Edmund Ignatius Rice
Founder of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, b. at Callan, Co. Kilkenny, 1762; d. at Waterford, 1844
Rice, EDMUND IGNATIUS, founder of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools (better known as “Irish Christian Brothers”), b. at Callan, Co. Kilkenny, 1762; d. at Waterford, 1844. He was educated in a Catholic school which, despite the provisions of the iniquitous penal laws, the authorities suffered to exist in the City of Kilkenny. In 1779 he entered the business house of his uncle, a large export and import trader in the City of Waterford, and, after the latter’s death, became sole proprietor. As a citizen he was distinguished for his probity, charity, and piety; he was an active member of a society established in the city for the relief of the poor. About 1794 he meditated entering a continental convent, but his brother, an Augustinian who had but just returned from Rome, discountenanced the idea. Rice, thereupon, devoted himself to the extension of his business. Some years later, however, he again desired to become a religious. As he was discussing the matter with a friend of his, a sister of Bishop Power of Waterford, a band of ragged boys passed by. Pointing to them Miss Power exclaimed: “What! would you bury yourself in a cell on the continent rather than devote your wealth and your life to the spiritual and material interests of these poor youths?” The words were an inspiration. Rice related the incident to Dr. Lanigan, bishop of his native Diocese of Ossory, and to others, all of whom advised him to undertake the mission to which God was evidently calling him. Rice settled his worldly affairs, his last year’s business (1800) being the most lucrative one he had known, and commenced the work of the Christian schools.
Assisted by two young men, whom he paid for their services, he opened his first school in Waterford in 1802. In June of this year Bishop Hussey of Waterford laid the foundation stone of a schoolhouse on a site which he named Mount Sion. The building was soon ready for occupation, but Rice’s assistants had fled and could not be induced to return even when offered higher salaries. In this extremity two young men from Callan offered themselves as fellow-laborers. Other workers soon gathered round him, and by 1806 Christian schools were established in Waterford, Carrick-on-Suir, and Dungarvan. The communities adopted a modified form of the Rule of the Presentation Order of nuns, and, in 1808, pronounced their vows before Bishop Power. Houses were established in Cork, Dublin, Limerick, and elsewhere. Though the brothers, as a rule, made their novitiate in Mount Sion and regarded Rice as their father and model, he was not their superior; they were subject to the bishops of their respective dioceses. In 1817, on the advice of Bishop Murray, coadjutor to the Archbishop of Dublin, and of Father Kenny, S.J., a special friend, Rice applied to the Holy See for approbation and a constitution for his society. In 1820 Pius VII formally confirmed the new congregation of “Fratres Monachi” by the Brief “Ad pastoralis dignitatis fastigium”. This was the first confirmation by the Church of a congregation of religious men in Ireland. Brother Rice was unanimously elected superior general by the members. All the houses were united except the house in Cork, where Bishop Murphy refused his consent. Later, however, in 1826, the Brothers in Cork attained the object of their desire, but one of their number, preferring the old condition of things, offered his services to the bishop, who placed him in charge of a school on the south side of the city. This secession of Br. Austin Reardon was the origin of the teaching congregation of the Presentation Brothers. The confirmation of the new Institute attracted considerable attention, even outside of Ireland, and many presented themselves for the novitiate. The founder removed the seat of government to Dublin.
At this time the agitation for Catholic Emancipation was at its height and the people were roused to indignation by the reports of the proselytizing practices carried on in the Government schools. Brother Rice conceived the idea of establishing a “Catholic Model School”. The “Liberator” entered warmly into his scheme, and procured a grant of £1500 from the Catholic Association in aid of the proposed building. On St. Columba’s day, 1828, Daniel O’Connell laid the foundation stone, in North Richmond Street, Dublin, of the famous school, since known as the “O’Connell Schools“. In his speech on the occasion he referred to Brother Rice as “My old friend, Mr. Rice, the Patriarch of the Monks of the west”. The founder resigned his office in 1838 and spent his remaining years in Mount Sion. Before his death he saw eleven communities of his institute in Ireland, eleven in England, and one in Sydney, Australia, while applications for foundations had been received from the Archbishop of Baltimore and from bishops in Canada, Newfoundland, and other places.
PATRICK J. HENNESSY