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Mount Sion

Rice's Business Devotions Mount Sion Obituary




Mount Sion


Towards the end of the 18th century Mr Edmund Rice, a wealthy merchant of Waterford, moved by the miserable condition of the poor children who roamed the streets, conceived the noble idea of establishing free schools for the religious and secular education of the poor boys of the city.  This statement evokes the question: —Were there no schools in Waterford then which these poor children could attend? There are no records available of Catholic Free Schools in Waterford in 1800. About twelve Pay Schools advertised in the local newspapers, but whether these were Catholic, Protestant or mixed, one cannot be certain. Not until 1826, when the British Government published details of all the schools in Ireland, do we get a reliable account of all the schools in Waterford. According to that report there were eighty Pay Schools in Waterford City of which thirty-eight were “Roman Catholic Pay Schools.” The total number of pupils, boys and girls, attending these thirty-eight Catholic Pay Schools was 1,550. At the same time the number of Catholic pupils attending the thirty-two Protestant Pay Schools was 107. Thus the number of Catholic boys and girls attending Pay Schools in the City of Waterford in the year 1824-'25 was 1,657, of which total 847 were boys. In a city whose population was then 25.000 there were at least 2,000 Catholic boys of school-going age.  From these figures it would appear that there was well over 1,000 Catholic boys who could not attend school for the simple reason that their parents were unable to pay even as little as “1½d.to 3d.per week” at the cheapest Pay School in Waterford at the time. It was to remedy this unfortunate state of affairs that Edmund Rice decided to embark on his educational asostolate in Waterford.

Trusting in God's help, encouraged by the blessing of Most Rev. Dr. Hussey, Bishop of Waterford and backed by extensive personal property Mr. Rice set about putting his plan into action. He closed his business, rented some livery stables in New Street as a temporary premises and, aided by two hired teachers, he began so teach the poor boys of Waterford in 1802. When the two teachers refused to teach such unlettered youths, even with the inducement of double pay, three young men, two from Callan and one from County Waterford, came to his assistance.

Mr. Rice acquired a site on the outskirts of the city and had built thereon a monastery and schools costing £2,500. On the first day of June 1803, Edmund Rice and his three disciples, Thomas Grosvenor, Patrick Finn and John Mulcahy, went into residence at Mount Sion and began their career as religious. The name “Mount Sion” was given to the new monastery and schools by Most Rev. Dr. Hussey when he blessed the premises, because the location reminded him very forcibly of Mount Sion in Jerusalem. Pending the completion of the new schools at Mount Sion the temporary premises in New Street were still in use. Not until the spring of 1804 were the schools at Mount Sion completed and, on May 1st 1804, the schools were solemnly blessed, by Most Rev. Dr. Power, the new Bishop of Waterford. The new schools were immediately filled to capacity. Three hundred boys kept the four devoted Brothers fully occupied each day from nine to three, with an hour's break at mid-day. Ten years later it was necessary to build additional classrooms in order to accommodate all those applying for admission.

As early as 1804, long before Lancasterian methods were heard of in this country, Brother Rice had evolved a system that combined a judicious blend of the individual and the collective methods of teaching. Incidentally, Mr. Joseph Lancaster visited Mount Sion on Tuesday, 26th April 1815.  The Waterford Mirror states:  “Mr. Joseph Lancaster lectured in the Schools under the care of the philanthropic Mr. E. Rice of this City. The children behaved worthy of their education and teachers.”

School began punctually at nine o'clock with morning prayer.  Every time the clock struck the hour a moment's silence was observed in the room, then each boy made the Sign of the Cross and recited the Hail Mary. At twelve o’clock the Angelus and the Acts of Faith, Hope and Charity were said.  At three the Litany of Our Lady and a few other prayers were recited and then the boys were dismissed. In this manner the work of the day was sanctified and the boys studied in a religious and Catholic atmosphere. 

In the lower room the boys were taught reading, spelling, writing on slates, Arithmetic and Catechism. The half-hour before twelve o'clock was spent explaining the Catechism.  The children were “arranged according to their degree of improvement” in classes. In the upper classes the senior pupils were taught Algebra, Arithmetic, Geometry, Mensuration, Drawing, English and Navigation (which included Astronomy, Chart Reading, Tides, Trigonometry and Plotting of Courses). The desks were of the long variety, with eight or ten boys to each. Over each desk a superintendent was appointed who kept an account of those committed to his care and who saw to it that they attended to their duties.  The pupils were divided into different groups or sections, each being under the care of a Brother. General examination of copies, compositions, Arithmetic, exercises, etc., was made twice a week in the “upper room” and awards given according to merit. More general examinations were held three times a year and such pupils as were found most deserving received gifts suitable to their age and progress.  Public examinations, oral and written, were conducted annually by distinguished members of the local laity. These examinations lasted two or three days. Through the local papers those interested in such examinations were invited thus— “The Mayor having signified his intention of visiting Mount Sion Schools, on Thursday, the 17th inst., at twelve o'clock, the friends of the Institution are respectfully invited to attend the examination of the boys. which will then take place.” On these occasions prizes such as books, sets of ware, articles of furniture, pictures in gilded and hand-carved frames executed by Charles Bianconi, and suits of clothes were presented. A set of ware and a card table presented by Brother Rice on one such occasion, are still preserved in Waterford by the descendants of the recipients. 

Other men were soon attracted to the work of teaching the poor under the direction of Brother Rice. A chemist, a wine merchant, a clerical student, a professor of Mathematics from St. John's College, Waterford, a silk merchant, two bankers, a journalist, an architect and builder were among those who came to Edmund Ignatius Rice to be moulded as the first Christian Brothers. They came from all parts of the South, from Dublin, Castlecomer, Limerick, Cork, Tralee, Kilkenny, Clonmel, Athlone, Wexford, Thurles and Waterford itself. Most of these men were quite mature, their average age being thirty years. They made their Novitiate in Mount Sion and were trained in the schools by Brother Rice himself.

Providing free libraries in the schools was part of Brother Rice's system. At that time books were very expensive and were unobtainable except by subscribing towards their production. Notwithstanding this difficulty Brother Rice had in Mount Sion Schools a library of six hundred books. There was also a library of two hundred books in the branch school, St. Patrick's. These schools and the other new foundations exchanged books and thus formed a circulating library, perhaps the first of its kind in the country.  t has been established that there were in the library in Mount Sion at this time, Irish Catechisms printed on the Continent. The library was run by the boys. One boy was appointed librarian and a number of others helped him to distribute and collect the books on Fridays. Each assistant kept a record of the books he gave out. Referring to the rules of the library, Brother Rice wrote: "As these rules are observed strictly, we rarely lose a book."

For the benefit of the poor boys in his schools Brother Rice had on the grounds a bakery in which three men worked.  Here bread was baked daily and given to those who were in need of it. In a room overhead six tailors plied their needles in a warm and dry atmosphere. Here the garments of the poor boys were mended, and new suits were made for boys about to be apprenticed.

Brother Rice's system had a distinctly religious bias, and all the school work was permeated by a thoroughly Catholic spirit. No matter what lesson was in progress, whether Reading or Writing, Mathematics or Drawing, whenever the occasion presented itself of enlightening the pupils as to their own obligations or the correct Catholic attitude to adopt towards particular persons, places, occasions, or circumstances of life, such opportunities of forming the minds of the pupils according to the wishes of the Catholic Church were used to the full. Religious books such as Reeve's History of the Bible, Gahan's History of the Old and New Testament,  Think Well on It, Conversation with God, were used by Brother Rice as ‘Readers’ in his schools until such time as he and his Brothers produced a set of ‘Readers,’ the first of which was published in 1838. Concerning these ‘Readers’ Mr. and Mrs. Hall, two English Quakers, wrote in 1841: “It is but fair to state that in the books used in the school (Mount Sion) and in one more particularly— ‘A Literary Class Book’ —compiled for its especial use by the Brothers— we found the best principles inculcated by selections from the best authors.” Brother Rice’s pupils were daily conducted, class by class, into his private Oratory, there to make short visits to the Blessed Sacrament. Moreover, on all Sundays and Holydays of the year, the pupils assembled in the Parish Church for instruction in Christian Doctrine. We can judge for ourselves how thorough Brother Rice was in his work from the following statement of an English M.P. who spoke at length against Mr. Rice's system:

“Nothing could be more hopeless than the task of attempting to eradicate the impressions that are burnt into juvenile feeling by the operation of this system. There are 6,000 orthodox larvae in these poisonous receptacles and the Queen Bee is, I understand, still very operative.” 

Needless to say Brother Rice got no State aid towards his new project. He was entirely dependent on his own resources and on charity. Most Rev. Dr. Hussey, Bishop of Waterford, left £2,000, by will, to Brother Rice for his schools. This sum was invested by Brother Rice, and the interest was used for the sole purpose of supplying books and other school requisites free of charge to the poor children in Mount Sion. Through the local papers in 1816 Brother Rice appealed to the people of Waterford to help defray the expenses incurred in building a further two-roomed extension which cost £1,000. By this date it appears that Brother Rice had invested all his wealth in securities for the support of the Brothers who staffed his schools.

From Mount Sion new foundations were made at Carrick-on-Suir 1806; Dungarvan 1807; Cork 1811: Hanover Street, Dublin 1812; Thurles 1816; Limerick 1816; James's Street, Dublin 1820; Ennistymon 1824; Preston, England 1825; Manchester 1826; Jervis Street, Dublin 1827; Ennis 1827; O'Connell Schools, Dublin 1831. This stream of spiritual man-power which had its source in Mount Sion, and was set in motion by Edmund Ignatius Rice, continued to flow forth ceaselessly into the harvest fields of the Lord, even to the ends of the earth, where the sons of Edmund Rice may be found today.

Through the help of Most Rev. Dr. Power of Waterford indirectly, and Most Rev. Dr. Troy and Most Rest Dr. Murray directly, Brother Rice secured the stabilizing Brief which in 1820 was granted by Pope Pius VII of happy memory, and which gave the young Society the status of Papal Institute.  The first General Chapter of the new Institute was held in Mount Sion in 1822, at which Brother Rice was elected first Superior General, for life. He and his Assistants resided at Mount Sion until the next General Chapter held in 1829, after which they transferred to O'Connell Schools, North Richmond Street, Dublin.

Brother Patrick Joseph Murphy, a native of Waterford, and uncle of Margaret Aylward, Foundress of the Sisters of the Holy Faith, was appointed Superior of Mount Sion in 1831.  Br. Murphy established a Temperance Association in the school, and was in contact with Fr. Mathew in connection with the latter's Temperance campaign in Waterford.  May 3rd was a memorable day at Mount Sion. On that day the famous Temperance priest visited the school and administered the pledge to a large number of boys. On his arrival in Waterford he was escorted, to the school, by a vast crowd of people. Many members of the local clergy and many prominent citizens were present at the function. The school was specially decorated for the occasion, and the visitor was given a rousing reception by the Teetotal Bands of John Street and Mount Sion. After the departure of Fr. Mathew from Waterford, Mount Sion became the nerve centre of the Total Abstinence Association in the area.  Present Waterford publicans will read with interest the chronicler's note which informs us that within a few years sixty licensed premises had been closed down in the city!

The secretary of the Total Abstinence Association was a young man, Mr. Lenihan, whose parents were drapers in the city. Subsequently he became the Editor of the Tipperary Vindicator, and Editor and proprietor of the Limerick Leader.  He was the author of a very comprehensive history—the first of its kind—of Limerick City and County. In common with his parents, Mr. Lenihan was an ardent admirer of Edmund Ignatius Rice. 

The Waterford Catholic Committee had been very active for some years before Catholic Emancipation was granted in 1829. The meetings of this society were held in St. Patrick's Schools or in Mount Sion. William Aylward, father of the Foundress of the Sisters of the Holy Faith already mentioned, acted as chairman at the meetings in Mount Sion. Brother Edmund Ignatius Rice, accompanied by representatives of the Regular Orders, interviewed the Duke of Wellington and Mr. Peel in London on the eve of the passing of the Emancipation Act, in order to petition against some of the penal clauses of the Bill—clauses that threatened the very existence of all Religious Orders in Ireland. Though not directly successful in their mission, they were assured that these offending clauses would never be enforced. 

With the coming of the National Board, Brother Rice was prevailed upon to give that system a trial. He strongly disapproved of the principles of the new system. which he knew to be the very antithesis of his own. The National Board demanded the suppression of all religious teaching and devotional practices, and the hiding away of all religious emblems except on a specified day each week. Yet, in order to please Most Rev. Dr. Murray, Archbishop of Dublin and other friends, he consented to give the National System a trial, in 1832. Mount Sion Schools were registered as schools operating under the National Board. But very quickly advocates of the National System who were entitled under the Irish Education Act to “visit” any of the National Board Schools, began to visit Mount Sion. One such “visitor," without introduction, or apology, began to address the pupils criticising and belittling Catholic practices and doctrines.  This led to an altercation, the result of which was that the “visitor” was forcibly ejected. In 1836 Brother Rice convoked a General Chapter at which it was unanimously decided “that the Christian Brothers sever totally their connection with the National Board on account of the restrictions which that system placed on religious teaching etc.” 

At the next General Chapter, in 1838, Brother Rice begged to be relieved of the office of Superior-General. Already in his seventy-eighth year, he was worn out by his constant work of teaching and organizing, carrying on law suits for the recovery of property or of money invested for the Institute, constant correspondence and much travelling, as well as the governing of the Institute itself, coupled with racking anxiety on occasions for its very existence. With great reluctance the Chapter acceded to his request. In that year there were seventeen monasteries and forty-three schools in which there were seven thousand pupils. Brother Rice retired to Mount Sion where he spent the last four years of his life and where he died a most holy and happy death on 29th August 1844. Two days later, on 31st August, after Solemn Requiem Mass in the Community Oratory, at which the Bishop, Most Rev. Dr. Foran. Presided, and at which a number of the Clergy, Brothers and principal citizens were present, he was interred in the cemetery within Mount Sion grounds. To honour the memory of one who had done so much for their city, the Citizens of Waterford and admirers of Edmund Ignatius Rice, erected in 1845 at Mount Sion, the Rice Memorial Chapel.

The monastery erected by Brother Rice at Mount Sion in 1802-3, was now becoming altogether too small for the number of Brothers teaching in the schools there. The old building was partly demolished and a new three-storey brick building costing £4,000 was built in 1864 under the direction of the Superior, Brother Jerome Coyle, on the site of the old monastery. The present sacristy and the room underneath the sacristy, are all that remain of the original monastery of Brother Rice.

The Sodality of Mary Immaculate was established on 8th December, 1869. Most Rev Dr. O'Brien, Bishop of the Diocese, was the first Patron, and Rev. Bro.J. S. O'Flanagan, Superior of Mount Sion, was its first President. In 1874 the Mount Sion Sodality received its Diploma of Aggregation from the Prima Primaria in Rome.

The standard of education initiated by the Founder of Mount Sion, Brother  Rice, was splendidly maintained by his successors down the years. Until the introduction of the Intermediate System in 1878 the inherited notion that Secondary education was the exclusive privilege of children of a higher social position prevailed in this country. The schools of Brother Rice made it possible for the children of those less favoured with the goods of this world to receive a good sound Catholic Secondary education. It must be remembered that at no time was Mount Sion a Primary school only. From the very beginning there existed “the upper school” as Brother Rice described it. This “upper school” was staffed by some outstanding teachers. Among these may be mentioned the Founder himself, who spoke Irish fluently, was an excellent English scholar, and had a working knowledge of Latin, French and Spanish. Brother Patrick Ellis, who was a professor of Mathematics in St. John's College, Waterford, before he joined Brother Rice, was a skilful mathematician, spoke French fluently and had a good knowledge of music. Brothers Joseph Murphy, Joseph Hearne, Michael Paul Reardon, second Superior-General, Jerome Coyle, Thomas Hayes, Stanislaus O' Flanagan, were all excellent mathematicians. Some of them were good linguists and all very successful teachers in the “upper school” before the introduction of the Intermediate System. 

The examination system, with publication of results then introduced, brought schools of various types into competition. In these examinations Mount Sion ranked fifth amongst the Christian Brothers' schools. Between 1880 and 1892 Mount Sion pupils won twenty-two Exhibitions, three medals, and forty-nine special prizes. Four hundred and eighty passed in the various grades in which they had competed. When one considers the humble homes from which many of the pupils came, these results were remarkable.

While the exhibitions, prizes and medals awarded induced the students to remain longer at school, the money grants paid on the results of the examinations enabled the Superior of Mount Sion to improve school equipment and pay for the upkeep of the schools and for the new monastery.  Notwithstanding these grants, the Brothers in Mount Sion in those days found it very difficult to make ends meet. Brother Thomas Hayes has left it on record that in 1887 when he was appointed Superior of Mount Sion he found but five shillings in the House funds and, to make matters worse, the annual collection had been made !

In 1891 the Bishop of Waterford requested Brother Hayes to establish a Pay School for those who could afford it.  Without money, but trusting in God, he immediately formed the nucleus of the new Pay School. The Bishop had in mind to cater for those Catholic boys who were attending the Protestant schools and colleges. Within a year Brother Hayes had a hundred students on the roll. In the following year, 1882, he secured a loan and bought the property known as Waterpark, the city residence of the Congreve family. The students were transferred to Waterpark and Brother Hayes was appointed superior of the new foundation.

In 1905 Brother Jarlath Mullen had the Brother Rice Memorial Chapel enlarged and renovated. The stained glass rose window placed over the altar at a later date, is amongst the finest in the country.

Long before the coming of National Independence or the Language Revival, Irish was spoken and taught in Mount Sion.  mong the Brothers who taught there were Brothers Patrick Corbett, Austin O Donoghue, Kieran Flynn, all of whom were native speakers of the language.

In 1927 the Primary section was registered with the National Board, which was now under the National Government. Just as the “upper school” stood the test with the introduction of the Intermediate System, so also did the “lower school” do credit to Brother Rice's system when the Primary department was placed under the National Board. With the usual aid from the Department of Education a splendid Primary School to accommodate one thousand pupils was built in 1945. 

In 1959 Scoil Lorcáin was opened to cater for the newly built-up area in St. John's Park and, in 1972, the old Secondary School was replaced by a new modern up-to-date building to cater for 480 pupils.

In 1944, on the occasion of the centenary of the death of Brother Edmund Ignatius Rice when Church and State did honour to his memory, his remains were transferred to the beautiful mausoleum in the grounds of Mount Sion as a preliminary step towards Beatification. From this mausoleum his remains were removed, in the 1979, to the new Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament where, surrounded by eighteen of his confreres who first rallied to his standard, he awaits the coming of the day of Final Reckoning when all shall know the true worth of Edmund Ignatius Rice, the founder of Mount Sion.

-The above article, by P.G.Long, first appeared in the magazine that was published to celebrate the opening of the new Secondary school, in 1972.

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