Edmund Rice was moved by the presence of Christ, open and appealing to him in the poor. His first initiatives in ministry were addressed to poor and ignorant street children of Waterford who were lacking in basic Christian education. The early Brothers continued this focus into the following centuries.
At the same time Edmund's compassion reached out to the whole person and hence he set up a bake house and tailor shop to provide for deprived young boys, he conducted evening religion classes for young men, he established lending libraries, he cared for prisoners, the sick, widows and orphans and he encouraged his Brothers to do likewise. Edmund himself saw ignorance as the main cause of oppression of Irish youth and believed that education was the pathway out of that ignorance and oppression.
Over the two centuries of existence, the Brothers' ministry in various parts of the world has focused very strongly on education - responding to the need of the times, liberating young people through education, with an emphasis on Christian education. This was undertaken in a broad context as around the world, Brothers were predominantly involved in primary and secondary education but in other situations were involved in tertiary training, in teachers' colleges, in technical and vocational education, in orphanages and boarding schools.
In more recent times an emphasis has developed around the word ‘Brother' as highlighting what is central in our ministry. Being ‘Brother' has lead to the expansion of ministry into spirituality , into social welfare areas, and into missionary activity, as well as retaining a strong involvement in education at various levels.
In some parts of the Congregation education has focused on specialized areas such as education in AIDS prevention and care.
The promotion of social justice and care of the earth are essential dimensions of our contemporary understanding of the Edmund Rice spiritual heritage and philosophy.
Our ministry outreach today, informed by understanding the structural causes of poverty, global inequities, lack of access to education and environmental degradation assist us in discerning and constructing appropriate responses to social and ecological injustice.
At the same time new ethical challenges are emerging in a world that is becoming daily more fragile, as social systems, economic systems and ecosystems are undermined and threatened even to the point of extinction. It is to this world that we are called to minister, in collaboration with our brothers and sisters who share a dream for a world more in harmony with God's dream for the universe and for the earth.
Our call today is to a shared commitment to promote and defend the vision of Jesus of Nazareth so that all, including the earth itself, should have ‘life and have it to the full'. Jn 10:10