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Profiles in Faith - April


As part of our initiative for the Year of Faith, Veritas is proud to present Profiles in Faith, a series of essays on the life and work of Christian men and women who lived their lives as ‘faith in action’. We encourage you to read the accounts, and to reflect on them over the course of the month. Additional biographical sources are also suggested, should you wish to find out more. 



Profile Seven: Blessed Edmund Rice


Edmund Rice was born into a farming family on 1 June 1762, in Callan, County Kilkenny. He attended the commercial academy in Kilkenny for about two years after secretly receiving his primary education at the local ‘hedge school’ in Callan. In 1779 Edmund was apprenticed to his uncle, Michael Rice, in Waterford city. 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 of a prosperous Waterford businessman, in 1786. After three short years of marriage, Mary suffered a tragic accident and died shortly thereafter. Edmund was devastated, and decided to change the course of his life radically. He was a rich merchant living in comfortable circumstances, but he was conscious of the hardship suffered by those who were poor. Realising the effects deprivation had, especially on the young people of the city, he felt moved to help. So, he sold off his business interests and started a school for poor boys in a converted stable. In 1802 Edmund was joined by two companions, Thomas Grosvener and Patrick Finn, and the three began to live as a community in rooms over the Stable School.



For Edmund, however, his teaching apostolate was only at a stage of germination. His sights were set on a fully-fledged Religious Congregation, governed by traditional vows and recognised by the Holy See in Rome. He took a crucial step towards this end when, in June 1802, he commenced the building of a monastery in Waterford City. The building, again funded out of Edmund’s private resources, was large and comprised living accommodation and a school. Edmund also built a bake house and tailor’s shop on the grounds of the monastery, so that the boys who attended would have adequate food and clothing.


Edmund and his companions worked and prayed together, sharing their lives and possessions in mutual support as a community. They shared a common vision where they combined a semi-monastic life with the hard work of teaching. In 1808, following the example of the Presentation Sisters, who had opened a school for girls in Waterford city, Edmund and his companions took vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience, and devoted themselves to the education of poor boys. At this time he and his companions were known as the Society of the Presentation.



With the success of the school and the growth in the number of Brothers, Edmund applied to the Pope for the approval of his Congregation. On 5 September 1820, Pope Pius VII approved the Congregation of Christian Brothers. This was a defining moment for all of the early brothers. In January 1822, Edmund was elected their first Superior General. However, his founding charism actually gave birth to two congregations, the Congregation of Christian Brothers and the Congregation of Presentation Brothers.


Edmund died on 29 August 1844. In his name, the Christian Brothers opened schools in many parts of Ireland. Schools were also opened in England (1825), India (1841), Australia (1842), USA (1843), New Zealand (1876), South Africa (1897), Rome (1900), Canada (1913), China (1920) and South America (1948). Today the Brothers of Edmund Rice are working in thirty countries across five continents. On 6 October 1996, Pope John Paul II beatified Edmund Rice.


For Reflection:

 - In what way was Edmund Rice’s life ‘faith in action’?
 - Where do you see similar examples of ‘faith in action’ in Ireland today?


Adapted with the kind permission of the Edmund Rice Schools Trust (ERST). ERST is the Trustee body responsible for schools formerly under the Trusteeship of Christian Brothers. Learn more at  


Previous Profiles in Faith:


October 2012: Thomas Merton

November 2012: Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

December 2012: St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)

January 2013: St Francis of Assisi

February 2013: Dorothy Day

March 2013: St Patrick


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