RAY CLEERE recalls the life and career of an extraordinary missionary and educationalist
Edmund Ignatius Rice, the founder of the Irish Christian Brothers, was born on June 1st, 1762, in a modest farm-house, in Callan, County Kilkenny, the fourth of seven sons.
Despite growing up in penal times, when the educational opportunities for Irish catholics were severely limited, the Rice children were fortunate. A local Augustinian Friar visited the home daily to teach Edmund and his brothers.
Bright and ambitious, the young Edmund inherited his uncle Michael Rice’s merchant business in Waterford in 1794. He became an influential and highly respected citizen in his adopted city – a man of means who moved easily among the social elite.
Trading livestock and other supplies to the British colonies, life was good. Aged 23, Edmund married Mary Elliot, the daughter of a Waterford tanner. They became the parents of a daughter, also named Mary.
In early 1789 tragedy struck the home following a horse-riding accident in which his wife was killed and his daughter was left handicapped. A devastated Edmund changed his priorities following the tragedy and he abandoned the ambitions of his class.
In 1794 he founded an orphan society to care for the poor children of Waterford and he devoted his time to the plight of prisoners. In 1802, having provided for the care of his daughter with the assistance of his married step-sister, Joan Murphy, he disposed of his business and elegant dwelling.
He established a make-shift school in New Street in Waterford to cater for the poor. Soon afterwards, with the help of two young fellow Callan men, Thomas Grosvenor and Patrick Finn, the Irish Christian and Irish Presentation Brothers were founded.