Feast Day: May 5
Venerated: April 2, 1993
Can you imagine what it would be like if it were a crime for children to go school? That was the law in Ireland when Edmund Rice, who was born in 1762, grew up. The people of Ireland were harshly ruled at that time by the British, who believed that if the Irish were uneducated, they would be easier to rule.
Edmund’s parents wanted their seven sons to have a good education. They hired a religious brother from Australia to teach them in secret.
When he was 18, Edmund began working with his uncle, a wealthy businessman in Waterford. Edmund traded livestock and supervised the loading of ships with supplies for British colonies around the globe. When his uncle died, Edmund took over the business.
Edmund fell in love with Mary Elliott and they were married. They were expecting their first child when Mary was killed in an accident. Their baby was born with special needs and required life-long care.
Edmund turned to God for help, support, and direction. It would have been so easy to be angry at the problems in his life, but he did not let that happen. Instead, he attended daily Mass, read the Scriptures, and helped people in need in his village.
One day, Edmund was walking with his bishop and noticed a group of poor boys playing in the street. The bishop asked Edmund if he was going to leave these boys abandoned. That was a new beginning of a new life for Edmund! He sold his business in 1802 and opened a school for poor boys in a converted stable. His stepsister cared for his daughter during the day while he was busy at the school.
Soon, other men who were interested in the Catholic education of young men joined Edmund in his ministry. With the encouragement of the bishop, Edmund founded two religious communities: the Congregation of Christian Brothers and the Irish Christian Brothers. These men, devoted to spreading the Catholic faith and the education of young people, continue their work today in Ireland, England, Africa, South America, and Australia. The first Christian Brothers came to the United States in 1906 and opened their first school in New York City in 1909.
Influenced by the Jesuit Rule of St. Ignatius, Edmund produced a new rule for his religious order, noting that the brothers should live with “a love of holy prayer, which they are to consider as the first and principal of their daily duties.”
Edmund Rice died Aug. 29, 1844. He was beatified on Oct. 6, 1996 by Pope John Paul II and is now known as “Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice.”