Edmund Rice (1762–1844), educator, founder of Presentation Brothers and Irish Christian Brothers, was born at Callan, Co. Kilkenny, and educated at a local "hedge school" before being apprenticed to his uncle, a merchant in Waterford, in 1779. Rice amassed a fortune in the provisioning trade at Waterford, where he joined the campaign of the Catholic Committee for emancipation. In 1785 he married Mary Elliott; their only child, Mary, was mentally handicapped, and Rice suffered additional heartbreak in 1789 with the death of his wife.
This tragedy radically changed Rice's priorities and from that point he became increasingly involved in pious and charitable pursuits. Initially he devoted his attention to the plight of prisoners and orphans, assisting in the foundation of the Trinitarian Orphan Society (1793) and the Society for the Relief of Distressed Room-keepers (1794). His greatest contribution, however, was to Catholic education. Prompted by a pastoral address of Bishop Thomas Hussey, in 1802 Rice established a religious community of laymen dedicated to teaching poor boys, modeled upon the Nano Nagle's Presentation Sisters. The schools followed a plan devised by Rice. The curriculum was a pragmatic combination of best practice of the time, but from the outset the Brothers were determined to preserve the exclusively Catholic character of their schools. In time this led to acrimonious relations with the National Board and the eventual withdrawal of Rice's schools from the system. By the time of Rice's death in 1844 the Brothers had forty-three schools, including six in England. Besides founding the schools, Rice played a key role in the revival of the institutional church following the dislocation of the penal era. A collaborator of Daniel O'Connell, Theobald Mathew, and Charles Bianconi, Edmund Rice was a key figure in the modernization of Irish society; he was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1996.
SEE ALSO Education: Primary Private Education—"Hedge Schools" and Other Schools; Education: Primary Public Education—National Schools from 1831; Education: Secondary Education, Male; Religious Orders: Men; Roman Catholic Church: 1690 to 1829; Roman Catholic Church: 1829 to 1891
Keogh, Dáire. Edmund Rice, 1762–1844. 1996.
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