Founder of the Christian Brothers
Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice was born on 1st June 1762. He was born in Callan,Ireland at a time of great troubles. England totally dominated the land and people of lreland.The laws of the time made it particularly difficult, even dangerous for people to practice their Catholic faith,to own land or even receive an education.
As a teenager Edmund worked for his uncle in fitting out ships with food for their long journeys.He inherited the business from his uncle when he died. Against all the odds,Edmund succeeded in making a good living and ran a profitable business.
In his mid twenties and at the top of his profession,Edmund married his wife,Mary.
Tragedy struck when Edmund's wife died giving birth to their first child after little more than a year of marriage.Edmund's whole world collapsed. Grief-stricken,he hardly knew where to turn.This loss burnt deeply into his being,profoundly affecting his outlook.
Edmund's newly-born daughter,named Mary after her mother,was a sickly child.Edmund devoted himself to caring for her.
After the death of his wife,Edmund turned increasingly to God.He read the bible frequently,seeking insights about the direction his life would now take.As a businessman,he was particularly attentive to what the bible said about money.He began to think of ways in which he could use his wealth for the good of others,especially the poor.
Edmund began to give generously to the poor of Waterford,supporting many needy families.
A significant moment in Edmund's life was a comment made to him by a lady friend.She knew that he was thinking of becoming a monk in a monastery in Europe.As they watched the poor,ignorant children playing in the street below the room where they were talking,she said to him that it could be God's will that he devote himself to the lifing up of the poor boys,so much in need of a Christian education.
Seeing what Sr.Nano Nagle's Presentation Sisters were doing for the education of poor girls,Edmund began to think of founding a religious congregation for the education of poor boys.He prayed about it and also sought advice from friends he trusted. In 1802 Edmund took the plunge and began teaching the poor boys of Waterford,first in a stable and then in the school rooms he built at Mt Sion. Many considered his scheme could not succeed but,trusting in Providence, he began his work. At first he had some paid helpers but when these gave up because of the difficulty of the work,he continued alone.Then some generous young men joined him,becoming the nucleus of his congregation of religious educators.
The boys,unused to discipline,took a while to settle but eventually their good conduct and studious habits won the admiration of all in Waterford. Edmund counselled his brothers:"Have confidence.The good.seed will. grow up in the children's hearts later on.
Gradually the number of brothers grew so that Edmund was able to open schools in other parts of lreland.The brothers absorbed his spirit during heir training at Mt Sion,Edmund inspiring them and forming them in their vocation.
Edmund and the brothers were always aware of the need the poor had for the simple but essential things of life.He provided food for them in the towns where the brothers worked.One who knew him well said,"he was father and mother to the poor".
Alert to the needs of others,Edmund turned some of his schools into hospitals when the plague broke out in some parts of Ireland.
Edmund was a regular visitor to the jails,comforting those who were imprisoned.Men about to be hanged would ask that Edmund stand beside them as they faced death.
Br.Edmund died on 29th August,1844.
Today Edmund's brothers and their collaborators carry on his vision in 27 countries throughout the world.
He was beatified by Pope John Paul Il in 1996.His feast day is 5th May, the anniversary of the day when the foundation stone of his first school, Mt.Sion,was laid.
The 250th anniversary of the birth of Edmund Rice,the founder of the Christian Brothers,was observed and appropriately celebrated throughout the world on 1st June 2012.