Nicolas Barré was born in Amiens, France on 21 October 1621, the first-born and only son to Louis and Antoinette Barré. He grew up in a wealthy merchant family and was educated at a Jesuit college in his hometown. As a young child, he had a deep sense of God. When one of his sisters fell ill, his strong faith in God and prayers led to her recovery.
Responding to God’s call
At the age of 19, he loved God so much that he joined the religious order of the Minims founded by St Francis of Paola. In 1642, Nicolas was ordained a priest. In 1659, when he was in Rouen, France, he saw how the poorer families lived. Many of the children, especially the girls, were illiterate and had no knowledge of God. Seeing the disparity in opportunities for education between the rich and the poor, he was inspired to establish little schools to educate girls of poor families.
Spread of Nicolas Barré’s work
In 1662, Father Nicolas Barré, with the help of some young women, set up a school for girls in the village near Rouen. Over the next four years, several more schools were established in and around Rouen. These ‘Little Charitable Schools’ proved very successful and popular.
In 1666, Father Nicolas Barré invited the women to form a community - the Charitable Mistresses of the Schools of the Holy Infant Jesus, to continue this educative work. In those days, educating the poor, especially girls, was frowned upon by society. The women, in a spirit of total trust in God’s guidance, said a wholehearted ‘yes’ to this invitation. It is important to note that the IJ Sisters only became a religious congregation in 1866, 200 years after they were founded.
Father Nicolas Barré continued similar work in Paris with great success. Believing that each child has potential and is unique, the children were taught with care and respect by the teachers who became well-known for their expertise and gentle approach. More CHIJ schools multiplied and spread across the world including Japan, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.
Celebration of Nicolas Barré’s Life
Father Nicolas Barré suffered ill health in his later years and died at the age of 65 on 31 May 1686 in France. On 7 March 1999, Father Nicolas Barré was beatified by Pope John Paul II. Blessed Nicolas Barré’s heart for the education of the poor, especially girls, continue to be an inspiration to many generations of CHIJ girls across cultures, background, race and religions. Through receiving an education in CHIJ schools, all IJ girls are called to act justly with courage and compassion in their lives with a priority to helping the disadvantaged in society.
In commemoration of this great man and what he has done, CHIJ Schools in Singapore celebrate Founder’s Day on 31 May each year.