Memorial : 29 August
BL. EDMUND IGNATIUS RICE was born at Westcourt, Ireland, on 1 June 1762, when Irish Catholics were oppressed by the weight of anti-Catholic legislation devised by the Protestant English to keep the Catholic majority in subjection. The fourth of seven sons, he grew up in a devout farming family. At the age of 17 he began work at Waterford in his uncle's commercial enterprise, which he later inherited.
Married at 25, he lost his wife two years later and was left with responsibility for an infant daughter in delicate health. Supported by his strong faith, he accepted his cross and grew in close union with God through meditation on the Scriptures and frequent attendance at Mass and the sacraments. He dedicated himself to works of charity, putting his riches at the service of the poor. He became a model Christian layman.
Between 1780 and 1841 the population in Ireland doubled, and there were many economic and political problems associated with the education of youth and the care of the aged and infirm. The rebellion of the American colonies in 1776 encouraged Irish Catholics to work for equality with the Protestant English. The Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 was one of the fruits of this struggle. It was in this atmosphere that Edmund Rice lived and worked.
Despite the attraction of the contemplative life, he could not forget the miserable condition of so many boys in danger of losing their faith. In 1802, encouraged by Pope Pius VI and with the blessing of Bishop Hussey, Edmund sold his business, arranged for his daughter's care and opened his first school in an abandoned stable, living on the upper floor.
Soon other teachers, attracted by his example and spirit, joined him and so a religious community was founded in Waterford. In 1808, in the chapel of the Sisters of the Presentation, Edmund and his companions made annual vows "according to the rule and Constitution of the Order of the Presentation approved by the Holy See". Edmund took the name in religion of Ignatius.
In 1820, the Congregation of the Christian Brothers, modeled on the Brothers of the Christian Schools of St John Baptist de La Salle, became an institute of pontifical right. Some other brothers, wishing to remain under their Bishops, maintained the existence of the earlier institute of the Brothers of the Presentation.
Edmund's work spread across Ireland, and then to England, Gibraltar and Australia. He resigned as Superior General in 1838 and died on 29 August 1844.