Brother Edmund Rice

It is certainly no exaggeration to say that Edmund Rice, the founder of the Christian Brothers, was all on about the poor. In one of his letters he suggested to "give to the poor in handfuls." But Edmund did not have a simplistic, hand-out approach to the poor. Rather, while he worked untiringly to gain justice for the poor, his whole vision was to uplift them especially through education, so that they could live their lives with proper human dignity, and not be dependent upon the charity of others.

Edmund was born in Callan, County Kilkenny, Ireland, on 1 June 1762 into a relatively well off Catholic farming family. Fortunate to have had a good education (seven years in two schools), Edmund graduated into the business world as a supplier of shipping requisites. In 1795 at the age of 23 he married the love of his life Mary Elliott who was to die in giving birth to their only and disabled child, christened Mary Rice. In his agony over the two Marys, he turned to God.

His spiritual life deepened as prayer, daily Mass, reading the Bible and spiritual books, and increased help to the poor, all intensified in the thirteen years following his wife's death. He embraced poverty and renovated his stables to create a school for the "street kids" in Waterford in 1802. Later he sold his business to build a proper school and a house for the community of men that had joined this work. The school fed, clothed, shod and taught the poorest children of the area and by 1922 Edmund had arranged for the formal rule of his order, the Christian Brothers, to be approved by Pope Pius VII. All the while he supported other members of his family who cared for his daughter.

When Edmund died in 1844 the Brothers had started schools in England, Gibraltar and Australia. In Ballarat the Brothers established their own school for boys and worked in and administered St. Paul's Secondary College on behalf of the Catholic Parishes of Ballarat. St. Paul's was one of the amalgamating schools that in 1995 became Damascus College. The spirit of justice that inspired Edmund and his Christian Brothers calls us still to educate for justice by serving the poor.