The Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools (also known as the Christian Brothers, the Lasallian Brothers, the French Christian Brothers, or the De La Salle Brothers; French: Frères des écoles chrétiennes; Latin: Fratres Scholarum Christianarum) is a Roman Catholic religious teaching order, founded by French Priest Jean-Baptiste de la Salle. De La Salle was a canon of the cathedral of Rheims, France, and came from a wealthy family. He gradually became involved with a committed lay man, Adrian Nyel, who began setting up free schools where the children of the working class and the poor could learn reading, writing and arithmetic. They would also receive religious instruction and other training appropriate for forming good Christian citizens. Gradually, De La Salle committed himself more and more, without really realising it, until he found himself taking on this work fulltime.
He trained and organised a group of men to live in community and conduct the schools. He is credited with establishing a regimen of education which emphasised the good of the student, banning corporal punishment from their institutions. The founding of the order is generally dated to 1680. It was the first religious community of men in the Roman Catholic Church not to include clergy, the Institute being comprised solely of lay brothers. At one point, John-Baptiste de La Salle had one brother, Henri L'Heureux, study for the priesthood, with the intention of having him take over the supervision of the Institute. However, Br. Henri soon became ill and died unexpectedly. Jean-Baptiste took this as a sign from God that the order should remain as a society of lay brothers.He determined that his Brothers would be older brothers to those they taught and brothers to one another.
The institute underwent two periods of upheaval in France. The first occurred during the French Revolution when schools were closed and some Brothers lost their lives. By 1805 Napoleon Bonaparte restored the institute in France, beginning a period of rapid growth for the Brothers. By 1810, the institute had 160 Brothers working in France and Italy; 90 years later by the end of the century, the institute had 14,631 Brothers working in 35 countries.
The second period of upheaval began in 1904 when France began to enact a series of "secularisation laws". These laws essentially expelled most Catholic religious from France and forced the closing of schools. Brothers left France to continue work overseas, notably in Belgium, Canada, and Spain as well as Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Brazil, Panama, Mexico, North Africa, and Australia.
Today the order runs schools in 82 different countries, in both developed and developing nations, with more than 900,000 students in their schools.
From 1882 until 1989, a non-profit arm of the order ran a winery in the Napa Valley at Greystone Cellars near St. Helena, California. Most famous for Christian Brothers Brandy, the operation and rights to the name were sold to Heublein, Inc. in 1989.
In 1981 the order started an ethical or socially responsible investment service for Catholic organisations. The service attempts to use its shareholdings to influence the way the companies in which it has invested operate. Lasallian schools and institutions usually incorporate the Signum Fidei as a mark of their heritage.