Blessed Edmund Rice

Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice was born at Westcourt, Ireland, on 1 June 1762, when Irish Catholics were oppressed by the weight of anti-Catholic legislation devised by the Protestant English to keep the Catholic majority in subjection. The fourth of seven sons, he grew up in a devout farming family. At the age of 17, he began work at Waterford in his uncle's commercial enterprise, which he later inherited.

Married at 25, he lost his wife two years later and was left with responsibility for an infant daughter in delicate health and mental condition. Supported by his strong faith, he accepted his cross and grew in close union with God through meditation on the Scriptures and frequent attendance at Mass and the sacraments. He dedicated himself to works of charity, putting his riches at the service of the poor. He became a model Christian layman.

Between 1740 and 1841, the population of Ireland doubled and there were many economic and political problems associated with the education of youth and the care of the aged and infirm. The Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 was an important development in the struggle of Irish Catholics to attain their just position in the society. Edmund lived and worked in this atmosphere.

Despite the attraction of the contemplative life, he could not forget the miserable condition of so many boys in danger of losing their faith. In 1802, encouraged by Pope Pius VI and with the blessing of Bishop Hussey of Waterford, Edmund sold his considerable business, arranged for this daughter's care, and opened his first school in an abandoned stable, living on the upper floor.

Soon other teachers, attracted by his example and spirit, joined him and so a religious community was founded in Waterford. In 1808, in the chapel of the Presentation Sisters, Edmund and his companions made annual vows under a series of constitutions approved by the Vatican in Rome. Edmund took the religious name of Ignatius.

In 1820, the Brothers became an institute of pontifical right. This was to move the control of the Brothers congregation into the hands of the Brothers and away from the local bishops. This would allow for greater expansion and movement for the Brothers. Some brothers chose to remain under diocesan control and they became known as the Presentation Brothers.

Edmund was elected the first Superior General of the new Congregation and he served in this position until 1838. He died in Waterford in 1844. He was declared Blessed by Pope John Paul II in Rome on October 6, 1997.

Edmund's work spread across Ireland, and then to England, Gibraltar, Australia, India, the Americas, and Africa. His brothers today are active throughout the world in education, hospital ministry, and other educationally-related situations.