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From the Archive

Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice: heritage in Catholic education and mission

Painting portrait of man

Portrait of Edmund Rice

Edmund Ignatius Rice was born in Callan, County Kilkenny, Ireland, on 1 June 1762.

At the age of seventeen, he was apprenticed to his uncle who was in business supplying ships – a business which Edmund later inherited.

In 1785, at age 23, Edmund married Mary Elliot. In 1789, Mary died in childbirth, leaving Edmund with a disabled daughter, Mary. Edmund’s life was never the same.

Edmund’s compassion for the poor, already evident, grew even more over the next 13 years. He became increasingly conscious of the ever-widening gap between the way of life of prosperous, educated Catholics like himself and that of the poor.

By 1802, Edmund felt so called to a life of service to God that, having continued to ensure for the care of his daughter, he decided to sell his prosperous business, live in renovated stables and commence a school for the “street kids” of Waterford.

Edmund and seven companions took vows on 15th August 1808 as Religious Brothers of the Presentation, later to become the Congregation of Christian Brothers. He is one of the few people ever in the Church to found a religious congregation.

Edmund died on 29th August 1844. Trusting in God, Edmund had transformed his vision into reality. His experience had been of Christ appealing to him in the poor. Edmund’s utter conviction was that God was calling him to work with and for the poor, especially through education, enabling them to live with hope for the future. Edmund wanted them to see, as he did, what their world could be when seen with the eyes of Christ.

Edmund not only taught poor youth, he gave solace to prisoners in jail, especially those condemned to death, performed unremitting legal work for the poor who were so easily badly done by, opened his schools so that the Brothers could care for the victims of cholera epidemics, fed and clothed the poor boys who attended his schools and helped their parents with evening classes and material to read. He refused to remain immobile when confronted with grave injustices. Edmund’s strong faith was proof against discouragement and the challenges of the mission he undertook.

Edmund Rice was beatified in Rome on 6 October 1996.

Today, Edmund Rice Education Australia (EREA) is the body of schools, entities and offices offering a Catholic education in the tradition of Blessed Edmund Rice.

EREA schools strive to offer a liberating education, based on a gospel spirituality, within an inclusive community committed to justice and solidarity.