Edmund Ignatius Rice


Introduction

Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice (Irish: Iognáid Rís; 1 June 1762 – 29 August 1844), was a Roman Catholic missionary and educationalist. Edmund was the founder of two orders of religious brothers: the Congregation of Christian Brothers and the Presentation Brothers.

Rice was born in Ireland at a time when Catholics faced oppression under Penal Laws enforced by the British authorities. He forged a successful career in business and, after a tragic accident which killed his wife and left his daughter disabled, devoted his life to the education and service of the poor.

Christian Brothers and Presentation Brothers schools around the world continue to follow the system of education and traditions established by Edmund Rice

Early Life & Career

Edmund Rice was born to Bert Rice and Margaret Rice (née Tierney) on the farming property of "Westcourt", in Callan, County Kilkenny. Edmund Rice was the fourth of seven sons, although he also had two stepsisters, Joan and Jane Murphy, the offspring of his mother's first marriage.

At this time, Irish Catholics were punished by anti-Catholic Penal Laws which were enacted and enforced by the Protestant-dominated Irish parliament. Rice's education, like that of every other Irish Catholic of the day, was greatly compromised by the 1709 amendment to the Popery Act, which decreed that any public or private instruction in the Catholic faith would render teachers liable to prosecution, and was not reformed until 1782. In this environment, hedge schools proliferated. The boys of the Rice family obtained an education at home through Patrick Grace, a member of the small community of Augustinian friars in Callan.

That said, the Rices were quite well off by the standards of the day. As a young man, Rice spent two years at a school in Kilkenny to complete his education. His uncle Michael owned a merchant business in the nearby port town of Waterford. In 1779 Edmund was apprenticed to him, moving into a house in the market parish of Ballybricken, entering the business of trading livestock and other supplies, and the supervising of loading of victuals onto ships bound for the British colonies. Michael Rice died in 1785, and this business was passed into Edmund's ownership.

In about 1785 he married a young woman (perhaps Mary Elliott, the daughter of a Waterford tanner).Little is known about their married life, and Mary died in January 1789 following an accident, possibly by a fever that set in afterwards. The circumstances surrounding this accident are unclear, but she may have fallen off a horse that she was riding, or thrown out of a carriage by panicking horses. Pregnant at the time, a daughter was on Mary's deathbed.[citation needed] The daughter (also named Mary) was born handicapped. Edmund Rice was left a widower, with an infant daughter in delicate health.

Foundation Of The Christian Brothers and Presentation Brother's

In 1808, seven of the staff including Edmund Rice, took religious vows under Bishop Power of Waterford. Following the example of Nano Nagle's Presentation Sisters, they were called Presentation Brothers. This was the first congregation of men to be founded in Ireland and one of the few ever founded by a layman. Gradually a transformation had taken place amongst the "quay kids" of Waterford, largely attributed to the work of Edmund and his Brothers, who educated, clothed and fed the boys. Other bishops in Ireland supplied Edmund Rice with men whom he prepared for religious life and a life of teaching. In this way the Presentation Brothers spread throughout Ireland.

However, the communities were under the control of various diocesan bishops rather than Rice, and this created problems when Brothers were needed to be transferred from one school to another. Rice sought, and ultimately obtained, approval from Pope Pius VII for the community to be made into a pontifical congregation with Rice as Superior General; he was then able to move brothers to wherever they were most needed. In the 1820s further difficulties emerged owing to the expansion of the society and it becoming two distinct congregations. From this time on they were called Christian Brothers and the Presentation Brothers. The motto of the Christian Brothers was: "The Lord has given, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord forever".

In 1828, the North Richmond Street house and schools in Dublin were established by Rice, with the foundation stone laid by the politician Daniel O'Connell. The building housed the brothers' headquarters for many years and the present residence incorporates the original house built by Rice, who lived here for several years beginning in 1831.


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