Gerhard Groote was born in 1340 in a small town in the Netherlands. In 1350 the Black Plague swept through his town, carrying off his parents. So, at the age of ten, Groote inherited all of his father’s large wealth. As one could well imagine, he became an insufferable young man.
Then, one day, as he was walking along the road to the next town, he heard an Augustine monk reciting Psalms to the people and teaching them their meaning. As the astonished Groote stood rooted to the spot, a strange, peaceful feeling spread over him. In that moment the greatest decision of his life stood before him. He decided to become a modest and humble Christian.
For the next few years Groote buried himself in books, trying to make up for all the years he had wasted. He went to Mass but he felt that it wasn’t useful, so he stuck to his books.
Then the Black Plague raged through the town for a second time. It orphaned many children. Groote pitied these poor youngsters so much that he took them into his own house, fed them, clothed them and taught them the Bible. They would sit for hours, copying the Gospels. Groote bought the house next door and did the same thing for the girls. They all became very mannered and educated children. Together they all decided to call these new schools ‘The Brethren of the Common Life.’
Groote had worked with his students for less than ten years when the Plague struck his village for the last and fatal time. When it finally left, it carried the beloved teacher with it. Contrary to what you might expect, the schools did not close, but kept on for another 150 years! They expanded and grew until they covered all of the Netherlands. It is said that the famous Reformer, Martin Luther, was educated at these schools.
Although Groote did not actively take part in the growing Reformation, he helped lay the groundwork for later ones such as John Calvin and Martin Luther.