Edmund Rice and The Charter
On October 6, 1996, Pope John Paul II beatified – declared ‘Blessed’ – Edmund Rice, the founder of the Christian Brothers and the Presentation Brothers.
Edmund Rice was born to a farming family, under the shadow of the Penal laws, on 1 June 1762, at Westcourt, Callan, County Kilkenny, Ireland. He attended the commercial academy in Kilkenny for about two years after secretly receiving his elementary education at the local ‘hedge school’ in Callan.
In 1779 Edmund was apprenticed to his uncle, Michael Rice, in the business of supplying all the needs of ships that plied their trade across the Atlantic between Europe and the eastern coast of North America. By his late twenties, through his entrepreneurial skills, he had earned enough money to make himself and his family comfortable for life.
Edmund married Mary Elliot, the daughter to a prosperous Waterford businessman, in 1786. After three short years of marriage, Mary suffered a tragic accident, gave birth to a handicapped daughter, also called Mary, and died shortly after. Edmund was devastated. After a period of reflection he turned to his special vocation, which was to provide dignity for the poor, especially through education.
So, as a 40 year old widower and a successful businessman in Waterford on Ireland’s southeast coast, Edmund Rice changed course radically. He sold off his business interests and started a primary school for a few poor boys in a converted stable, with a room for himself above the makeshift classrooms.
Influenced by the work of Nano Nagle, the founder of the Presentation Sisters, he gathered around him a group of men. These he formed into a community of religious brothers (the Christian Brothers) dedicated to “raising up the poor”.
During the following year, he used more of his funds to put up a larger building in the city’s working class district. In 1802 two companions, Thomas Grosvener and Patrick Finn, joined Edmund and the three began to live a form of community life in rooms over the Stable School in New Street. The men shared his vision where they combined a semi monastic life with the hard work of teaching unruly boys under primitive conditions.
All of Edmund’s educational activities were illegal in the eyes of the ‘authorities’ in Ireland. Most Irish Catholics were effectively cut off from education and consequently cut off from social and political progress. By founding schools and teaching congregations, Edmund Rice, like Daniel O’ Connell, was a liberator. That is one reason why O’Connell greatly admired the man he called “patriarch of the monks of the West.” Appropriately, Edmund’s first Dublin Schools in North Richmond Street were named the O’Connell Schools.
But all these achievements came at a great personal and mental distress and in 1838, Edmund laid down the onerous office of Superior General and retired to Mount Sion, Waterford.
Edmund died on the 29 August 1844. His vision continues to live on in the positive response to today’s challenges made by his successors in the Edmund Rice Family.
Information obtained from Edmund Rice Ireland Network Website.
The Christian Brothers work chiefly for the evangelisation and education of youth, but are involved in many ministries, especially with the poor. They are a congregation of Catholic religious men numbering about 1,800 Brothers working in 26 countries throughout the world, with headquarters in Rome.
Edmund Rice is honoured as the founder of both the Christian Brothers and the Presentation Brothers. For more than two centuries, many have been and continue to be attracted by his vision and generosity. The mission continues today on all five continents through the ministry of Christian Brothers and laity called to serve in this vocation of Catholic Education.
The Christian Brothers came to Australia – first of all, to Sydney – in 1843, at the invitation of Archbishop Polding, and left in 1848.
They arrived in Melbourne in 1868 at the invitation of Bishop James Goold. Within 35 years, the remarkable Brother Patrick Ambrose Treacy had responded to invitations from various Bishops to establish schools in the Dioceses of Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide, Dunedin and Perth. The task of the Brothers in Australia, as mandated by the Bishops, was the evangelization of the mainly poor, mainly Irish, Catholic families of the colonies.
The gift to Australian Catholic education since 1868 has been profound. The ministry of the Christian Brothers and their coworkers is active in all States and Territories of Australia and continues to be expressed in multiple forms.
At the beginning of the 21st century in Australia, there is a continuing need for Catholic schools in the Edmund Rice tradition to reflect on their purpose and role. This is borne out by the complexity of the modern world and the challenges confronting young people in their search for meaning. All members of these schools are called by way of their vocation to be committed to reflect deeply on ingrained practices and issues relevant to spirituality. They are called to provide education that is transformational and liberating within the reign of God for the world.
In 2004, the Province Leaders of the four Australian Provinces of the Christian Brothers proclaimed The Charter as an authentic expression of Edmund Rice Education as applied to Catholic Schools in the Edmund Rice Tradition in Australia.
The Charter together with Foundations, Formation, and Renewal describe our distinct, though not unique, identity as Edmund Rice Education Australia. The Charter provides a practical expression of this identity and so is of crucial use in decision making, planning and review.
Now, a revised Charter is being proclaimed. In the light of several years of reflection and wide consultation, the Charter uses four touchstones to describe the culture of an authentic Catholic school in the Edmund Rice tradition.
These touchstones give us ideals authentically linked with the charisma, which underpins the ministry in our schools and educational endeavours. They will help us set our direction and define our goals as, following Blessed Edmund’s example, we continue to reflect and to seek to make the Gospel a living reality in our communities.
As Catholic schools in the Edmund Rice tradition, we aspire to be faithful to these four touchstones.Next