logo small

world map dots

The following information about Edmund Rice, the founder of the Christian Brothers and Presentation Brothers has been written for students doing the Junior Certificate RE exam.

The following information about Edmund Rice, the founder of the Christian Brothers and Presentation Brothers has been written for students doing the Junior Certificate RE exam in Ireland.
It relates to Section A, Part 2 - Communities at Work and Section D, Part 4 - Stories of Faithful People. 
Key Concepts - Commitment, Service, Vision, Leadership, World View The Christian Brothers

The founder of the Christian Brothers was Edmund Rice. He was born in 1762 in Callan, Co. Kilkenny. When Edmund was growing up, he learned about his Catholic Faith from his family and also from an Augustinian friar called Patrick Grace who influenced Edmund's thinking.

edRice_3Most Catholics did not receive an education because the Penal Laws had banned the teaching of their faith. Parents would pay what they could to have their children educated by Hedge School Teachers who would travel the country and teach illegally.

Edmund worked for his wealthy uncle who supplied ships with food and provisions for their journeys. Edmund inherited this business from his uncle when he died.
Edmund had a strong spirituality. He attended daily mass, prayed the rosary and helped the poor as best he could.  In 1785 he married Mary Elliott but sadly she died leaving a daughter Mary who was disabled.

Edmund realised that he was lucky to be able to provide for Mary because of his wealth and this made him think of those who were not so well off.  He helped to provide food, shelter and work for people forced off their land because of famine and poor prices.  He was thought of as a man of practical kindness and deep spirituality.

To help cope with the sadness in his life, Edmund turned to his faith. He wanted to live according to the teachings of Jesus. He felt he had religious commitment, a ‘calling to serve' and considered joining in the religious life of the brothers or priests. He began reading Scripture more - especially about the poor and needy. Edmund was aware that he had been lucky to receive a Catholic education and wished to provide the same for those who could not afford to pay for schooling.
Edmund was influenced and inspired by the work of Nano Nagle - a Presentation Sister who helped to educate and teach skills to poor women. The example of the sisters made Edmund determined to do something to help the boys.

Edmund felt a vocation to do something with his life that would make a difference to those less fortunate - he had a desire to serve the poor.  He visited prisoners, and the homes of the poor and he gave night classes to some children.

Two men from his home town came to help him, Thomas Grosvenor and Patrick Finn.  They also shared Edmund's vision of starting a religious order.  Edmund received local community support e.g. from the Quakers.  In 1803 Edmund and two assistants opened Mount Sion in Waterford - a school where they would educate boys. Edmund also built a bakehouse so that the pupils could be fed, and he employed workers to make clothes for the students. These buildings still exist and can be visited today.

Secular instruction consisted of the three R's, but vocational instruction was also included such as book keeping, mechanics, drawing, geography and geometry.  He wanted to equip young people mentally, morally and religiously to stand on their own two feet and to change the society that caused and allowed them to be poor.
In 1808 Edmund and 7 brothers took their first religious vows. News spread about the work they were doing - by 1809 there were 700 children attending Mt. Sion. The most important lesson each day was time spent in Religious instruction.

In 1822 Edmund was given permission to establish his order as a Pontifical order which meant the brothers had freedom to move where they were needed. Now his group was called the Christian Brothers and Edmund was their leader.  The Headquarters of the Christian Brothers moved to Dublin and Daniel O'Connell laid the foundation stone of the O'Connell Schools in 1828.  These schools continue to serve the local community to the present day.

Inspired by the motto "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away", the brothers survived by relying on the support of local people for financial assistance.

In 1835 a community of Brothers was established in Gibraltar. Later schools were opened in America, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Newfoundland. There are now nearly 2000 brothers working in some 28 countries around the world inspired by Edmund' vision. They express their religious commitment by living out his dedication to care for the poor and all who need the living truth found in the Christian Brothers' tradition.

A Short Life of Edmund Rice:Donal Blake CFC
Edmund Rice, Art Book: A Story About a Great Man, by Denis Hanratty

Christian Brothers - Fact File

Name of religious organisation? Christian Brothers

Where did this religious organisation begin? This organisation began in Waterford Ireland in 1802.

When was this religious organisation commenced? A school was set up by Edmund Rice set up at Mount Sion in Waterford in 1803. The Christian Brothers became an organisation in 1808 when Edmund and others took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

How was this organisation set up? This organisation was set up by Edmund Rice, a man who was devoted to helping the poor and those in need. He began to teach boys and adults in the evenings above his place of work. Later he formed a community with two other men, Patrick Finn and Thomas Grosvenor. They would pray, attend mass and teach each day. In 1808 the Christian Brothers were established.

What is the aim of this organisation? The Christian Brothers were set up to provide an education for the poor people in the community they served. The education was both secular and religious.  Edmund included topics like book-keeping, mechanics, drawing and algebra. Edmund's aim was to equip young people mentally, morally and religiously to stand on their own two feet, and to change the society that caused and allowed them to be poor. Edmund had received strength and comfort from his faith and so wanted to help spread the ‘Good News' of the Gospel to all who attended his schools.

What work is this religious group involved in? This organisation is involved primarily in the teaching profession - they educate young people both in Ireland and around the world. They provide education in primary and secondary schools as well as in technical, university and agricultural colleges. The Christian Brothers also provide education for those who are blind or deaf.

What types of roles exist with this organization? The Superior General is the leader of the Congregation of the Christian Brothers. This position is currently held by Br. Philip Pinto who lives in Rome. Br. Pinto is the first Indian Brother to hold this position. Most Brothers have a role in an educational community. They work as teachers, year heads, counsellors, tutors or principals.  

What is the structure of the Brothers' Congregation in Ireland? The Christian Brothers of Ireland and England form one Province. A Province elects a ‘Team' of Brothers who then serve in leadership roles for 6 years.

What changes are taking place within the Christian Brothers? At Present the Christian Brothers are working to hand over all school operations to lay people.  They have set up a Trust called ERST to succeed them in the management of schools.

How will these changes effect the work of the Christian Brothers? The Mission of the Christian Brothers will now change to spread their ‘spirituality' in different ways. They will share the message of the Gospels by operating ‘Retreat' Houses and running other projects in Ireland and throughout the world.

For sample exam questions on this area and an approach to answering them, see the An Tobar website and click on downloadable resources for the classroom.

Contributor: Trish Nelis, CBS Synge Street, Dublin