Founder of the Congregation of Christian Brothers
Edmund Rice was born in Ireland on 1st June 1762 in the market town of Callan, Co Kilkenny. His father, Robert, was a farmer and his mother, Margaret, was a woman of refined manners and a devout Christian. The couple’s nine children (two girls and seven boys) were educated at home by itinerant tutors. Following his mother’s example, young Edmund would bring neighbourhood children home and would give them something to eat. After that, Edmund would sit them down and teach them prayers.
Edmund arrived in Waterford in 1779 to work for his uncle, who owned a business which supplied the Navy and the Army with food and other victuals. In Waterford, Edmund became a successful businessman, he heard mass every day and received Communion on Sundays.
Through his business dealings, Edmund got in touch with the dire life in the docks of Waterford: he witnessed the terrible reality of urban poverty and saw how the Catholic poor children were prevented by the Penal Laws from attending school. His heart was moved and saddened when he realised that no one took an interest in these children.
Edmund wrote to the Pope and the Bishop of Kilkenny seeking advice. Both men beseeched him to open schools. Edmund sold his business and opened his first school in an old stable on New Street, Waterford, in 1802.
In the first twenty years, schools in Cork, Dublin, Cappoquin, Thurles and Limerick were opened. The number of students in those towns grew dramatically. As a result, requests to open new schools came from all over Ireland and England.
Edmund opened a bake house and a tailors’ shop at Mount Sion to feed and clothe the children who attended the school every day.
As the schools had attained success and growth, Edmund requested the Pope’s approval of his congregation. On 5th September 1820, Pope Pius VII granted his approval to the Congregation of Christian Brothers. In January 1822, Edmund was chosen first Superior General of the new congregation, at Mount Sion.
In 1838, once retired as Superior General, Edmund Rice returned from Dublin to settle down in Waterford. He was 76 years old and suffered from a painful case of arthritis. He died on Thursday 29th August, 1844 and was buried two days later in the community’s cemetery.