St. Benilde, also known as St. Benildus, was canonized in 1967 as the first Christian Brother to be named a saint after St. John Baptist de La Salle, who founded the order.
St. Benilde was born Pierre Romançon in 1805 to a French farming family. A small and fraillooking boy, he was not cut out physically to be a farmer, but his enrollment in a Christian Brothers school led him to his calling as a teacher. He joined the Brothers in 1820 and served at several Brothers’ schools in south-central France, including a more than 20-year stint as director of a school in Saugues, France.
Known as a strict disciplinarian and rigorous teacher, St. Benilde took special care in preparing 12-year-olds for First Communion. He also looked after his students by preparing meals in the Brothers’ kitchen for hungry students, converting old Brothers’ robes into coats or pants for them, and spending hours tutoring students who learned more slowly than others. He referred to all students, regardless of age or background, as “Monsieur.”
During St. Benilde’s tenure in Saugues, the area saw a large number of vocations join the Christian Brothers, with as many as 300 young men entering the order.
When St. Benilde died at age 57, former students vied to carry his casket to the cemetery, mourners spilled into the public square from the crowded church, and people plucked blades of grass from nearby his tomb as “relics.”
In his lifetime, St. Benilde quietly introduced many innovations to the Brothers and to the teaching profession in general. He admitted older students to give them their first chance at an education, experimented with evening classes for adults, and became more involved with local townspeople than was customary for Brothers at the time. He was distinguished by his commitment to religious life, teaching, and the notion of teaching as a special vocation in itself.
Pope Pius XI, speaking in support of St. Benilde’s cause for eventual sainthood in 1928, lauded St. Benilde’s endurance of the “terrible quotidianum,” or daily routine. “Sanctity does not consist of doing extraordinary things,” the pope said, “but in doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.”