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2020 - Bicentenary of the Papal Brief


In 1820 Pope Pius VII granted a Brief to Edmund Rice and his small group of Brothers.


According to Br. Al Houlihan in his book Overcoming Evil With Good (1997), Bishop John Power and Brother Edmund Rice had a very close relationship and they usually agreed on matters pertaining to the Brothers. That was fine when all the schools were within the Diocese of Waterford but problems arose when the Brothers expanded into Dublin and Cork where each of these places had a different bishop. As time went on, Edmund realized that this made it difficult for the Brothers to have any kind of unity, and it hampered him when he was trying to give assistance in places that needed additional Brothers. It would take another ten years to deal with this issue and to come up with a solution that resulted in two possible approaches and two separate brotherhoods.

Edmund had already experienced the tension between his two good friends, Bishop Power of Waterford and Archbishop Murray of Dublin. That was nothing compared to the problems that erupted after Bishop Power's death in 1816 when Robert Walsh became Bishop of Waterford. Following his communication with Rome, Dr. Power had previously been told by Cardinal di Pietro, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Propaganda, in January 1809, that "Your Lordship must first draw up and transmit the Rules and Constitutions by which the new institute is governed, and after these Rules have been examined and approved, the desired Brief may be obtained". Dr. Power raised the matter again in his Relatio to the Prefect, Cardinal Lorenzo Litto, in October 1814.

TroyIn the meantime, Brothers opened schools in Thurles and Limerick so now there were two more Bishops to complicate matters. The bottom line to all of this was the fact that each Bishop was concerned with the portion of the Church over which he had jurisdiction.

Around 1816 it was Archbishop John Troy of Dublin, a Dominican, who first suggested to Edmund that the Brothers might consider becoming a Papal Congregation, since if this were the case they would be directly under the Pope and they would be free to serve anywhere in the universal Church. This would require the Brothers to have one of their own members as Superior General who would administer the whole Congregation.

Edmund and the Brothers discussed this possibility at many meetings and made it the subject of their prayer for several months. Archbishop Murray and Father Peter Kenney SJ strongly suggested that Edmund should apply to Rome for the kind of arrangement that the French Brothers of Jean Baptist De la Salle had received from Pope Benedict XIII for their society in 1724. (Kenney had led the Jesuits back to Ireland in 1814 after the Suppression of the Society (1773-1814) and his first action was to open a new school at Clongowes Wood College with Edmund's help). Edmund had copies of the French Constitutions sent to each house so his Brothers could read them, discuss the document and pray over it. This was Edmund’s usual style of leadership. He always consulted his men before making any major decision.

Signing 1817Edmund invited the Director of each house to come to a meeting at Mount Sion in August of 1817 in order to determine whether or not they wanted to pursue the course suggested by the Archbishop. After a week of deliberations, the Brothers unanimously resolved “to adopt a style of government similar to that outlined in the French Brief, with Rules and Constitutions… and to forward the articles to Rome for approval".

The formal request was made to Pope Pius VII immediately after the meeting, and it was accompanied later in 1818 by strong recommendations from Bishops Troy and Murray as well as other prelates, earnestly beseeching the Holy Father to grant the petition of the Brothers.

Br. Austin Dunphy in Origin, the first History of the Christian Brothers, (1822), ascribes the idea to another Bishop, John Troy's coadjutor, Daniel Murray: In the account we have given of the first Establishment of the Institute in Dublin, we noticed the zeal manifested by the Most Rev. Doctor Murray for its welfare. This pious Prelate on his return from Rome in the year 1816, where he had been for some time transacting affairs relative to the Irish Church, on his way through France, learned that there was in that Country a Society of Laymen, whose object was the Education of the poor. On inquiry he found that their Institute had been confirmed, and that the Society was governed by a Superior General. The members of this Society are called “Brothers of the Christian Schools."

Daniel MurrayDoctor Murray was one of those Prelates who thought that it would tend much to the government and stability of the Institute, were the Brothers subject to a Superior elected from among themselves. Having met Frere Gerbaud, the French Superior General, and obtained a copy of their Rule, immediately on his arrival in Dublin, early in the month of January in 1817, submitted to the Brothers there, the Rules and Constitutions of the French Brothers, together with the Brief which approved of, and confirmed their Institute. This Brief was translated into English, and a copy of it was sent to each of the eight houses in the Institute.

On the perusal of this Brief many of the Brothers were much pleased with the plan of life and government traced out in it. They were even convinced that a system of government similar to that pointed out in this Brief, could alone, under the Divine Protection, secure discipline and stability to their Institute. The members of the different houses communicated their thoughts on the subject to each other, and prayed for the light and direction of the Holy Ghost, in the change which they contemplated.

They accordingly met in this house (i.e. Mount Sion, Waterford), and commenced Chapter on Tuesday, the 19th of August 1817. They, after invoking the light of the Holy Ghost, and after much discussion and deliberation, came to the resolution of embracing the mode of government specified in the French Brief.

A Statement of Resolutions was passed at the end of the meeting in Mount Sion, on 25 August 1817. Two further meetings were held in Thurles in 1818 and 1819 to consider the decrees in greater detail. All professed Brothers were invited to attend.

In Rome, a document was prepared for presentation to the Holy Father at the Audience of 13 August 1820.

"About sixteen years ago a new Institute of laymen, Brother Monks, was founded in Ireland, somewhat similar to those of the Christian Schools. They made five simple vows - poverty, chastity, obedience, perseverance in the Institute and gratuitous instruction of poor boys. They have drawn up fourteen Rules, based on those of the Christian Schools approved by Benedict XIII of happy memory, changing and adapting some not suited to their country, and they have now requested Papal Approval.
The Archbishop of Dublin has been written to, who, having consulted other Bishops, has replied that the said Institute is most useful, especially for opposing the Biblical and Methodist Schools that have been erected in great numbers.
The said Rules have been examined by His Eminence Cardinal Fontana and by Mons. Gardellini who have made some minor alterations.
His Holiness is therefore requested to confirm the Institute and its Rules by an Apostolic Brief".


Pius VII On 13 August 1820 two pen strokes in the margin of a Papal Audience note indicate that the Holy Father granted the request. The draft Brief prepared by Mons. Luigi Gardellini, Assessor to the Sacred Congregation, had been approved. A note from Mons. Carlo Pedicini, Secretary to the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda, to Cardinal Ercole Consalvi, Segretario dei Brevi, asking him to prepare the Brief, is dated 26 August 1820. 

Pope Pius VII signed the Brief on 5 September 1820. At the end of the text of the Brief are the words: “Datum Romae apud S. Mariam Majorem sub Annulo Piscatoris die 5 Septembris 1820” and the signature of Cardinal Consalvi. The approval was given under the Ring of the Fisherman, and signed as “Placet G.B.” using the initials of the two names of the Pope: Barnaba (Baptismal name) and Gregorio (religious name as a Benedictine).

Dr. Murray heard the good news in a letter from Rome dated August 26th. he immediately wrote to Edmund Rice

"I cannot tell you how much pleasure it gives me to find that your Institute has at length obtained the approbation of His Holiness. The Cardinal Pro-Prefect has mentioned to me in a letter, dated August 26th, that the approbation of the Institute would be issued with all possible dispatch. I find that the sanction of His Holiness is already given, that the Brief is made out and is passing through the usual forms and may, of course, be expected here in a few days. God grant stability to an Institute that promises so fairly to be of essential benefit to the interests of religion in this country"

1821 RECEIVING THE BRIEF IN IRELAND (Thurles gathering)

Fr Peter KennyAccording to Origin (1822): On the 5th of September 1820, the Brief Ad pastoralis dignitatis fastigium, approving of the Articles and of the Institute itself, was issued. This happy event was the source of much joy to the Brothers. However, for want of a safe conveyance, the Brief did not arrive in Ireland till the Spring of 1821. It was brought by Fr. Peter Kenney who had been attending the General Congregation of the Society of Jesus in Rome.

It is proper to remark here that the Brothers owe a large debt of gratitude to Rev. John Rice, of the Order of Saint Augustine, and brother to Edmund Rice, for his very active and persevering exertions as Agent for the Institute at Rome.

(When the Brief arrived it was translated and circulated, but not Article 14, to which Edmund strongly objected. He later wrote to Rome, with the signatures of Drs. Troy and Murray, asking that it be expunged, but the Brief was not altered.)

As soon as it was announced to the Brothers that the Brief had arrived, they were anxious to adopt measures for receiving it in due form. The Summer vacation was chosen as the most convenient time for the Brothers to assemble. There were at this time in the Institute only twenty-two members, who had made vows. These alone were to meet on this occasion. Saturday the 25th of August was the day appointed. The Brothers accordingly met in Thurles on that day. There were 19 present: three of the Professed Brothers could not conveniently leave their houses but wrote to say they were ready to concur with whatever was decided. (Br. Ignatius Mulcahy did not attend, nor did any Brother from the Cork community).

The Brief was read Article by Article by one of the Brothers; it was then (after a good deal of conversation, which principally turned on the points before mentioned) proposed that the plan of life and government specified therein be received and practised by the Brothers of the Institute. To this proposition there were only three dissenting voices. Votes of thanks were passed by the meeting to the Prelates who had patronised the Institute in their Dioceses.

The meeting was dissolved on Sunday evening the 26th of August, and the Brothers began next day to make arrangements for their departure to their respective houses. Nothing now remained to be done but to appoint a convenient place, and fix on a proper time for the Brothers to prepare themselves to make or renew their Vows according to the form authorized by the Brief. After some communication with each other on these points, it was agreed upon that this house (i.e. Mount Sion, Waterford) was the most convenient. The time was also appointed: the 12th of January 1822.


On January 11th, 1822, 19 members assembled in Mount Sion and began an Eight Days’ Retreat, which was conducted by their dear friend Fr. Kenney, who had come from Dublin expressly for that object. The exercises terminated on Saturday evening, 19th of January.

On the day after the retreat, Sunday, 20th January, Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, Father Kenney said Mass for them in the chapel, Mount Sion, and offered it for their special intention. The Brothers gathered once again in the chapel after Mass and the Brief was read aloud. The seven Superiors who constituted the General Chapter then pronounced their vows. 

When on their knees, the Veni Creator, with the collect Deus, qui corda fidélium, was sung.

Veni, Creátor Spíritus, mentes tuórum vísita,
imple supérna grátia, quæ tu creásti péctora.
Qui díceris Paráclitus, altíssimi donum Dei,
fons vivus, ignis, cáritas, et spiritális únctio.
Tu septifórmis múnere, dígitus patérnæ déxteræ,
tu rite promíssum Patris, sermóne ditans gúttura.
Accénde lumen sénsibus, infúnde amórem córdibus,
infírma nostri córporis virtúte firmans pérpeti.
Hostem repéllas lóngius pacémque dones prótinus;
ductóre sic te prævio vitémus omne nóxium.
Per te sciámus da Patrem noscámus atque Fílium,
teque utriúsque Spíritum credámus omni témpore.
Deo Patri sit glória, et Fílio, qui a mórtuis surréxit,
ac Paráclito, in sæculórum sǽcula.

Deus, qui corda fidélium Sancti Spíritus il¬lus¬tra¬tióne docuísti,
da nobis in eódem Spíritu recta sápere;
et de eius semper con¬so¬latióne gaudére.
Per Christum Dóminum nostrum.
R/. Amen.

Then in the presence of all the Brothers, they, one after another, pronounced their vows in a distinct and audible manner in the following words.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, prostrate in profound adoration before thy infinite and adorable Majesty, I consecrate myself to thee in order to procure thy glory so far as lies in me, or thou art pleased to require of me.
To this end, I N.N. promise and vow to become now and to remain for ever a member of the Institute of the Religious Brothers founded under the protection of the Infant Jesus, and the invocation of his Virgin Mother, for the gratuitous instruction of poor boys, in order to teach in any school committed to their care, to which I may be sent, or perform any other duty in the same Institute which may be assigned to me either by the body of this Association, or by the Superiors who shall be entrusted with its government. For this purpose, I promise and vow Poverty, Chastity, Obedience, Perseverance in the Institute and gratuitous instruction according to the tenor of the Apostolical Brief, by which our Holy Father, Pope Pius the Seventh, was pleased to approve this Institute.
These vows of perseverance and obedience to the body and to the Superiors of the Institute, as well as those of Poverty, Chastity and gratuitous instruction, I promise to keep inviolably during my whole life.
And in testimony of this sacred engagement, I have subscribed them with my name in the Domestic Chapel of our house, Mount Sion, Waterford, on the Feast of the Most Name of Jesus, the 20th day of January 1822.

Brother N.N., called in the world N.N.

On that same day the Brothers began the first General Chapter in the life of the new Congregation. After making some initial arrangements they proceeded to elect a Superior General.

Origin recalls: After some time, the house bell was rung to announce that the Election had taken place. The Brothers all assembled at the Chapel door, which was opened by the Doorkeeper of the Chapter. The Secretary then coming forward to the Chapel door, addressed the Brothers in the following words: "Dearly beloved Brethren, we have now a Superior General, Brother Ignatius Rice." He then read the Decree of Election, to which the Brothers answered "Deo Gratias".

The Chapter then decided that Brothers who has already professed vows under the old form should be allowed to make them under the form prescribed by the Brief, and so a further ceremony was held during which 8 Brothers made vows. This concluded the proceedings of that historic day.

On the following day, the twenty first day of January 1822, Brother Patrick Ellis and Brother Austin Dunphy were chosen Assistants to the Superior General by the majority of the suffrages of the General Chapter duly convened and all forms legitimately observed according to the Brief of approbation of our Institute, Ad pastoralis dignitatis fastigium.

The Chapter then passed the following Decree. "That four Brothers be chosen or elected from the Chapter, who are to act as Commissioners with the Superior General and his two Assistants in framing a code of Rules and plan of discipline for the Institute."

In consequence of the above Decree a ballot took place to elect the four Commissioners. After observing all due forms, it was found that the following Brothers were elected by a majority of suffrages; Brother Francis Manifold, Brother Patrick Corbett, Brother Joseph Mulcahy, and Brother Aloysius Kelly. The Chapter, having now invested the seven Commissioners with power to draw up Rules for the Institute, had nothing more to deliberate on.

On Saturday evening January 26th at eight o'clock, the labours of the Chapter being now terminated, the Brothers proceeded to the Chapel, where they recited the Te Deum after which they returned to the Community room where the Superior General dissolved the Chapter: saying, "I dissolve this Chapter in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." To which they all answered "Amen.”

A letter was sent to all the communities after the profession of vows and the Chapter meeting:

On the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus the twentieth day of January one thousand eight hundred and twenty two Brother Ignatius, in the world, Edmund Rice, was chosen Superior General by the majority of the suffrages of the General Chapter duly convened, and all forms legitimately observed according to the Brief of approbation of our Institute Ad Pastoralis dignitatis fastigium.

Br. John Patrick Corbett, President
Br. B. F. Manifold, Assistant
Br. James F. Thornton, Assistant and Secretary.

(After 1822 there was regular correspondence between Edmund Rice or his Assistants with the De la Salle Superiors Brs Guillaume and Anclet, in Paris. Usually the interchange dealt with administrative matters, whether for the schools or for the Institute. In 1832 Bernard Dunphy and Ignatius Barry visited Paris to observe the De la Salle community life, schools and conduct of the novitiate. They were there from September and visited a number of schools on their journey. Upon their return, they reported that "We saw much that edified us in the French Novitiate and in the communities of the brethern". Later, after a visit in 1843, Br. Joseph Murphy wrote "It was a great comfort to us to see the tomb of our venerable founder - the holy Father De la Salle... it is my wish, that if it be the will of God, that we should become a single body, that we will be subject to a single Superior".

THE BRIEF - AD PASTORALIS DIGNITATIS FASTIGIUM - "to the summit of pastoral dignity"

The original text in Latin is in Lettere e Decreti della Sacra Congregazione [Propaganda Fide, Rome] 1820, Vol 301, F. 592-7.
The original Latin Brief was lost at some stage (Kirby Correspondence No. 340 Irish College, Rome, 6 March 1845).
The earliest extant English translation is in the papers of Dr Bray, 1820/1, Cashel Diocesan Archives.
(Source: Br. Columba Normoyle, Roman Correspondence, p. 94.)

Raised to the summit of the pastoral dignity, not through our own merits, but by the ineffable abundance of the Divine Wisdom and Clemency; we willingly confirm, as being requested thereto, by our Apostolic protection, those things which are known to be prudently constituted and ordained for the greater spiritual advancement of Societies, piously and holily founded, which are continually labouring to produce, with the assistance and blessing of the Almighty, abundant fruits of piety and charity; and for the good of persons enrolled in the same, or who may be enrolled in them hereafter, that they continue steadfastly therein and persevere with constancy.

And whereas, according as it has been related to us, by our beloved son, Charles Mary Pedecini, secretary to the Propaganda Fide, a pious Society of laymen, in the kingdom of Ireland, considering the many great evils to which the poor children of that Nation are exposed, in consequence of their ignorance; and being very desirous to provide for the education and instruction of those amongst them, whose poverty prevents them from going to Schools where payments are exacted; and whence it happens, that being entirely ignorant, they know not the rudiments of the Catholic faith - have come forward, and applied themselves to the instruction of said children: and, for this purpose, undertook, a few years ago, to erect a Congregation under the title of “Religious Brothers” nearly resembling that which has been instituted in the kingdom of France, having for its title “The Brothers of the Christian Schools,” and approved by our predecessor of happy memory, Benedict the Thirteenth, in the year seventeen hundred and twenty four, by his Constitution, which begins with the words “In Apostolicae dignitatis solio.”

Now, these pious laymen have proposed to themselves the following end, viz.: The Gratuitous Instruction of poor children, in the rudiments of the Christian Faith, and whatever else as also those branches of Literature may be adapted to their state and condition; and for the better establishing this salutary Institute, they have framed certain Rules and Constitutions, to be observed by them, which are but a little different from those of “The Brothers of the Christian Schools” ; and have humbly laid them before the Congregation of our venerable Brethren, the Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, who are charged with the affairs of the propagation of the Faith; in order that if found good, and adapted to the end of their Institute, they might be confirmed by the strength of our Apostolical authority and approbation.

These Rules or Constitutions are as follows, viz.:
1. That these Religious Brothers, being instituted under the protection of the Holy Child Jesus, and the Patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary, his Mother, shall make it their principal care to teach children, particularly the poor, the things necessary for a virtuous and Christian life; and that the main end and spirit of their Institute, must be an anxious solicitude to educate youth according to the maxims of the Christian law.
2. That they obey the Superior General, for the time being, by them elected; and establish themselves in those dioceses into which they are admitted, with the consent of the Bishops, and under their authority.
3. That the Superior-General shall be elected by the scrutiny and secret suffrage of the Directors of all the houses, assembled together for the purpose. And that the person thus elected shall continue to govern for ten years only, unless again re-elected and confirmed, in which case he can continue in office for other ten years; and that, in the same assembly of Directors, and in like manner of suffrage, they shall elect two Assistants, who are to form the Council of the Superior General, and assist him in the administration of the Institute.
4. The Assistants shall live in the same house with the Superior General; they shall be present at his deliberations, and aid him, when necessary, in answering such letters as he may receive.
5. The Brothers shall teach the children gratis; never accepting of anything as a reward or retribution, either from them or their parents.
6. None of the Brothers shall aspire to the Priesthood, or to any ecclesiastical orders.
7. The Brothers can be admitted into this Institute, in the sixteenth or seventeenth year of their age, but they cannot be permitted to make their simple perpetual vows, until they have completed their one-and-twentieth year.
8. The vows of the Brethren shall be those of Chastity, Poverty, Obedience, firm Perseverance in the Institute, and the Gratuitous Instruction of the poor.
9. The Superior General can be deposed by a General Chapter of the Brothers, for the following causes, viz.: heresy, manslaughter, impurity, mental imbecility, infirmity of old age, squandering the goods of the Institute, or any other enormous crime, which the assembled General Chapter shall judge deserving of such chastisement, and in such extraordinary occasions, this General Chapter shall be convoked by the Assistants.
10. The Brothers Directors of the particular houses shall govern but for three years only, unless that, for just reasons, it shall appear better to the Superior General and his Assistants, to increase or lessen the time; and the Superior General is to give the necessary faculties to the said Directors, concerning the vow of Poverty, or administration of the temporal goods of their houses; but with the exception, however, that it be never allowed these Directors, nor to the visitors who are to be deputed from time to time, to alienate lands, or any property, moveable or immoveable, without first consulting the Superior General, for the time being, and his Assistants.
11. Visitors shall be appointed by the Superior General, for three years, and shall make their visitation once in each year: they shall require of the Director of each house an account of the receipts and expenditure, and at the termination of each visitation, will report to the Superior General what they see necessary to be corrected in each house.
12. General Chapters will be convened every ten years; to which shall come the Director of each house, and the Visitors for the time being; unless that it may sometimes appear more convenient that an extraordinary congregation be called before that time. To this effect, if it be thought too inconvenient to call an extraordinary general congregation, for the removal of one or both of the Assistants - in such case, the Superior-General will inform the Director of each house, by letter, of his intention of so doing, showing the reasons for which one or both of them are to be removed; which being done, if the majority of the Directors, with the Superior General and his Assistant who may remain in office, shall have declared it as their opinion, in writing, that the good of the Institute requires the removal of such person or persons; then it will be in the power of the Superior General to remove him or them; and, in case of a removal, he is to let the Brothers know that they are to proceed to a new election, in place of the person or persons so removed; which election will be carried on by the like suffrages, to be transmitted in writing to the Superior General, on a determined day. These documents shall be delivered into the hands of two Brothers Directors, called for that purpose, who will be bound to inform the Superior General in what person or persons’ favour the suffrages have been given. The Superior General will then declare such person or persons duly elected.
13. The Brothers shall not only teach the children reading, writing, orthography, arithmetic, but also the Christian and Evangelical precepts. They shall give Catechetical instructions, or read for them a pious book, for half an hour, each day of school; but on Sundays and holydays of obligation, they shall prolong the Catechism or Lecture, to the space of an hour, in some church or convenient place, where a congregation can be assembled.
14. Lastly, the Brothers cannot visit Nuns, without the express leave of the local Bishop; and they must observe the conditions imposed by him, in writing.

These being diligently examined by the aforesaid congregation, and having consulted our venerable Brother, the Archbishop of Dublin, and the other Bishops of Ireland, who highly extolled this Society, and asserted that most ample fruits were reaped from it, the aforesaid Congregation of Cardinals humbly begged of us to deign to approve this Institute, and the foregoing Rules.

We, therefore, wishing to satisfy the desires of said Congregation, and of the Bishops of Ireland, and to further whatever should conduce to the good of the faithful, and absolving, and considering as absolved, only as to the obtaining the effects of these presents from all excommunications, suspensions, interdict, and other Ecclesiastical sentences, censures and punishments, incurred by the fact, or inflicted by a judge, for whatsoever reason, if they should lie under any; those persons, in whose favour we write, and consenting to the aforesaid petitions, by the advice of our said Brethren, we approve and confirm, with our express Apostolical Authority, this Institute, and the foregoing Rules or Constitutions, and all therein contained, and we thereunto add the authority of our Apostolical support; and we also supply every defect, either in fact or law, decreeing that these presents are and shall be firm, valid and efficacious, and fully favourable to them; and that they are to be observed by all those whom they regard, or whom they will, in any wise, in future regard; and depriving any judges whatsoever, ordinary or delegate, even the Auditors of the Sacred Palace, and Nuncios of the See Apostolic, of judging or interpreting otherwise.

And we declare invalid and void, everything that shall be attempted, regarding these, by any person whoever, and with whatever authority, knowingly or ignorantly, notwithstanding any Apostolical orders or constitutions whatever.

It is, also, our wish, that as much credit shall be given to the copies or transcripts of these presents, signed by the hand of some Public Notary, and sealed by the seal of some person constituted in Ecclesiastical dignity, both in and out of Court, as would be given to these presents themselves, if they were produced or shewn.

Given at Rome, from St Mary Major’s, under the Fisherman’s ring, this fifth day of September, Eighteen Hundred and Twenty, in the twenty-first year of our Pontificate.

(Papal Seal)

(Some of the materials here have been researched and produced by Br. Michael Dredge. See edmundrice.eu)