Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice, Founder of the Christian Brothers and Presentation Brothers, commenced his great mission in 1802 when he established a makeshift school in a converted stable in New Street, Waterford. This year marks the bicentenary of these humble beginnings.
For people in over 30 countries across the world, 2002 was a special opportunity to reflect on the significance of the bicentennial year.
The International Bicentennial Committee, established in 2001 by the Congregation Leaders of the Christian Brothers and Presentation Brothers, has developed this site to provide information and resources relevant to the Bicentenary.
Celebrating the Bicentenary – HighSchool Style
THE COMMON theme for our celebrations of the Bicentenary was “Returning to our Roots!”
By now it is a well established annual event in The High School calendar that all second year students study the life and times of Edmund Rice. The culmination of their explorations of primary evidence, and creative artistic representations of aspects of the life of Blessed Edmund Rice, is to experience the roots of the Christian Brothers’ Community by visiting the birthplace of Edmund Rice in Callan and The museum in Mount Sion in Waterford.
There are several extra curricular groups in the school, which in no small way, take their inspiration from the spirituality and work of the founder of the Christian Brothers’ order. Every year fifth year students volunteer to become involved in a friendship and games club with medium to long term patients in the local psychiatric hospital – Monday evenings would not be the same without the hospital visits! The Transition year students prepare for and work with people of special needs and also train with the T.Y.O. students of The Presentation to run retreats in the Primary Schools in the town of Clonmel, as part of the preparation for the First Holy Communion Programme.
Similarly the Peer Ministry group develop their leadership skills trough a faith development programme which enables them to bring the Word of God to incoming first year students through Retreats and Workshops.
The Highlights which marked this very special year genuinely encouraged all of the school community to become aware of their Spiritual and Christian Roots.
Having studied Celtic Spirituality, all fifth year students were invited to submit projects in order to earn themselves an all expenses paid pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick. What better way to get in touch with an aspect of our faith that is uniquely Irish? God in nature, God close by us every minute of the day and God as our strength and protector! What better way to experience our spiritual roots that to undergo one of Ireland’s age old pilgrimages and follow in the footsteps of St. Patrick himself?
It was 7:30 am on 25th May when we congregated outside the walls of a still sleeping High School, to begin the journey to Westport. Four and a half hours later we caught our first glimpses of the task that lay ahead of us. The ripple of nervous laughter at the sight of Croagh Patrick reflected the hopeful disbelief that the teachers were joking! Surely it was some other mountain from some other window in the bus that we were aiming for?
Stocked with water and food for our picnic at the summit, we began our journey as a determined and enthusiastic group. The weather was in our favour and we were blessed with clear views. Even when the going got really tough a certain student could be heard giving a melodious rendition of “Ain’t no mountain high enough!” Two arduous hours later we basked in a sense of achievement, and soaked up the views of Clew Bay. After a ceremonious creation of a pile of stones — representing the special intentions of each High School Student who made the pilgrimage, we paused in prayer of gratitude and awe. So close to “the heavens” we were well placed to experience our God through the beauty and power of nature. The God which Edmund Rice placed so centrally and explicitly within our Education system. Not even the rain that poured for our journey down the mountain could quell our spirits! Truly a Spiritual experience never to be forgotten!
The final event which marked the Bicentenary Year for the High School Community was a Liturgy to which all were invited. The focus of the liturgy was a prayerful acknowledgement of, and reflection on, the particular ways in which The High School has uniquely continued the work and tradition of the Edmund Rice and the Christian Brothers Community in the town of Clonmel for over 100 years. A visual display encompassing the names of every Christian Brother who taught in the HighSchool down through the years, the changes in the visual appearance of the school buildings and a life size reproduction of the Icon of Edmund Rice, all served to create a focal point for the duration of the Liturgy.
The Christian Brothers & Clonmel
Under the instigation of Thomas O’Brien, a Waterford wine merchant, who followed the example of Edmund Rice, the second foundation of the Congregation of the Christian Brothers was planned for Clonmel. However, the idea had to be abandoned when the parish priest of Clonmel’s only parish, St. Mary’s, dismissed it. He considered the financial implications to be too great.
The Brothers eventually came to Clonmel in the year of the Great Famine 1847. The then Mayor of Clonmel Charles Bianconi, a friend of Edmund Rice, and the parish priest of Clonmel’s new parish, SS. Peter & Paul’s, Very Rev. Dr. Burke V.F. played a major role in establishing this foundation. A school capable of accommodating 500 pupils was provided and it was soon filled to capacity. Br. Francis Thornton, a native of Clonmel was recalled from Liverpool to take charge.
The Brothers had their own unique system of education, with particular emphasis being placed on religious instruction.
By the year 1860 the Christian Brothers opened a second school and monastery in Clonmel, this time in the parish of St. Mary’s.
Original design for the new school as illustrated in the Builders Journal of January 1901
The impact of the Brothers on the youth of Clonmel was best exemplified and personified in 1950 when Brother Edward Ferdinand Clancy was elected Superior General of the Christian Brothers. Brother Clancy enrolled as a pupil of the High School on the day it opened in 1899.
For almost 150 years the Brothers played an influential role in the educational, social and cultural life of Clonmel. Many generations of school children and older students benefited from the teaching skills and dedication of the many Brothers who were assigned to the town’s schools.
The Post World War era witnessed the ever increasing number of lay teachers becoming a permanent feature of the Christian Brothers schools.
From 1990 onwards, due to a drop in vocations, the Brothers began to withdraw from their Schools in Clonmel. Since 1987, lay Principals have been appointed to all Christian Brothers’ Schools in Clonmel.
On October 6,1996, Pope John Paul II beatified – declared ‘Blessed’ – Edmund Rice, the founder of the Christian Brothers and the Presentation Brothers.
Edmund Rice was born to a farming family, under the shadow of the Penal laws, on June 1, 1762, at Westcourt, Callan, County Kilkenny, Ireland. He attended the commercial academy in Kilkenny for about two years after secretly receiving his elementary education at the local ‘hedge school’ in Callan.
In 1779 Edmund was apprenticed to his uncle, Michael Rice, in the business of supplying all the needs of ships that plied their trade across the Atlantic between Europe and the eastern coast of North America. By his late twenties, through his entrepreneurial skills, he had earned enough money to make himself and his family comfortable for life.
Edmund married Mary Elliot, the daughter to a prosperous Waterford businessman, in 1786. After three short years of marriage, Mary suffered a tragic accident, gave birth to a handicapped daughter, also called Mary, and died shortly after. Edmund was devastated. After a period of reflection he turned to his special vocation, which was to provide dignity for the poor, especially through education.
So, as a 40-year old widower and a successful businessman in Waterford on Ireland’s southeast coast, Edmund Rice changed course radically. He sold off his business interests and started a primary school for a few poor boys in a converted stable, with a room for himself above the makeshift classrooms.
During the following year, he used more of his funds to put up a larger building in the city’s working-class district. In 1802 Edmund was joined by two companions, Thomas Grosvener and Patrick Finn, and the three began to live a form of community life in rooms over the Stable School in New Street. The men shared his vision where they combined a semi-monastic life with the hard work of teaching unruly boys under primitive conditions.
All of Edmund’s educational activities were illegal in the eyes of the ‘authorities’ in Ireland. Most Irish Catholics were effectively cut off from education and consequently cut off from social and political progress. By founding schools and teaching congregations, Edmund Rice, like Daniel O’ Connell, was a liberator. That is one reason why O’Connell greatly admired the man he called “patriarch of the monks of the West.”. Appropriately, therefore, Edmund’s first Dublin Schools in North Richmond Street were named the O’Connell Schools.
But all these achievements came at a great personal and mental distress. So, in 1838, Edmund laid down the onerous office of Superior General and retired to Mount Sion, Waterford.
Edmund died on the 29th August, 1844. His vision continues to live on in the positive response to today’s challenges made by his successors in the Edmund Rice Family.