Edmund Rice Was born to a farming family on 1 June 1762 at Westcourt, Callan, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland. After receiving elementary education at the local “hedge school”, he attended a commercial academy in Kilkenny city.
In 1779 Edmund went to Waterford and was apprenticed to his uncle, Michael Rice, in the business of supplying all the needs of ships that plied their trade across the Atlantic ocean. He earned enough money to make himself and his family comfortable for life.
MARRIAGE AND TRAGEDY
In 1786 Edmund married Mary Elliot, the daughter of a prosperous businessman. After three short years of marriage, Mary suffered a tragic accident, gave birth to a handicapped daughter, also called Mary, and died shortly after. Edmund was devastated. His sister came from Callan to look after his house and assist him in caring for his daughter. When she turned 14, he brought young Mary to his home in Callan where his married brother cared for her.
In 1802, Edmund, a forty-year old widower and a highly successful business man, changed course radically. His heart was touched by the crowds of unruly boys who spent their days on the quays of Waterford fighting and begging, with no school to go to. No one showed interest in them. Society failed them.
Edmund sold his business interests and started a school for these poor boys in a converted stable with a room for himself above the makeshift classrooms.
Edmund was joined by two companions, Thomas Grosvenor and Patrick Finn . The three of them began to live a form of community life in the rooms above the “Stable School “. They shared Edmund’s vision of semi-monastic life and the hard work of teaching unruly boys under primitive conditions.
During the following year he used more of his funds to erect a large school building in the city’s working-class district and named it Mount Sion. Each classroom could accommodate 100 boys. The Brother in charge of a class was assisted by older boys, “monitors”, who instructed the other boys in small groups.
For Edmund, religion was the most important subject. The improvement in the boys’ lives made the difficulty in teaching them worthwhile . A bake house was built to provide fresh bread everyday and a tailor shop was setup to make clothes for the boys
Edmund described his MISSION in a simple clear intention:
“Trusting in God’s help I hope to be able to educate these boys to be good
Catholics and good citizens.”
On 15 August 1808, with Bishop Power’s approval, Edmund and the Brothers dedicated themselves to their mission by profession of vows according to the Rule of the Presentation. Schools were opened in other towns . With their success, requests for schools came from all parts of Ireland and England . God’s blessing was evident in the work of Edmund and the Brothers.
On 5 September 1820 Pope Pius VII approved the Congregation of Christian Brothers. Edmund was elected the first Superior General. From this point onwards the Brothers opened schools on all five continents. In 1848 two Brothers arrived in Calcutta to establish Edmund’s work.
In 1838 Edmund, now 76 years old, laid down the onerous office of Superior General. He returned to Mount Sion, where he spent his remaining years. He died on 29 August 1844, aged 82 years. He was buried at Mount Sion.