Edmund Rice was born at Callan in County Kilkenny, Ireland on the 1st of June, 1762. Edmund lived in a family with his parents, two stepsisters and six brothers. They lived and worked a large farm called Westcourt and the Rice family home still stands today.
The Rice family, though relatively affluent for that time, were inspired and challenged by Edmund’s mother, Margaret
Rice, because of her generosity and care for the poor local children.
Edmund was educated in Callan and later in the city of Kilkenny. His strongly based early education would lay the foundation for his future business life and career. It was this firm grounding in education that made possible his later vocation and call to educate disadvantaged young boys in Ireland. His business career largely centred on the port of Waterford where he began work with his uncle, Michael Rice, provisioning ships.
During this time Edmund became increasingly committed to his Catholic Faith and was known to attend Mass daily and regularly to show devotion to the Blessed Virgin through the saying of the Rosary.
In 1785 Edmund asked Mary Elliott to marry him. By this time he had become a well-respected and successful businessman who increasingly took more and more interest in the poor of Waterford. But soon a series of tragedies would strike Edmund. In 1787 his father died and in the following year Mary, his wife, was involved in a horse riding accident while pregnant with their first child. When Mary gave birth to their daughter in January, 1789 she would die due to complications and young daughter, Mary, would be born disabled. His life would now undergo an even greater change as he began to ponder his increasing fortune in a place filled with so much poverty and misfortune.
As time progressed, Edmund’s life at Arundel Place in
Waterford saw him increasingly involved with a Jesuit community from the parish of St Patrick’s. It was at this time that Edmund began to value the special place of community life. His community of friends would be important in fostering his spiritual growth and in giving him personal support. He began to consider the possibility of joining a religious order or congregation. Little did he realise that he would later found his own!
In 1796 Edmund wrote to His Holiness Pius VI concerning a plan to set up an order to educate poor youth in Ireland and his resolve to continue with this plan was hastened by the increasing oppression of Irish Catholics in Waterford. In 1798 the Presentation Sisters, founded in Cork by Nano Nagle, came to Waterford and Edmund actively aided their establishment and charitable work. In 1802, drawing inspiration from Nano Nagle, his determination, Faith, and sense of social justice grew to the point where he renovated some property, which had been inherited by Mary, his wife, and set up his first school for the “down and out” children. Six boys made up his first class. It was a politically unpopular venture, but one which would soon be almost overwhelmed by its success. Thus, in June of 1803 Bishop Hussey blessed Edmund’s impressive new school, Mount Sion. He, together with Thomas Grosvenor and Patrick Finn, decided that the time had come to found a religious congregation of Brothers who would work in these schools. On the 15th of August, 1808, Edmund and seven other companions took their first vows as Brothers of the Presentation, basing their life upon the principles laid down by the Presentation Sisters. Edmund would take the religious name, Ignatius. By 1809 there were seven hundred children attending Mount Sion. Finally, in 1822, Superior General, Edmund Rice, would adopt new congregational rules and he, and his companions, would now be known as Brothers of the Christian Schools or Christian Brothers.
Edmund would go to his justly earned eternal reward at around 11.00am on the 29th of August, 1844. The Tipperary Vindicator, in a very lengthy obituary, wrote – “The Waterford papers announce the death of a venerable, a good, and, in the best sense of the word, a great man – a man of powerful mind – of vast knowledge of human nature – of a comprehensive grasp of intellect – of undaunted courage – of irrestable (sic) perseverance – of unbending integrity – of pure piety – of immense charity – Edmund Rice, the founder of Christian Schools..…He laid the foundation of an educational system for the children of the Catholic poor of Ireland..…To his order he was a solid example of every virtue…he was a Christian man in the most perfect sense of the word…..His remains are laid in the cemetery at Mount Sion, Waterford and may he rest in peace.”
The Founder’s Christian Brothers movement would spread throughout Ireland and across the world. In 1825 the Brothers started schools in England and in 1843 they came to Sydney, Australia. Today, Blessed Edmund’s legacy has spread to almost thirty countries where the Christian Brothers bring Christ’s message and the Founder’s inspiration to thousands of people who are served in their ministries and schools. We can only rejoice that this message of love and hope found its way to St Patrick’s College, Strathfield in 1928.