Something Beautiful is Born…
Edmund and his companions moved into their new monastery in 1803. The lifestyle of Edmund and his followers was simple. They rose early, prayed together and attended daily Mass. In addition to providing education, a bakehouse was built alongside the school to provide food for the children. Tailors made clothes for the pupils and also for the poor of the city. Conditions were difficult, with each Brother teaching as many as 150 pupils.
Mount Sion (above) soon became famous. Parents noticed the changes in their children. The Brothers at Mount Sion also began to provide night courses for illiterate adults and weekend classes. The Brothers also made visits to the local jail, supported charities, and on an individual basis, assisted alcoholics and those in need.
As news of Edmund’s work spread, more men came to join him. By 1808, two new schools were established in Dungarvan and Carrick on Suir.
Edmund and his companions were not priests. Technically, they were still laymen. However, Edmund devised a “Rule of Living” based on the Rule used by Nano Nagle’s Presentation Sisters. The men made three vows: poverty, celibacy and obedience.
On 15th August 1808, eight men wearing a simple, black habit joined Edmund at the chapel at Mount Sion. They gave themselves the name “Society of the Presentation” under the authority of the local bishop. They referred to one another as “Brother” and Edmund took a new name – “Ignatius” – after St. Ignatius of Loyola.
This was the first venture of its kind in the English-speaking Church.
As word spread about the Presentation Brothers, several bishops requested that similar foundations be established in their own dioceses. A system was put in place where the bishop would send suitable young men to Mount Sion for two and a half years of training. The men would then return to their home diocese and would train any future novices there.
Soon there were foundations in Cork, Dublin, Thurles and Limerick. Technically, the local bishop was the superior of these communities but the brothers looked to Edmund Rice as their leader.
At this point, the Brothers decided that the demand for their services could be met more efficiently if they became a Pontifical rather than a Diocesan Society, as in the case of the De La Salle Brothers in France. This would mean that the Brothers would elect their own leader. First discussions about this new type of governance took place at a meeting in Mount Sion in 1817. In January 1822 Edmund Rice was elected as Superior General of the Christian Brothers.
However, the brothers at the North Monastery in Cork city did not support the new move and remained as Presentation Brothers under the authority of their bishop. Eventually, Bishop Murphy of Cork provided these men with a new monastery on the south side of the city. It would become known as the South Monastery and the superior would be Brother Augustine Riordan.
In 1825 the Christian Brothers opened their first school in England at Preston in Lancashire. In 1828, the headquarters of the Brothers was moved from Waterford to Dublin. The great Daniel O’Connell laid the foundation stone for the new Generalate at North Richmond St, Dublin. A crowd of 100,000 people attended the event and heard Daniel O’Connell (portrait, left) refer to Edmund Rice as “The Patriarch of the Monks of the West”.
In 1838, at the age of 76, Edmund resigned as the Superior General of the Brothers. His successor was Brother Michael Paul Riordan from the North Monastery in Cork.
Edmund Rice died on 28th August 1844 at Mount Sion in Waterford.
A Protestant journalist who attended the funeral wrote the following:
“Why are you sorrowful? Why are you sad? Mr. Rice is not dead! He lives! Yes, he lives the highest, noblest and greatest life. He lives on in the noble band of Christian workmen to whom he has bequeathed his spirit and his work.”