Our story begins with a man called Edmund Rice…in the year 1802… in the city of Waterford in the south east of Ireland.
Edmund was a rich merchant in Waterford which, at that time, was one of the world’s busiest shipping ports. He lived in comfortable circumstances and was married to a young woman called Mary. Tragedy struck the couple however with Mary dying as the result of an accident. Just before her death she gave birth to a baby girl whom Edmund named Mary.
After the death of his wife, and having ensured that his daughter was cared for, Edmund gave up the comforts of wealth and established a school in a converted stable. He was especially conscious of the hardship suffered by poorer people.
A few companions joined him in the work living in the loft above their classroom. They prayed together and shared their lives and possessions in mutual support as a community.
You can read about the life of Blessed Edmund Rice here.
In 1808, following the example of Nano Nagle and the Presentation Sisters, Edmund and his companions took vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience, and devoted themselves to the education of poor boys. At this time they were known as the Society of the Presentation.
Nano Nagle, a pioneer in the provision of free education to the youth of the city of Cork, had already founded the Presentation Sisters in 1775.
Two branches of Edmund’s Family
Edmund Rice’s founding charism gave birth to two congregations, the Congregation of Christian Brothers and the Congregation of Presentation Brothers.
In the early days, when Edmund first began to attract followers to his way of life, they formed themselves into a small group of companions. They lived together in community, and began to follow an adaptation of the Presentation Sisters’ Rule. The Holy See had already approved of this Rule when Edmund and his followers began to use their adaptation of it in 1809.
The granting of the Apostolic Brief in 1820, allowed the infant Congregation to become an Apostolic Institute – a defining moment for all of the early brothers. The majority accepted the Brief and went on to become the Congregation of Christian Brothers.
A few Brothers, notably Michael Augustine Riordan, continued to live by the Presentation Rule. They continued as the Presentation Brothers and became an Apostolic Institute in 1889.
The Presentation Brothers have, since their origin, had a missionary impulse. Communities of brothers were founded over the years in the following countries:
West Indies 1946
Throughout the two hundred years since the Congregation was founded, membership has been predominantly Irish. The Brothers relied to a great extent on vocations from Ireland for the development of the Congregation overseas. There is now an increase in membership from other countries. At present there are Presentation Brothers from Canada, England, Ghana, Grenada, Guyana, Ireland, Liberia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Trinidad and the United States.
From very humble beginnings in Ireland at the end of the eighteenth century the vision of Nano Nagle and Edmund Rice has grown and is being lived throughout the world in new and dynamic ways at the beginning of the twenty-first century.