Blessed Edmund I. Rice - The Founder of The Christian Brothers

Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice (1 June 1762 – 29 August 1844), was a Roman Catholic missionary and educationalist. Edmund was the founder of two religious institutes 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, though reforms began in 1778 when he was a teenager. He forged a successful career in business and, after a tragic accident which killed his wife and left his daughter disabled and with learning difficulties, thereafter devoted his life to education of the poor. Christian Brothers and Presentation Brothers schools around the world continue to follow the traditions established by Edmund Rice (see List of Christian Brothers schools).

Edmund Rice was born to Robert 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 half-sisters, Joan and Jane Murphy, the offspring of his mother's first marriage. 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, a measure that 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. As a young man, Rice spent two years at a school which, despite the provisions of the penal laws, the authorities suffered to exist in the City of Kilkenny. 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 passed to Edmund. He was an active member of a society established in the city for the relief of the poor. His favourite charity was the Sick and Indigent Roomkeepers’ Association whose members visited the sick poor in their homes.

In 1808, seven of the staff including Edmund Rice, took religious vows under the authority of 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, and these he prepared for the religious life and for a life of teaching. In this way the Presentation Brothers spread throughout Ireland. However, the communities were under the control of the bishop in each diocese rather than Edmund Rice, and this created problems when Brothers were needed to be transferred from one school to another. Rice sought approval from Pope Pius VII for the community to be made into a pontifical congregation with a Superior General. Ultimately he obtained this, and as Superior General he was then able to move brothers across diocesan boundaries to wherever they were most needed. In the 1820s further difficulties emerged owing to the expansion of the society and it’s 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, the foundation stone being 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.