“Serving the new immigrant poor and working class”
“Serving the new immigrant poor and working class” as described by Brother Luke Salm, FSC, in his 1993 address: Lasallian Values in Higher Education
When the Brothers came into this country, for example, they found that the elementary education of the urban poor was already fairly well provided for. The need was rather to provide for the children of the Catholic immigrant generations a more advanced education under Catholic auspices that would give them access to the professions and leadership positions in American society. That meant high schools and academies, of course, but the need was even more urgent for Catholic presence in the field of higher education. A college degree was necessary if Catholics were to break into the fields of law and medicine, engineering and teaching. At the same time it was important that such an education be had in an atmosphere where the Catholic faith of the students and their immigrant origin would not be the subject of attack or ridicule.
It was not clear at first that this work was something that the Brothers ought to undertake. For one thing, the Jesuits were already conducting colleges in several American cities, a work that seemed better suited to their mission to train and educate a Catholic intellectual elite. But many bishops seemed to prefer to have the Brothers conduct their colleges, perhaps because the need was so great; perhaps, too, because they feared a Jesuit monopoly, realizing that no single type of college could satisfy all the needs of an American Church coming of age. More specifically, the American bishops, were concerned about the new immigrant poor and working class – as well as the education of the next generation of American clergy.
It was to answer these needs of an emerging American church that the Brothers in the United States responded wholeheartedly by opening their first colleges ever. Unprecedented as was this excursion of the American Brothers into the field of higher education, the reasons for it remained traditionally Lasallian and pragmatic: the educational needs of the immigrant generations of Catholics. Within twenty years after their arrival from France in 1848, the Brothers had colleges operating in New York, Philadelphia, Memphis, Saint Louis, and San Francisco, literally from coast to coast.