Philosophy and Ethos


This page is one of a series on projects on the life of Edmund Rice undertaken by first year students.

Click here to see another project by a first year student of St Aidans on the life of Edmund Rice.

By David Scott


Edmund Rice was born in Callan County Kilkenny on the 1st of June 1762. He was born into a Catholic family. There were nine children in the family and Edmund was the fourth son. His father leased 180 acres of excellent farmland and the family lived in a six-roomed thatched house in Westcourt, Callan. In this house Edmund learned what it is to care for and share with others. His family was regarded as being comfortably well off for that time. They were very religious and highly respected in the community for their generosity to the poor.

The house in Callan where Edmund Rice was born

A detail from the Edmund icon.


At that time in Ireland, Catholic children received little or no education. The Rice children were educated at home by their parents, and by teachers who visited their home. One of these teachers was Patrick Grace known as the Bráithrín Liath - the little grey Friar because of his grey hair. Edmund and his friends spent their free time hunting, fishing, swimming and playing hurling. Edmund became a leader among the boys of the neighbourhood. At the age of 14 Edmund was sent to live with his uncle in Kilkenny.


From the beginning Edmund enjoyed town life. He became a skilled oarsman and he also enjoyed dancing. In his mid-twenties he fell in love with Mary Elliot and got married. When Edmund 's uncle died he left all his property to him. However, after a few years of marriage Mary fell from a horse and died from her injuries. It was at this point in his life that the strength of his Christian faith really supported him.




Edmund 's wife Mary was pregnant with their first child at the time of her accident. As a result the baby was born prematurely and was handicapped. Edmund named the baby Mary and took care of her until she was twelve years old. Then he entrusted her to the care of his brother Patrick and his wife who reared her in their home in the countryside near Callan. She lived a long and contented life until her death in 1859.


Nano Nagle was Edmund's greatest inspiration. The example and commitment of the Presentation Sisters helped him to follow what he felt was the call of Christ. It was a very radical mission indeed. It wasn't just handouts of food and clothes and kindness. It was equipping young people mentally, morally and religiously, to stand on their own feet and change their lives for themselves. Then to struggle for change in the society that caused and allowed them to be poor.

Nano Nagle

Nano and the Flames
(The Nano Nagle icon)


Edmund's own sorrow and grief taught him to open his heart in compassion to the poor and needy who surrounded him in Waterford. He saw the results of social injustice in the poverty, stricken slums and in the dirty crowded alleyways. The streets of Waterford were crowded with beggars. His heart went out to the ragged poor boys running wild on the streets. He decided to do something for them. His wife died thirteen years before and in the meantime he had become a very wealthy man. It took Edmund long years of questioning before he decided what to do, for one does not suddenly give up all and change one's whole life. At the age of 40 he sold all his property and began a school for the poor in a stable in the city.


Edmund Rice wanted to transform the lives of the poor children of Waterford. He wanted to raise their dignity in the face of appalling poverty. For him, education was the key to their freedom. But his concern was for the education and freedom of the whole person. It demanded a personal commitment to these children. The education he sought to provide would not just equip them with skills but would enable them to know to the very depths of their being that as God's children they were cared for and loved, that they were worthwhile and important. After many setbacks and difficulties his congregation grew and finally in 1820 after he took his final vows he was elected Superior General of the Christian Brothers.

A detail from the Edmund icon.


Out of Edmund's desire to live the gospel of Jesus with the poorest of the poor the Christian and Presentation Brothers grew. He guided his Brothers until six years before his death. His spirit continues through his congregation which is today working in five continents. These now number over 3,000, with missions in Britain, Rome, U.S.A, Argentina, Zambia, Ghana, India and Papua-New Guinea as well as many other countries. The motto of his congregation is " To do and to teach". On the 6th of October 1996 the Pope beatified Edmund Rice. Liam Lawton, a priest in Co. Carlow wrote in music and song the life of Edmund Rice. This work is called "Sacred Story". It was performed at his beatification.


Over the years, many readers have sent letters in appreciation of the good work done by Edmund Rice. The editor regrets that due to pressure of space they cannot all be published today. The samples included here give some indication of the esteem in which Edmund Rice was held.

South Dublin Union

Dear Sir,
I will always remember what that good man Edmund Ignatius Rice did for my family and me. My eldest boy was under the instruction of Brother Rice. He was stopping from school one time and I brought him to Brother Rice and asked him to punish the lad. Br. Rice said that it was against the rules of the school for him to punish the boy and that I should punish him myself. "Wait until I get him home and won't I punish him", said I. Brother Rice laughed heartily at my boasting and he took the boy from me. Brother Rice told me not to be hard on the boy who got on well afterwards. My nephews too went to school to Brother Rice in Richmond Street. They became two priests and the Fathers Mc Swiggan. Brother Rice was kindness itself to the boys and he was one of the mildest of men. He was mild in manner and mild in appearance. He made so good an impression on me that I still remember him distinctly after many years. The people loved him and thought him a saint, he did such wonders for the children of the time. Nothing would vex or disturb Brother Rice. He told me not to be vexed when he would not punish the boy for me. Brother Rice too was very good-natured. It was in his face. Daniel O'Connell too was another great man of his time. I remember both of them. I'd give the world to Brother Rice if I had it; he was so good to the children.

Ann X. McDonnel. (signed byMark)

Witness: Sr. M. Paula Doyle, Srs. Of Mercy


Mount Sion

Br Colm Keating meets the Pope



At Mount Sion, in this city, in the 87th year of his age, the Venerable Brother Edmund Ignatius Rice, founder of the Brothers of the Christian Schools in Ireland and England. The health of this venerable man has been declining for nearly three years. He bore protracted illness with patience and resignation to the Divine Will. In this city he founded his first establishment for the gratuitous education of boys in the year 1804, which has since branched out to the principal towns in this country and England. He was a man of indefatigable zeal and charity, endowed with great prudence, energy and perseverance. He resigned the office of superior general of his institute in the year 1838, in the order to give his undivided attention to the concerns of his immortal soul. The city of Waterford particularly has lost in him one of his best benefactors.




Copyright © 1998 St Aidans CBS
Last modified: February 22, 1999