Philosophy and Ethos


The house at Callan where Edmund Rice was born.


By David Elebert

Edmund Ignatius Rice was born in June. He was born in the Westcourt, Callan, Co. Kilkenny. He was to be a man of heroic virtue and worthy of the title "Venerable". On 2nd of April 1993, Pope John Paul II declared the Irishman, Edmund Rice, to be a man of heroic virtue.

Two years later, Rome approved a miracle attributed to Edmund's intercession. This cleared the way for his beatification with the bestowing of the title "Blessed Edmund Rice" at a ceremony in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, on Sunday, 6th of October 1996. In recent documents issued by the Vatican Congregation of Saint Edmund was recognised as being a gift to the Church. Recalling the era in which Edmund lived, the document praises him for his strong and clear faith, his Eucharistic piety, his devotion to the Mother of God, and his constant reflection on the sacred scriptures.




On 1st June a baby boy was born, he was christened a couple of weeks later with the name Edmund Rice. His mother and fathers names were Robert and Margaret Rice. He was the fourth of seven brothers. He also had two sisters from his mother's first marriage.

Ireland had just pasted through the anti - Catholic period It had more to do with politics allegiances and the for land than with adherence to Catholicism By the year that Edmund was born this had all passed

Edmunds father Robert worked on a 180 acre farm leased from Lord Desart Other became traders, merchants and shopkeepers. Christ was the centre of his through, affections and apostate, and it was Christ whom he served when he tended the poor and needy His life was characterised by dedication, generosity and humility He truly loved God and his neighbour with all his heart

If all this is true, Edmund would appear to be a man, not only for his own time but for our time as well. Who then was this exceptional Irishman who is being so signally honoured in the last decade of the second millennium, more than 150 years after his death?

The Edmund icon


Edmund Rice`s youth was unexceptional for the better off Catholics of his time. Irish was the language that people used in those days, with sufficient English o deal with legal and financial affairs. Edmunds parents were respected in the community for their generosity, fair-mindedness and humanity. The Rice children were fortunate that they had parents whose personalities balanced so well. The father's shrewdness, sturdy common sense and practicality complemented the mother's warmth, sensitivity and compassion. Like any boy growing up in the Kilkenny countryside, Edmund fished, swam, and played hurling. For Edmund life was not all fun and games. Edmund received an education denied to the majority of Catholics. He first went to "hedge school" an illegal pay-school set up by a travelling teacher for those whose parents could not afford to pay the fees. But his parents and family provided his religious education.


Later when Edmund was 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.


For boys of families that were well off Catholic farmers there would have been two choices of jobs. They could stay at home and work on the farm, or they could go overseas and study for the priesthood, or even enter the world of business. Edmunds brother John became a priest in the Augustinian order later becoming Assistant General and died in Malta. Edmund was mostly interested in the business world.


When Edmund was seventeen he got a job as an apprentice at his uncles business. Michael Rice was well established in victualling and ship chandelling in the thriving port of Waterford. Although Michael ran a business his sons did not follow in his footsteps. That's how Edmund was given the opportunity of training in the business.

Waterford at that time was both an ancient walled city and a bustling modern port from which a thousand ships sailed each year to Britain and the Continent, as well as to places as far away as Newfoundland. Soon Edmund became a familiar figure in his uncle's stores in Barrowstrand Street. He quickly won his uncle's confidence and a deep affection grew up between them. The business thrived on the two of them. Edmund loved dancing, singing, boating and horse riding, and he dressed in the style for every occasion. Sometimes he would visit his home in Callan.

A man called James Phelan saw that Edmund was a bit giddy in Mass one Sunday. Afterwards the man made his disapproval clear. However he need not have worried. For the faith that Edmund had learnt at his mothers knee had deep roots as witnessed by his custom of reciting the Rosary either alone or with a companion on his travels.

When Edmund was 24 his uncle signed over the business to him. Edmund was the fourth son but his father named him as the legal head.





 Two young men, Patrick Finn and Tomas Grosvenor, heard of Edmunds dream of a new `brotherhood` to teach the poor. They had both been thinking of dedication their lives to God and early in 1802 they offered to throw in their lot with Edmund without fee or reward. Edmund was elated. The new monastery at Ballybricken, to be named Mount Sion by Bishop Hussey because of the lofty position overlooking the city of Waterford, was not yet finished. So Edmund and his companions took up temporary commendation over the stables in New Street, 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 1803 Edmund and his friends moved to Mount Sion. The Bishop blessed the building that they were in. His name was Bishop Hussey. Near the school Edmund built a small bakehouse. He built it so that he could give students daily meals. In a loft over the bakehouse tailors were busy making clothes for the students that went to the school.


Other people began to join Edmunds movements. By 1808 two other people had joined. Edmunds monks had round towers at Carrick-on-Suir and Dungarvan. Edmunds priest friend, John Power, was now the Bishop of Waterford. Together Edmund and himself drew up a rule of life based on the constitutions of the Presentation Sisters. On August 15th 1808, Edmund and eight companions were clothed in a simple black habit (it was to be worn indoors only). 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 simply " the gentlemen of the Presentation" or more simply " the monks". Edmund soon after 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. "



In the way that good news was spread men from different counties in Ireland heard about Edmunds work. Some went to join him at Mount Sion. It was said that the people of Callan, his hometown, were the first to come. Soon others joined them from different places and a wide variety of backgrounds. There was a man called Francis Manifold. He was a major in the Wicklow Militia, who became a Catholic and joined Edmund in his party. Then came Joseph McClelland, a former Presbyterian, and son of a minister in the Church. There was Joseph Watson (Dublin) and Tomas Brien (Waterford). Some young men who wanted to be Brothers had to go through training of two and a half years. Soon they would be Brothers. 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.

Br Colm Keating meets the Pope

After the hiccups 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.


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