Edmund Rice Biography

Edmund Ignatius Rice was born on June 1st, 1762 in Co. Kilkenny, Ireland at a time when poverty was rife. Growing up in a large Roman Catholic family of seven brothers and two sisters meant few luxuries and gave him an early appreciation of the needs of the poor which inspired him throughout his life. 

After a hard fought education, he left his hometown of Callan at age 17 to work at his uncle’s business in Waterford City where he observed the widespread poverty first hand. He was particularly struck by the number of poor children running wild and unsupervised around the streets. He established a chandler’s business and employed poor people to help run it and soon became one of the richest men in Ireland. 

Edmund married Mary Elliot at age 25 but following a tragic accident, she died and the child she was carrying was born prematurely and with some disabilities. With the support of The Most Rev. Dr Thomas HusseyLord Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, Edmund decided to found a religious community dedicated to teaching disadvantaged youth. 

The first school, on Waterford's New Street, was a converted stable and opened in 1802, with a second school opening in Stephen Street soon after to cater for increasing enrolment. Two men from his hometown of Callan, Thomas Grosvenor and Patrick Finn, soon arrived to aid Edmund in his makeshift schools and he used proceeds from the sale of his business to build a permanent community house and school on land provided by the church. Bishop Hussey opened the new complex, christened “Mount Sion” and pupils were transferred. 

The reputation of the school spread and over the next few years the movement continued to grow. On 15th August 1808 the Christian Brothers was founded as seven men, including Edmund Rice, took religious promises under Bishop John Power of Waterford. This was one of the first congregations of men to be founded in Ireland and one of the few founded in the Church by a layman. 

Schools were soon opened in Carrick-on-SuirDungarvan and Cork and Limerick. The Archbishop of Dublin established a community in the nation's capital and by 1907 there were ten communities in Dublin, with pupils in excess of 6,000. The congregation of Irish Christian Brothers spread to Liverpool and other parts of England and then further afield to Gibraltar, Australia, New Zealand and today they span the world.

Edmund Ignatius Rice died on the 29th of August 1844. Large crowds filled the streets around his home. Catholics and non-Catholics, the rich and especially the poor gathered on the streets of Waterford to honour this great man. He is buried in Edmund Rice Chapel, Mount Sion, Waterford. His casket can be seen on the right-hand side of this picture. He was beatified in Rome in October 1997. He is now Blessed Edmund Rice.