Since 1802 our work has spread to 29 countries.
From the humblest of beginnings in 1802, Blessed Edmund Rice and his Christian Brothers have grown from their first stable school in Waterford in post-Penal Ireland, to classrooms and ministries in 29 countries across the globe.
The pivotal story in the history of the Christian Brothers is that of its founder, Blessed Edmund Rice. The Charism of the founder still informs and inspires the Mission of the Congregation worldwide.
The Christian Brothers first came to parts of the Oceania Province in 1843. The presence of the Christian Brothers in Oceania began in Sydney and quickly spread throughout Australia, to New Zealand and then later through Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Timor Leste.
A key figure in the history of the Christian Brothers in the Oceania Province is Br Patrick Ambrose Treacy – most notable for his selflessness and determination. In short, secondary education for ordinary people in Australia owes its beginning to Br Ambrose.
(1762 – 1844)
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 likeminded, 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.
Br Ambrose, as he was known, has been an outstanding figure not only for the Christian Brothers, but also in the Catholic Church in Australia and indeed in Australia as a whole.
He is notable for his dedication and selflessness, and his belief that everything he experienced was from the hands of a provident God. From an incident early in his life he had an outstanding devotion to Mary the Mother of God.
Ambrose arrived penniless in Australia with three other Christian Brothers in 1868. In addition to starting a school at St Francis in Melbourne, the Brothers began collecting from the settlers in Victoria and South Australia and from the miners in the gold fields of Queensland and Western Australia to finance their schools. Some of these journeys on horseback to remote areas are the stuff of legend. During 30 years as leader of the Brothers, Ambrose opened more than 20 schools in Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Sydney and Perth, as well as in several country towns.
Ambrose’s mission efforts in New Zealand and in Oceania are detailed in Br Regis Hickey’s book “Ambrose Treacy: Christian Brother, Enterprising Immigrant”.
Significant to the Treacy story was his aim to nourish faith, extend compassion to those in need and provide educational opportunities for children at a time when Irish Catholics, because of penal laws, were at the bottom of the social ladder.
Ambrose opened his schools to all.
Ambrose died of cancer in 1912 and is buried in the Brothers’ plot in Nudgee Cemetery, Brisbane.
Download a comprehensive account of Ambrose’s work in the Oceanic region.
While the story of the Christian Brothers begins in 1802 when Edmund Rice established his first school in Waterford, Ireland, the story of the Christian Brothers in Oceania starts in 1843 in Sydney.
Brothers Stephen Carroll, Peter Scannell and Francis Larkin arrived and established three schools in Abercrombie Street, Macquarie Street and Kent Street the Rocks before returning to Ireland in 1846 after issues with the local Church authorities.
In 1868, the Christian Brothers returned to Australia, this time arriving in Melbourne on the sailing ship Donald McKay. Its leader was the 34 year-old Br Patrick Ambrose Treacy and his three companions were Brothers Dominic Fursey Bodkin (24), John Barnabas Lynch (29) and non-teaching Brother Patrick Joseph Nolan (45).
The ‘schools’ opened on the 25 January 1869 at St Francis’s Church in central Melbourne. On 29 January 1871 Parade College was opened in Victoria Parade, Melbourne. Over the next ten years the Christian Brothers opened schools in Brisbane, Perth, Dunedin and Adelaide.
They also became involved in orphanages in Melbourne and Perth. It was due to the needs of the country areas that approval was given to open boarding schools.
While in the early days most of the Brothers were from Ireland, ‘colonials’ soon began to join the Brothers in Australasia. The first person to lead the Brothers in Australasia was Michael Benignus Hanrahan from Dunedin.
From the 1920s until the 1960s there was an influx of people joining the Brothers and so many new schools were opened.
With the growing numbers in 1953, the Australasian Province was divided first into two provinces. In 1959, New Zealand became a separate province in its own right. In 1967 the two Australian Provinces divided into four.
This was to remain until 2007 when the five provinces and the region of Papua New Guinea restructured into the current Oceania Province – incorporating Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Timor Leste.
In 1950, a group of Brothers established the first Christian Brothers’ community and school in Papua New Guinea and the first Melanesian Brother was received in 1957. By the 1960s, the Brothers were working in primary and secondary education, child welfare, schools for those with diminished sight and hearing, teacher training colleges, technical education and universities.
With the call to mission in the 1960’s through to the 1980s, new communities were opened in the Cook Islands, Fiji, Tonga, East Africa and also with the indigenous people of Australia and New Zealand in such places as Murupara, Broome, Wadeye and Bathurst Island.
As a result of reflecting on the founding charism and the call to be with people made poor, new communities and projects where established in lower socio-economic areas such as Mangere in Auckland, the western suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne, Girrawheen in Perth and Logan City in outer Brisbane. Flexi learning and alternative education centres were also established. Some Brothers went to China to work in language schools and a community was established in Timor Leste.
From the mid 1970’s there was a dramatic decline in the number of people becoming Christian Brothers. The Brothers started to withdraw from some schools especially as the Provinces took on new projects.