Edmund Rice (1762- 1844) – Summary of His Life
His parents, Robert and Margaret Rice, were prosperous tenant farmers. Edmund had six brothers and two stepsisters, Edmund's mother having married previously. The family spoke Irish but would also have spoken English in order to conduct their business affairs. The Rice family were known in the locality for their warmth and generosity.
Ireland in 1762, however, was under British rule and the anti-Catholic Penal Laws, were in force. These laws prevented a Catholic from owning land over a certain value, from entering the professions and from owning a weapon. The Penal Laws also prevented Catholics from attending Mass in public and from receiving an education. A Lord Chief Justice at the time declared that "The Laws of Ireland did not presume a Roman Catholic to exist."
The Penal Laws severely limited the career prospects of Catholics. Opportunities were limited to farming, emigration, religious life or the world of business. However, these laws were relaxed at the time of Edmund's childhood and were eventually dropped in 1829. In the meantime a growing middle class of Catholics was beginning to emerge.
As a result of the Penal Laws Edmund was forced to receive his primary school education in a "hedge school". These were illegal schools established by travelling teachers. Edmund's parents provided his religious education and were assisted by a local Augustinian Friar, Patrick Grace.
Edmund later attended a commercial academy in Kilkenny city which prepared him for his future business career. From his youth, Edmund was attracted to the business world.
At the age of 17, Edmund began an apprenticeship with his uncle, Michael Rice, in Waterford city. Waterford was the second busiest shipping port in Ireland at the time. Edmund, a hard worker, eventually became the manager of the business.
He also led a vibrant social life and his pastimes included horse riding, boating and dancing. He was no angel and a story from the time tells of him being reprimanded by a neighbour for being unruly at a Sunday Mass!
Love and Business
Edmund's uncle signed his business to him when Edmund was a mere 24 years of age. By now a shrewd businessman, Edmund invested his growing fortune in land and property.
At the age of 25, Edmund married the daughter of a local businessman, Mary Elliott.
However, Mary was killed in a horse riding accident and the baby she was carrying was born with a handicap. The baby was christened Mary and Edmund's step-sister Joan would look after her.
At a Cross Roads
After the body blow of his wife's death, Edmund became more religious than anytime in his life. He read the Bible regularly (an unusual practice for Catholics at that time) and he developed a devotion to St. Teresa of Avila. Above all he developed a close and personal relationship with Christ. At this point of his life he also became involved in charitable works and regularly visited the poor of Waterford city providing financial assistance to those in need.
During this period of his life Edmund felt that his life was in need of a new direction.
On a business trip in 1793 he shared a room with a friar. Before going to bed, both men prayed together. However, after Edmund retired for the night, the friar continued to pray. When Edmund woke the following morning, the friar was still at prayer. The event had a profound influence on Edmund and it led him to begin seriously considering a religious vocation.
Edmund was now aged 31 and a millionaire by today's standards. He eventually decided that he would go to Europe to become a priest. However, he shared his thoughts one day with a friend, Mary Power. She replied with words which would change Edmund's life:
"So, you are thinking of burying yourself in a monastery on the Continent. Will you leave these poor boys uncared for? Can't you do something for them?"
Edmund made a resolution that, rather than go abroad to become a priest, he would remain in Ireland and do something for the poor children of the city.
However, he was a layman and there was no model for a priest becoming involved in work of this nature. One hundred years before, a French Priest, had founded the De La Salle Brothers but there was nothing like this in the English speaking world.
In addition, these were Penal times and a law passed in 1791 forbade the "establishment of any religious order or society bounded by monastic vows".
Edmund wrote to Pope Pius VI for advice and the Holy Father encouraged him in his endeavours. He also received support from the local bishops.
In 1797, Bishop Thomas Hussey of Waterford wrote a Pastoral Letter in which he discouraged Catholic parents from sending their children to "Bible Schools" established with the purpose of training children to become Protestant.
The Presentation Sisters
A Cork woman, Nano Nagle, meanwhile, had been addressing similar issues by providing education for young, deprived girls. She had founded a religious congregation which became known as the Presentation Sisters. In 1798, Edmund assisted the Sisters in opening a convent and school in Waterford city.
Edmund decided to try something similar for young boys. In 1800 he began to teach youngsters at his business premises in Barronstrand Street with the assistance of some volunteers.
The work was very difficult and the teachers who came to help had no interest in doing that work on a full time basis as part of a life totally dedicated to God.
Undaunted, the following year, Edmund converted some stables on New Steet into a makeshift school. He also hired two assistants to help to teach the boys.
It did not go well and Edmund's friends and colleagues described it as an act of "mad folly".
In addition, the residents around New Street were unhappy that the young, unruly children were bothering them and the two teachers couldn't cope and abandoned Edmund. At this point, Edmund also began winding down his business interests. Edmund was now aged 40.
Two men, Patrick Grosvenor and Patrick Finn, arrived to help Edmund. They had been considering dedicating their lives to God also. The three men lived in temporary accommodation over the horse stable as they waited for a monastery to be built.
Unknown to themselves, even though the conditions were difficult and their success was limited, something beautiful had been born.
Edmund and his companions moved into their new monastery in 1803. The life of Edmund and his followers was simple. They rose early, prayed together and attended daily Mass. In addition to providing education, a bakehouse was built alongside the school to provide food for the children. Tailors made clothes for the pupils and also for the poor of the city. Conditions were difficult, with each Brother teaching as many as 150 pupils.
Mount Sion soon became famous. Parents noticed the changes in their children. The Brothers at Mount Sion also began to provide night courses and weekend classes for illiterate adults. The Brothers also made visits to the local jail, supported charities, and, on an individual basis, assisted alcoholics, and those in need.
As news of Edmund's work spread, more men came to join him. By 1808, two new schools were established in Dungarvan and Carrick on Suir in the Waterford Diocese.
. Edmund and his companions were not priests. Technically, they were still laymen. However, Edmund devised a "Rule for Living" for the men based on the Rule used by Nano Nagle's Presentation Sisters.
On 15th August 1808, eight men, wearing a simple black habit, joined Edmund at the chapel at the presentation Convent, Waterford.. The men made three vows: poverty, celibacy and obedience. They gave themselves the name "Society of the Presentation" under the authority of the local bishop. The men referred to one another as "Brother" and Edmund took a new name, "Ignatius" after St. Ignatius of Loyola.
This was the first venture of its kind in the English speaking Church.
Christian Brothers are Born
As word spread about the Presentation Brothers, several bishops requested that similar foundations be established in their own dioceses. A system was put in place where the bishop would send suitable young men to Mount Sion for two and a half years of training. The men would then return to their home diocese and would train any future novices there.
Soon there were foundations in Cork, Dublin, Thurles and Limerick. Technically, the local bishop was the superior of these communities but the brothers looked to Edmund Rice as their leader.
At this point, the Brothers decided that the demand for their services could be met more efficiently if they became a Pontifical rather than a Diocesan Society, as in the case of the De La Salle Brothers in France. This would mean that the leadership of the Brothers would be held by an elected brother and would not be the local bishop. First discussions of this took place at a meeting in Mount Sion in 1817 and in January 1822, Edmund Rice was elected as the Superior General of the Christian Brothers.
However, some of the brothers at the North Monastery in Cork city did not support the new move and remained under the authority of their bishop as Presentation Brothers. Eventually, Bishop Murphy of Cork provided these men with a new monastery on the south side of the city. It would become known as the South Monastery and the superior would be Brother Austin Riordan.
In 1825 the Christian Brothers opened their first school in England at Preston in Lancashire. In 1828, the headquarters of the Brothers was moved from Waterford to Dublin. The great Daniel O'Connell laid the foundation stone for the new Generalate at North Richmond St, Dublin. A crowd of 100,000 people attended the event and heard Daniel O'Connell refer to Edmund Rice as "The Patriarch of the Monks of the West".
In 1838, at the age of 76, Edmund resigned as the Superior General of the Brothers. His successor was Brother Michael Paul Riordan from the North Monastery in Cork.
Edmund Rice died on 28th August 1844 at Mount Sion in Waterford.
A Protestant journalist who attended the funeral wrote the following: "Why are you sorrowful? Why are you sad? Mr. Rice is not dead! He lives! Yes, he lives the highest, noblest and greatest life. He lives on in the noble band of Christian workmen to whom he has bequeathed his spirit and his work
. Blessed Edmund Rice
On a beautiful autumn morning, 6th October 1996, Pope John Paul II beatified Edmund Rice at a ceremony in St. Peter's Square, Rome. On the same morning, the Pope also beatified 13 martyrs of Pratulin, killed by Russian soldiers in 1874 for remaining faithful to the Church of Rome; Maria Ana Mogas Fontacurberta of Spain, who died in 1886 after founding the Franciscan missionary order of Mother of the Divine Pastor; and Marcellina Darowska of Poland, who was born in 1827 and founded the order of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Homily of Cardinal Cahal Daly at the Mass of Thanksgiving
Peter's Basilica, Monday 7th October 1996
Among the many distinguished people assembled here today, I shall name only one, and that is Kevin Ellison. He is the young man whose recovery from a life-threatening illness was officially pronounced miraculous by the appropriate Medical Commission and was accepted by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints as a miracle brought about through the intercession of Blessed Edmund Rice. Kevin's cure was an essential condition for the Beatification. It is eminently fitting that Kevin should be here today with his brother and sister to honour the new Beatus and to acknowledge with gratitude the power of Blessed Edmund's prayer.
With our hearts still filled with the joy of the Beatification liturgy in this Basilica yesterday, we are gathered here to give thanks to God for the Beatification and to thank Him for Edmund Ignatius Rice and for the Institute of Christian Brothers which he founded. At the same time we thank God for the Institute of Presentation Brothers, who also have Blessed Edmund as their holy Founder. Because of the spiritual bonds which linked Edmund Rice with the Institute of Presentation Sisters, which Nano Nagle founded, we are also in this mass thanking God for the brotherhood and sisterhood of grace which binds the Presentation Sisters and the Presentation Brothers with Blessed Edmund and binds all three Institutes in what we might call the Presentation Religious Family. All of us who are privileged to be here above the Confession of St Peter today and to share the supreme act of thanksgiving to God, which is the Eucharist, have some link with Edmund Rice through the brothers who have faithfully continued his charism for the past century and a half. The Brothers are joined by Associates who have pledged themselves to share the Edmund Rice charism and ensure its continuance into the future. We are joined also by many lay teachers in the schools of the Brothers, as well as the present day pupils from the Brother's schools in all the continents where the name Edmund Rice is known and honoured through the work of his religious family.
The term, "Presentation Family", is appropriate because Edmund Rice adapted for his new Institute of Religious Brothers the rule first drawn up for Nano Nagle's Presentation Sisters. This was itself based on the rule drawn up for the Visitation Sisters by St Francis de Sales. In fact, the first name given by Blessed Edmund to his religious society was "The Society of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary"; and this is the name still used by the Presentation Brothers. The chapters in Nano Nagle's Rule on zeal for the education of the poor, on detachment from worldliness, and on warm community spirit, were those which Edmund himself particularly cherished; while the devotion to the Blessed Eucharist, to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and to the Passion, which were inculcated in Nano Nagle's Rule, found an echo in Edmund's own heart and were in fact his personal devotions of predilection. At his reception of the habit of religious life, Edmund Rice took the religious name of Ignatius. He always regarded Ignatius as a spiritual guide, and was assisted in his own spiritual growth by Jesuit Fathers.
Ever a devout lay Christian, husband and father, and successful businessman, Edmund increasingly since 1802 had being growing in the interior life and had been eagerly pursuing the unum necessarium, the "one thing necessary". He avidly read the writings of St. Francis de Sales, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Teresa of Avila and Alphonso Rodriguez. He cultivated a deep devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and a great love of Our Lady. A decisive influence on Edmund and on his spirituality and his Rule and his apostolate was, as I have said, that of Nano Nagle. Nano (or Honora) was born nearly 50 years before Edmund. Her Presentation Sisters were the first Irish-originated Sisterhood and the Rule drawn up for them was the first such Rule to be drawn up and be papally approved for an Irish Sisterhood. In turn Edmund's rule for his Brothers was the first Rule for an Irish-founded Religious Institute for men in post-Reformation Ireland.
It was Nano's personal holiness and her total commitment to the poor which first kindled Edmund's enthusiasm. Already as a layman, Edmund had become aware of the miserable plight of poor boys in Waterford. There was no provision for their religious education or their moral formation, and Edmund saw this as a shameful their personal dignity and of their Christian calling. When plans were being formulated for a new community of Presentation Sisters to be set up in Waterford, with a school for poor girls, Edmund as a lay businessman was deeply involved in preparations for their coming and in the raising of funds to finance the school. This new school was in fact near to Mount Sion, where Edmund was later to form his first community of Brothers. Edmund was able to observe at close quarters the Sister's life of prayer and poverty and work for the poor. He was filled with admiration and he became more convinced than ever of the need for similar schools for poor boys. It was, however, above all, the lives of prayer of the Sisters and their spirit of self-giving to Christ and his Kingdom which impressed Edmund, and which he saw as the secret of their commitment to the poor. Consequently, his thoughts increasingly turned towards the formation of a community of men committed to prayer and holiness of life and living out their prayer and love of God in works for the education of the poor.
The foundation of the Institute of Christian Brothers can variously be dated to 1802, when Edmund gathered around him his first small group of young disciples; or to 15th August 1808, when his companions and he first donned the religious habit and pronounced religious vows; or to 1822, when they formally accepted the Papal "Brief of Approval", signed by the pope in 1820; or to 1829, when they adopted the new Rule, which was formally published in 1832, after a period of trial. Meanwhile, the community in the South Monastery, Cork, opted in 1827 to remain a diocesan community under the Bishop of Cork; they formed the nucleus of the Presentation Brothers.
Edmund's Educational Legacy
The achievement of the sons of Edmund Rice in nineteenth and early twentieth century Ireland was phenomenal. It has few parallels in any country. The Brothers played the major part in the creation of Catholic education in the educational desert which was the immediate post-penal day Ireland. They provided free education for the poor long before the term was even coined and when the State contribution to education was minimal and when even that minimum was denied to the Catholic poor. Many of the men who created the Irish State, many of the men who formed its first governments, who staffed its civil service, who played leading roles in the literary and cultural, educational and social development of the country, were "Christian Brother's boys" or "Presentation Brother's boys". Their past pupils are still as numerous and as distinguished. The work of the Presentation Sisters is no less outstanding. This was at a time when, apart from a small new Catholic middle-class which was beginning to have access to business and prosperity, the vast majority of Catholics in Ireland were unskilled workers, many of them illiterate. A Lord Chief Justice of the time had the famous remark:
The laws of Ireland did not presume a Roman Catholic to exist, nor could such a one breathe there without the connivance of the Government. Even when Catholic Emancipation came, there still remained in force a legal ban on religious orders. Edmund had serious legal problems about the Brother's right to raise or dispose of the funds necessary for the schools. In every sphere of life, therefore, Catholics were made to feel inferior; and, particularly in the case of the boys whom the Brothers taught and their parents, thay often had a poor self-image, a poor sense of self-worth and low expectations of life. This should be kept in mind when the Brothers are charged with teaching an extreme and narrow Irish nationalism. Their objective was to give their pupils belief in themselves, pride in their country and its history, conviction that the poor could, with good education, emulate the more economically privileged and that Ireland had a right to justice and equality among the nations of the earth. Just as the Presentation and Mercy Sisters and many others did so much to empower Catholic girls and women, so the Christian and the Presentation Brothers empowered Catholic boys and men. Together they thereby had a huge part in the building of the foundations for a self-confident nation. Ireland owes them an immense debt. It is wonderful to see that debt recognised in these days in Rome by the presence here of a large and distinguished delegation from the Government and the Oireachtas and from local Government.
There have been patches of tares here and there among the rich broad acres of golden wheat which is the harvest of Edmund's planting. When I say that these are the exceptions in an otherwise outstanding spiritual and educational record, I do not in any way minimise the pain and the hurt caused by cases of abuse of children.
Sadly, religious consecration or priestly ordination do not eliminate the weaknesses of our fallen human nature. But I do wish to say that the "bad image" sometimes given to the Brothers in some sectors of the press and media is totally unjustified, unfair and unjust.
Today we unreservedly thank God for what the Brothers have done and are doing for Church and society in Ireland and across the world; but we thank Him even more for what the Brothers are in their lives of prayer and dedication to the establishment on earth of God's Kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace. A collection of school memories, written by past pupils of the Presentation Brother's schools, published recently, includes a very striking tribute paid by John McGahern, a past pupil of the Presentation Brothers Secondary School in Carrick-on-Shannon. Speaking of his days in that school, McGahern writes:
"I look back on those five years as the beginning of an adventure that has not stopped.... I look back on my time there with nothing but gratitude, as years of luck and privilege, and, above all, of grace, actual grace".
So it has been for countless thousands of past pupils of the Brothers. Past pupils who are here, and thousands who are not here, would want me on this great day to salute the Brothers in their name and to wish for the Brothers themselves a future of grace and blessing as great as their past has been.
As a bishop, I freely confess today that relations between some bishops and the Brothers in the early days were not always as cordial as they should have been. Therefore, I specially wish today to tell the Brothers how much we bishops owe to them for their incalculable service to the Church and catholic education. May the reward they are receiving in these days of joy and celebration in Rome and back at home be a foretaste for them of eternal joy and reward.
Edmund the Saint? (by Donal Blake CFC)
Canonisation - the making of a Saint
After the Beatification of Blessed Edmund Rice on the 6th October 1996, investigations into his life continued. At present there are hundreds of Causes "in deferral" in the Vatican. ("Deferral" is the time between Beatification and the actual Canonisation). To advance the person's Cause to Sainthood, a second miracle is usually required. This miracle must be performed after the Beatification. The Canonisation of a Saint is infallibly pronounced by the Pope in a formal declaration called an "apostolic bull", and the Canonisation ceremony is usually celebrated in St Peter's in Rome. The Pope declares that the person is in heaven, is worthy of public veneration, and is included in the liturgical calendar of the universal church.
• Public honour and veneration of the Saint worldwide;
• Church buildings to bear the Saint's name;
• A liturgical feast (Mass & Liturgy of the Hours) to be placed on the Church's universal calendar
; • Images of the Saint to be publicly displayed in any church;
• The Saint's remains to be publicly honoured
Blessed Edmund to St. Edmund
Evidence is required that people actually pray through Edmund's intercession and see him as an exemplar of various aspects of Christian living.
It is very important that a record is kept of any favours received. Regarding more extraordinary favours, which may in fact be miraculous cures granted by God through the intercession of Blessed Edmund, these need to be recorded locally in detail and copies of the medical evidence must be obtained, if these are going to be processed as possible miracles, one of which performed since Edmund's Beatification on 6 October 1996 will be needed if Edmund's Cause is to advance towards Canonisation.
Who knows but one of the favours granted in your region of the world may very well be the one that God will use towards Edmund being declared ‘St Edmund Rice'!
The message then is clear: Keep up the prayer through Edmund's intercession in your own small groups. Inform the relevant Edmund Rice Network people in your part of the world and widen the prayer base of the various novenas, etc., you organise for various named sick people.
The day has now come when we can fruitfully add such a phrase as "and hasten the day when Blessed Edmund will be declared a saint of the Church" to the various Edmund Rice Prayers that we use in different parts of the world. The postulator is the person who is specially appointed to coordinate the process in Rome.
Br Donal Blake CFC has resigned as Postulator for the Cause of Edmund Rice because of ill-health and is due to be replaced. His successor has not been named as of yet.