The Story Behind the Monument
The Encounter is inspired by the moment on March 5, 1679 when twenty-eight-year-old John Baptist de La Salle visited the convent of the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus in Reims, France to assist the Sisters with important business matters and to say daily Mass. As he approached the doorway, De La Salle encountered Adrien Nyel and his fourteen-year-old teacher assistant, Christophe. Nyel, a layman and educator, worked in Rouen for many years establishing schools for the poor. He was asked by a wealthy widow, Madame Jeanne Dubois Maillefer, to consider founding a charity school for boys in Reims. Nyel’s first call in town was to seek guidance and support from the Sisters. Once inside the entryway to the convent, Sister Francoise Duval introduced the two men.
As a result of this chance encounter, De La Salle offered to use his connections and resources to assist Nyel in his efforts to establish a school as well as recruit and train teachers. De La Salle also invited Nyel to stay at his home for a week while the two worked together on the plans for the school and consulted with others. With each passing day, De La Salle found himself becoming drawn into a very different, unfamiliar world, the world of the poor – a world of disadvantaged students, uncultured teachers, and families chronically oppressed by poverty. He began to believe that God was calling him to this important work.
In the ensuing months, De La Salle spent much time in prayerful discernment about his vocation and purpose in life, as well as the role that God’s providence played in leading him toward the development of the schools. After much prayer, internal deliberation, and consultation with his spiritual director, De La Salle chose to give up his wealth and his status, and dedicated his life to founding schools for the poor.