Blessed Edmund Rice was a lay man, a husband and father, a widower and a visionary. Sensitively present to God’s poor, Edmund responded to the call of the Gospel with an educational vision – offering liberation for the poor of Waterford.
Edmund Rice was born in 1762, in Callan, Ireland to a modestly prosperous family. They were never to experience the worst of the penal laws which denied Catholics rights enjoyed by other citizens.
Although the fourth child, Edmund was the first of the six sons to be formally educated which led to a mercantile apprenticeship with his uncle in Waterford.
He married in 1785, and was remembered as being “remarkable for his affection and regard for his wife”. Surprisingly, the couple settled in notorious Ballybricken, a Waterford suburb punctuated with borderless markets, makeshift cattle and pig pens, open-air abattoirs, military barracks, extensive prostitution and numerous fatherless and orphaned children.
It is in Ballybricken that Edmund became sensitively present to God’s poor, a presence that stirred in him a compassion that transformed him.
A “delicate” baby girl, christened Mary blest the union. Sadly, in January, 1789 Mrs Rice died, probably of cholera, a “fever” that devastated Waterford’s population.
Immediately, Edmund moved home to the quay with its healthy breezes, where he raised Mary as a single father. It seems that Rice’s experience of married love, his exposure to the rawness of Ballybricken and his intimate experience of fatherhood compelled him to remain unmarried and to seek another way of living and sharing his extensive wealth.
In 1793, he consulted Callen’s Bishop Lanigan, who introduced him to the concept of vowed teaching lay brothers.
From this time, Edmund prayed about and planned for a future Christian Brotherhood.
It was in 1802, when the teenage Mary was needed in the Callan family home to assist Edmund’s youngest brother, Richard, and his young wife to raise a large family, that Edmund became free to pioneer his education vision.
Edmund’s initiative attracted like-minded, compassionate followers, his Christian Brothers, who like him desired to embrace a life, living with Jesus in their hearts and serving God’s dear little ones, the term Edmund used to describe the pupils.