Founder of the Christian Brothers of Ireland, the first congregation of men to be founded in Ireland since the time of St Patrick, Edmund Rice was born in 1762 at “Westcourt” in County Kilkenny about a mile from the town of Callan. He was educated first at home, then in a “hedge school,” and finally in Kilkenny. Mr. Rice married and became a prosperous merchant and a leader of Catholic activities in the City of Waterford.
After the death of his wife, Edmund had intentions of entering a monastery on the continent; however, the Bishop of Waterford encouraged him to stay in Ireland and begin a school for the poor boys. Thus, in 1802, Edmund rented a house, engaged the services of two young men, and opened a school. Some three hundred boys of all ages flocked to him. Not accustomed to the routine and discipline of school, they must have tested the courage of their masters, for the two paid teachers soon wearied and left Edmund alone. His spirit must have been sorely tried. Nevertheless, he persevered, continuing in prayer, and God rewarded his confidence when two other young men offered themselves as voluntary helpers in his enterprise.
The new school effected such a transformation among the youth of Waterford that Edmund soon had requests to open schools in other cities. Additional helpers came, and he organized them to live together and follow a regular rule of life. New schools were begun.
Pope Pius VII gave papal approval to the Congregation in 1820. Edmund took the name of Brother Ignatius, and, in 1822, Brother Edmund Ignatius Rice was elected the first Superior General of the new Congregation. New schools were opened in Ireland; and, in 1825, the Holy Founder sent Brothers to England and then further afield. Worn out by his extraordinary labours but consoled by God’s manifest blessings, Brother Edmund Ignatius Rice passed to his eternal reward on August 29, 1844, at Mount Sion, Waterford.
The life and work of Edmund Ignatius Rice continues to be examined for the process of canonization. On October 6, 1996, he was beatified as Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice which is the second step towards sainthood. His official feast day is May 5.