the principal Brothers made a vow of obedience for one year. Afterwards, they walked through the night of that Sunday all the sixteen miles to the famous sanctuary of Our Lady of Liesse, where on the Monday morning De La Salle said Mass for them, after which they placed their new enterprise under the protection of the Mother of God. The Institute was launched!