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Edmund I Rice

Margaret Aylward Dr Edward Barron Philip Barron Denis Cashman Raymond Chandler Paddy Coad Patrick Comerford Donncha Ruadh Val Doonican Sean Dunne Frank Edwards Alfie Hale John M Hearne William Hobson Dr Thomas Hussey Charles Kean John Keane Edmund Leamy D. P. Moran Gen Dick Mulcahy James Nash Peter O'Connor Jas Louis O'Donnell Pádraig Ó Fainín Gilbert O'Sullivan John Redmond Edmund I Rice James Rice, Mayor Lord Roberts V. C. John Roberts Frank Ryan Thomas Sexton Archbishop Sheehan Susan Smith John Treacy Luke Wadding William V. Wallace Cardinal Wiseman Bullocks Wyse Lucien Bonaparte Wyse




Edmund Ignatius Rice was born on June 1, 1762, to Margaret and Robert Rice. The Rices were a relatively prosperous farming family who resided at Westcourt, near Callan in Co. Kilkenny. He was the fourth of seven brothers and he also had two sisters from his mother's first marriage. Edmund's father, Robert, worked a 180 acre farm leased from Lord Desart.  When he was born the Penal Laws were still in force and, at his christening in Callan parish church Edmund's father had to pay "sacrament" money to the local Protestant minister. The Rices were unswervingly loyal to the Catholic religion and they had a close relationship with the Augustinians in Callan. One friar, Fr. Patrick Grace, known as "An Bráithrín Liath (The little grey Friar) was a regular caller at the Rice home. 
Edmund's home was built c.1676 and was a long, low, thatched house with hipped gables and massive stone walls made from yellow clay mixed with horsehair and straw. The farm and house were oases of of prosperity amidst the general poverty and degradation. Edmund was born in the bedroom shown at right.
Because of the relative prosperity of the Rices Edmund received an education denied to the majority of Catholics. He received his first lessons in a hedge school. This was an illegal pay-school set up by a travelling teacher for those whose parents could afford to pay the fees. When Edmund reached seventeen he attended an academy school in Kilkenny. Here he received a practical and classical education. This was to prove helpful to him, not only in his business career, but also in his future as founder of schools for poor boys.

As a son of a prosperous Catholic farmer Edmund would have had some choice of a career, limited though those choices might have been. He could stay at home and work on the farm, enter the world of business or he could study for the priesthood like his brother John, who became a priest in the Augustinian order later becoming Assistant General. Edmund was mostly interested in the business world.

In 1778, at 17 years of age, he came to Waterford to work with his uncle Michael and under his uncle's tutelage Edmund learned the finer points of being a businessman. When the 1798 rebellion occurred Catholics had a hard time and there were severe restrictions on the practice of their religion and on their movements but Edmund was not harmed and was given access to all parts of the city because of the nature of his business. By degrees he acquired a thorough knowledge of his uncle's business, and after several years Michael was so pleased with the ability of young Edmund, that he signed over all his business to him - it appears that Michael's two sons had no inclination to enter their father's business. Though Edmund proved a gifted man in business affairs, he was also a man who found time for charitable work, especially with those unfortunates in the Jails of Waterford to whom he brought food and money.

At the age of 23 he had married Mary Elliott (or Ellis) and she gave birth to a daughter, Mary. His wife was tragically killed four years later in an accident.  The records at this point are scarce, but history states that during Mary’s pregnancy, she suffered a fall from a horse, or more likely a carriage, soon after the birth of her daughter and this resulted in Mary's death. This tragedy effected Edmund greatly, and he began to take refuge in the Bible and daily Mass - and he filled his evenings with works of charity in the city by visiting aged, the destitute and those who were imprisoned. It was about this time that Edmund joined association of young men in Waterford who aim was to help the spiritual development of its members. He made adequate provision for the lifetime maintenance of his daughter and then devoted his wealth to the education of poor boys in his adopted City of the Ships - Waterford. At that time there were neither schools nor teachers for the impoverished and illiterate youth of the Urbs Intacta. The more time he spent in the city of Waterford, the greater became his interest in providing for the education of poor boys. Encouraged by the work of Nano Nagle, who educated the girls of Cork, Edmund abandoned his ides of a monastic life and set his course for a life of Christian education, when in 1785, he opened his first school.  

When Edmund decided to dedicate his life to the education of the poor boys of Waterford he was absolutely alone but he hired two men to help in teaching the boys. These men were paid teachers. Edmund had secured temporary accomodation for the school in a large livery stable in New Street that belonged to his wife's family.

The boys in New Street proved to be a very unruly lot. Some of them rebelled against classroom discipline because all they knew was the wild and free life of the streets. They had neither books nor schoolbags, so Mr. Rice supplied each of them with a slate and pencil. Many of those pupils came to school daily without a proper meal. Mr. Rice soon realised that hungry boys had little interest in lessons and so he reacted to that need by supplying them with a lunch of bread and milk. The two young men whom he had employed as teachers soon grew tired of trying to cope with undisciplined youngsters and gave notice of their intention to leave. No financial inducement from Edmund Rice could entice them to stay and so the venerable Edmund had to manage on his own as best he could under very discouraging circumstances. However, he had implicit trust in God and that confidence was quickly rewarded when two young learned men from Callan, Thomas Grosvenor and Patrick Finn, found inspiration to join him. New life was infused into the school, prospects brightened and Edmund was at liberty to look to the future. He and his companions took up temporary accomodation over the stable and immediately began a form of community life. The men rose early and prayed together. They also attended daily Mass. They ate sparingly, they taught all day, and they spent some time doing spiritual reading and prayed together again before going to bed. This became the men's daily life. In the meantime work was proceeding on the building of Mount Sion just up the road from New Street.

Edmund had bought a parcel of land near the old Faha church in Barrack Street and on it he began to build a large school as well as a house for his teachers. In June 1803, the new residence was ready and on the 7th day of that month Bishop Hussey, surrounded by Brothers, and friends, solemnly blessed the building. Oral tradition states that the Bishop enquired of the founder by what name it was to be known, and the latter stated that it remained for his Lordship to name it. Bishop Hussey observing the elevated position of the site, as also its close proximity to the City which reminded him at that moment of Mount Sion and Jerusalem, remarked that a very appropriate name would be Mount Sion". It must be said that the distinguished Waterford historian Matthew Butler disputes this tradition. Edmund and his two companions lost no time in moving to the new Monastery, and were soon joined by another teacher, John Mulcahy from Kilmacthomas. Bishop Hussey died suddenly at Dunmore from an apoplectic fit in July 1803. His body was taken back to Waterford for burial and the funeral procession was the occasion of a disgraceful incident when a party of drunken soldiers returning from an Orange meeting seized the coffin and tried to throw it into the River Suir. There were violent scenes before the local militia recovered the remains and escorted them to the “Big Chapel” where the Bishop had wished to be interred.             

Bishop Hussey’s successor was Father John Power – the close friend of Brother Rice. His first official act was to bless the now completed school at Mount Sion and the pupils from New Street were transferred there in 1803.  Other man came forward to began join Edmund in his enterprise. By 1808 two other people had joined and Edmund had small schools at Carrick-on-Suir and Dungarvan.  Edmund wanted to have his little community acknowledged as a religious society and, to that end, he and Bishop Power drew up a rule of life based on the constitution of the Presentation Sisters. On August 15th 1808, Edmund and eight companions had clothed themselves in a simple black habit (it was to be worn indoors only) and they made vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience. An official diocesan congregation of brothers known as the "Society of the Presentation" was formed under the authority of the Bishop. The ordinary people among whom they worked called them " the monks." The monks took religious names and Edmund received the name Brother Ignatius after Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits.    

Discipline was maintained by a system of small rewards and as often as not by the personality of the teacher. An early report informs us that "The Brothers seem in a wonderful way to have won the affection of the boys under them, and in a very large measure to have dispensed with anything in the nature of corporal punishment." 

There were new foundations built in Cork, Dublin, Thurles, and Limerick. All members adhered to Edmunds rule and looked to him as their leader and guide, although technically their local bishop was their Superior. There were some problems between the Bishop of Waterford and Dr. Murray the former Bishop of Dublin. He was pressing for more Brothers schools for the capital of Ireland. Dr. Murray told Edmund to try and amalgamate all of his institutes under a Superior General on the same lines as the Jesuits. This would allow Edmund to transfer his men from diocese to diocese. Whether the majority of the bishops were ready to accept such a structure for a group of lay religious remained to be tested. Bishop Murphy of Cork, for one, did not approve of 'foreign domination' and made no secret of it.

The rector of the Irish Jesuits, Peter Kenny, a close friend of Edmund's, was a generous man. He gave Edmund advice and encouragement. Edmund in return is credited with helping to purchase Clongowes for the Jesuits. Dr. Murphy gave Edmund a copy of the brief approval of the De La Salle Brothers from their Superior General in Paris. He was then restoring the order on the Continent after its suppression during the Revolutionary period. Here was a model of the kind of central government the new institute needed for free expansion wherever the Brothers were needed.


Edmund consulted the superiors assembled at Mount Sion in August 1817 for their views. They were unanimous in adopting a style of government similar to that outlined in the De La Salle brief, although individual Brothers were strongly attached to their own diocese.

The Bishops were divided. For all the work that the Brothers did, they were still not happy that lay religious should be placed outside their immediate jurisdiction. The Bishop of Cork, looked to the North Monastery as his own foundation. When the Papal brief for the new centralised Congregation of Christian Brothers arrived from Rome in late 1821, the Cork Brothers, at the request of their own Bishop, did not attend the meeting for its acceptance. Edmund was sad because of all these divisions among the ranks.

On the feast of the Holy Name (20th January 1822) the majority of the Brothers voted for Edmund Rice as their Superior General and made their vows as Christian Brothers. A committee, run by Edmund was to work out new rules for the Brotherhood. They studied the rules and constitutions of the Jesuits and De La Salle Brothers and the Presentation sisters and finally compiled a rule " best suited to the peculiar nature of these countries and the genius of the people". After a trial period and some amendments the rule was printed in 1832.

After the hiatus of the 1820s, the schools of the Presentation and Christian Brothers continued to spread across Ireland and, soon, overseas. As early as 1810, Edmund had written to the Archbishop of Cashel that he prayed that his society would spread "to all parts of the Kingdom". In 1825 a foundation was made by the Christian Brothers in Preston, Lancashire, thus opening up a whole new field of labour to the Brothers on the English mission. Further schools were opened in Manchester and London in 1826, and shortly afterwards in Liverpool which was to become the centre of the Brothers greatest involvement in education in England. The Presentation Brothers also would soon spread to England.

The Christian Brothers were transferred to Dublin. Daniel O'Connell the great lawyer and Irish patriot laid the foundation stone of 'Connell Schools, North Richmond Street, Dublin in June 1828. O'Connell was then at the peak of his popularity in his campaign for Catholic Emancipation, drawing huge crowds wherever he went. The newspapers reported that 100,000 people crowded the streets around the new foundation, where O'Connell referred to his old friend Edmund Rice as the "Patriarch of the Monks of the West". The new buildings were to house the Generalate and Novitiate of the Brothers, a large school, and a training college for teachers.

Edmund resigned as Superior General in 1838 and died at Mt. Sion, site of his first school, on August 29, 1844 and was buried on the north-west angle of the Mount Sion cemetery. Since then, a chapel was erected for the final resting place of the mortal remains of Reverend Edmund Ignatius Rice.

In 1961, the Archbishop of Dublin opened the first stage in the Cause of Canonization.

On Sunday, October 6, 1996, Br. Edmund Rice was beatified at The Vatican.


Prayer for the Confirmation of the Virtues of Edmund Rice O God, who in your love for the souls of innocent children , chose Edmund Rice to establish new families in your Church for their instruction, look favourably, we beseech you, on his virtues and good works, and if it be for your glory and the sanctification of souls, mercifully hear our prayer that he may be raised to the altars of your holy Church. Amen.


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