On October 6, 1996, Pope John Paul II beatified – declared ‘Blessed’ – Edmund Rice, the founder of the Christian Brothers and the Presentation Brothers. Edmund Rice was born to a farming family, under the shadow of the Penal Laws, on June 1, 1762 at Westcourt, Callan, County Kilkenny, Ireland. He attended the commercial academy in Kilkenny for about two years after secretly receiving his elementary education at the local ‘hedge school’ in Callan.
In 1779 Edmund was apprenticed to his uncle, Michael Rice, in the business of supplying all the needs of ships that plied their trade across the Atlantic between Europe and the eastern coast of North America. By his late twenties, through his entrepreneurial skills, he had earned enough money to make himself and his family comfortable for life.
So, as a 40-year old widower and a successful businessman in Waterford on Ireland’s southeast coast, Edmund Rice changed course radically. He sold off his business interests and started a primary school for a few poor boys in a converted stable, with a room for himself above the makeshift classrooms.
During the following year, he used more of his funds to put up a larger building in the city’s working-class district. In 1802 Edmund was joined by two companions, Thomas Grosvener and Patrick Finn, and the three began to live a form of community life in rooms over the Stable School in New Street. The men shared his vision where they combined a semi-monastic life with the hard work of teaching unruly boys under primitive conditions.
All of Edmund’s educational activities were illegal in the eyes of the ‘authorities’ in Ireland. Most Irish Catholics were effectively cut off from education and consequently cut off from social and political progress. By founding schools and teaching congregations, Edmund Rice, like Daniel O’ Connell, was a liberator. That is one reason why O’Connell greatly admired the man he called “patriarch of the monks of the West.”. Appropriately, therefore, Edmund’s first Dublin Schools in North Richmond Street were named the O’Connell Schools. But all these achievements came at a great personal and mental distress. So, in 1838, Edmund laid down the onerous office of Superiour General and retired to Mount Sion, Waterford.
Edmund died on the 29th August, 1844. His vision continues to live on in the positive response to today’s challenges made by his successors in the Edmund Rice Family.