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Most of the portraits we have of Edmund have not been painted from life. Satisfying though these works are, they do not leave us with the impression that what we are seeing is what Edmund Rice really looked like. Generally speaking they tend to be bland, the stresses of life brushed away. Now modern technology has been employed to give us a likeness we can be sure of.
The idea of using modern technology to reconstruct Edmund’s face was suggested by Robert (Br Christopher) Mears in the 1980s. His idea lay dormant for some years but was taken up by Br Michael Godfrey when the redevelopment of Mt Sion, Waterford, was set in progress. Now the Edmund Rice Centre at Mount Sion, Waterford, contains a reconstruction of Edmund’s face, allowing people to view an authentic likeness of him.
To achieve this result, a team of forensic scientists from the University of Dundee, led by Dr Caroline Wilkinson, was commissioned to carry out an in-depth, CSI-style reconstruction of Edmund’s mortal remains.
Dr Wilkinson undertook the task of reconstructing Edmund’s facial features to show what he looked like at the time of his death in 1844, at the age of 82. She used pictures of his skull and forensic science methods perfected by police forces to make a life-sized model out of resin and clay. In time she will also produce images of Edmund in middle age, about the time he began what was to be his life’s work.
The face Dr Wilkinson has reconstructed is that of a man who has lived strenuously, giving his all. Even in his last year, his face is still strong, the face of a man who has known success and failure, happiness and sorrow. It is the face of a man who did not flinch from looking reality in the eye.
This reconstruction of Edmund’s face is not sentimental and may not be to everyone’s liking. He lived through difficult times – his personal struggles, the challenges of founding a religious congregation, and the misery surrounding him in the lives of the poor he served – and these are reflected in his face. This new image of Edmund is a call to us to give generously and unselfishly of ourselves in the mission to which we have been called.