Rice, Edmund Ignatius, Bl.
RICE, EDMUND IGNATIUS, BL.
Married educator, founder of the Irish Christian Brothers and the Presentation Brothers; b. June 1, 1762, near Callan (Westcourt), Co. Kilkenny, Ireland; d. Aug. 29, 1844, at Mount Sion, Waterford.
The fourth of the seven sons of the wealthy farmer Robert Rice and his wife Margaret, Rice attended the Catholic school at Moat Lane, Callan, which despite the provision of the iniquitous penal laws, the authorities suffered to exist. After preparing at Kilkenny for a business career, he went to Waterford in 1778 to serve as apprentice to his uncle, Michael Rice, a successful export and import trader, and, after the latter's death, became sole proprietor. Edmund married in 1785, but his wife, Mary Elliot, died suddenly in 1789 during a hunting trip.
The death of his wife was a turning point in Rice's life. At first he thought of entering a contemplative order on the Continent or the nearby Cistercian monastery at Mellary, but his brother, an Augustinian who had but just returned from Rome, discountenanced the idea. Rice, thereupon, devoted himself to the extension of his business. Some years later, however, he again desired to become a religious, then decided that his vocation was among the oppressed, poverty–stricken, and uneducated Irish Catholics. He provided for his only daughter and gave up his business career in order to dedicate himself to the service of God.
In 1796, he sought authorization from Pius VI to create a society to provide free education for poor boys. With papal encouragement and the permission of the bishop, Rice and three disciples opened a school in Waterford (1803). In 1809 they took vows and formed a religious society following the rule of the Presentation Sisters of Cork. This arrangement proved unsatisfactory, because each house was autonomous as to personnel and finances and subject directly to the local bishops. At the urging of Daniel Murray, then auxiliary bishop of Dublin, Rice successfully petitioned Pius VII to permit the adoption of the rule of the Christian Brothers, founded by St. John Baptist de La Salle. Rice made his religious profession once more, this time as Brother Ignatius (1821). He was then elected the first superior general of the Irish Christian Brothers.
As a citizen he was distinguished for his probity, charity, and piety; he was an active member of a society established in the city for the relief of the poor. He was known to be an intensely committed yet modest and spiritual man. Following his peaceful death, Rice was interred in the monastery cemetery (Mt. Sion) in Dublin and marked with a simple stone. Since then a chapel was erected on the site.
At Rice's beatification (Oct. 6, 1996), John Paul II called him "an outstanding model of a true lay apostle and a deeply committed religious. The love which he first gave to his young wife and which, after her untimely death, he always showed for his daughter, blossomed into a host of spiritual and corporal works of mercy, as he helped the clergy of his parish meet the pressing needs of his fellow citizens oppressed by poverty and the weight of anti-Catholic legislation."
Feast: May 5.
Bibliography: L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, no. 27 (1996): 12–13. A Time of Grace—School Memories: Edmund Rice and the Presentation Tradition of Education, ed. by j. m. feheney (Dublin 1996). a christian brother, Edmund Ignatius Rice and the Christian Brothers (New York 1926). d. burton, Edmund Rice, Merchant Adventurer (London 1964). j. d. fitzpatrick, Edmund Rice (Dublin 1945). d. keogh, Edmund Rice (Portland, Oregon 1996). d. rushe, Edmund Rice: The Man and His Times (Dublin 1981). p. r. wilson, Educating Street Kids: A Ministry to Young People in the Charism of Edmund Rice (New York 1991).
[j. h. vaughan]