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Christian Brothers of Ireland

Institute founded at Waterford, Ireland, in 1802, by Edmund Ignatius Rice

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Christian Brothers of Ireland, an institute founded at Waterford, Ireland, in 1802, by Edmund Ignatius Rice, a merchant of that city (q.v.). At the close of the eighteenth century a cloud of ignorance and misery hung over the Catholics of Ireland, the inevitable result of two centuries of dreadful penal enactments. During those unhappy years it was illegal either for a Catholic to educate his children as Catholics or for a teacher to undertake the work. The wretched state of the Catholic boys of Waterford excited the pity of Mr. Rice. He had some idea of joining a religious order on the Continent, but the miserable state of his surroundings decided his future course. The bishop of the diocese, the Most Reverend Dr. Hussey, warmly approved of his intention and promised him every support. Mr. Rice’s career as a merchant came to an end in 1800, and his whole fortune and future life were devoted to the great work he had selected. In 1802, in Waterford, he opened his first school, assisted for a time by a few secular teachers. Soon after, some pious young men, drawn by the influence of his zeal and example, came to his assistance and in 1803 a monastery was built for them by the citizens of Waterford. As the number of assistants increased and the reputation of the school became known through the island, many applications for brothers reached Mr. Rice. Houses were soon opened in Carrick-on-Suir, Dungarvan, and Cork. The Most Rev. Dr. Moylan, then Bishop of Cork, summoned a meeting of the principal citizens and expressed to them a strong desire to procure similar advantages for that city. Two gentlemen offered to devote their lives and fortunes to the good work, and the first house was opened there in 1811. For almost a century the history of the Christian Brothers’ schools of Cork has been one unbroken record of progress in primary, secondary, and technical education. The Most Rev. Dr. Murray, Archbishop of Dublin, in 1812, established a community in Dublin. A second community was founded in 1818, and in 1907 there were ten communities in Dublin, educating more than 6000 pupils. These establishments comprise not only extensive primary and secondary schools, but orphanages, industrial schools, and a large deaf and dumb institution. The Limerick community was founded in 1816, and enlargements were made in 1825 and 1828, while many houses were opened later on in the principal towns of the county.

In 1820 came the crowning of Mr. Rice’s work in the Apostolic Brief by which the Holy See constituted his little band of workers into a religious institute of the Church. The Christian Brothers was the first Irish order of men formally approved by a charter from Rome. Encouraged by this great privilege from the Holy See and blessed by a regular succession of excellent members, the order gradually spread not only through the principal Irish towns, but also to Liverpool, London, and other large centers in England. Having gradually strengthened itself in the British Isles during the remaining years of the nineteenth century, the institute ultimately extended its influence into distant countries. In 1868 a colony was sent to Australia, and so fruitful was the effort that, out of a community of four, a province has grown up containing about fifty establishments, schools, colleges, orphanages, and a flourishing novitiate. Another extension of great importance was the opening of a school in St. John’s, Newfoundland (1875). From the beginning the efforts of the brothers there have been very successful, and through the zeal and energy of the Benevolent Irish Society there are now five large institutions under their management. Between the regimental schools on one side and those of Anglicans and Methodists on the other, Catholic education was at a very low ebb in Gibraltar, when the Most Rev. Dr. Scandella introduced the brothers there in 1878. Soon the whole aspect was changed, and there are now on the Rock four establishments of the highest repute. From Gibraltar to New Zealand, from Australia to Newfoundland, the brothers had carried the standard of Irish monastic education when, in 1886, Cardinal Simeoni conveyed to the superior general the wish of the Holy Father that they should extend their influence to India. The superior at once complied, and at present there is a flourishing province there with many schools, orphanages, and colleges. Since receiving the Brief of approbation in 1820, no event in its history was of greater moment to the order than the request of the Holy Father, through Cardinal Jacobini, to the superior general, to send a community of brothers to Rome (1900). The proselytizing efforts of Anglican and American agencies had given the ecclesiastical authorities some anxiety, and to counteract these insidious influences the Holy Father called the Irish brothers to his side. The result amply justified his confidence. A foundation was made in New York, the first in the United States, in 1906.

The schools of the Irish Christian Brothers are of many types, representing divers phases of educational work, primary, secondary and industrial, with orphanages and schools for the deaf and dumb. These various institutions are nearly all equipped with laboratories for the practical teaching of physical and chemical science, and in many cases with workshops for manual training. Their secondary schools and colleges crown the educational edifices, affording to clever boys, irrespective of their position in life, an opportunity of pursuing a course of higher studies which would be otherwise entirely denied them. In foreign countries provinces of the order are established with the sanction of the Holy See, but as prescribed by the Brief, the whole institute is governed by the superior general, who, with his assistants, resides at St. Mary’s, Marino, Dublin.


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