Edmund was born in Callan, County Kilkenny, Ireland, in 1762. As a young man, he came to the bustling city port of Waterford and worked in his uncle’s business. He was talented and energetic and became a very wealthy man. In 1785 he fell in love and married Mary Elliot. His happiness was shattered by the tragic death of his wife just four years later. Mary died in childbirth, and Edmund was left with a handicapped daughter, also named Mary. This shattering experience was the turning point in his life.
Edmund spent more and more time in prayer and in helping and empowering great numbers of people in Waterford who suffered poverty and injustice. In 1802 he set up a free school for poor young boys. Having provided for his daughter, Mary, he left his comfortable home and lived above the school he had recently founded.
Influenced by the work of Nano Nagle, the founder of the Presentation Sisters, he gathered around him a group of men. These he formed into a community of religious brothers dedicated to “raising up the poor”.
Through Edmund’s meditation on the Gospel, he became more keenly aware of the oppressive social and political realities of his day. He recognised that the education system discriminated against the poor. In the unschooled and undisciplined boys of Waterford, he found images of God. With his sense of the God-given dignity of the poor, he saw education as a means by which to recognise and promote this dignity, through liberation for personal and communal empowerment.
Edmund is honoured as the founder of both the Christian Brothers and the Presentation Brothers. For more than two centuries, many have been and continue to be attracted by his vision and generosity. The mission continues today on all five continents through the ministry of Christian Brothers and laity called to serve in this vocation of Catholic Education.
The Christian Brothers came to Australia – first of all, to Sydney – in 1843, at the invitation of Archbishop Polding, but left in 1848.
They arrived in Melbourne in 1868 at the invitation of Bishop James Goold. Within thirty-five years, the remarkable Brother Patrick Ambrose Treacy had responded to invitations from various Bishops to establish schools in the Dioceses of Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide, Dunedin and Perth. The task of the Brothers in Australia, as mandated by the Bishops, was the evangelisation of the mainly poor, mainly Irish, Catholic families of the colonies.
The gift to Australian Catholic education since 1868 has been profound. The ministry of the Christian Brothers and their co-workers is active in all States and Territories of Australia and continues to be expressed in multiple forms.
At the beginning of the 21st century in Australia, there is a continuing need for Catholic schools in the Edmund Rice tradition to reflect on their purpose and role. This is borne out by the complexity of the modern world and the challenges confronting young people in their search for meaning. All members of these schools are called by way of their vocation to be committed to reflect deeply on engrained practices and issues relevant to spirituality. They are called to provide education that is transformational and liberating within the reign of God for the world.
A School conducted in the Edmund Rice tradition
offers a distinctive Catholic educational philosophy
provides a curriculum attentive to the needs of each person
nurtures and encourages the spirituality of each person
lives and grows as a faith-sharing community by fostering a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ
develops a culture of good relationships, which evidence respect, community, hospitality, nurture, humour, care and justice.
acknowledges the dignity of all its members, each formed in the image of God
promotes service of others, by way of significant learning experiences, as basic to fulfilling a Christian life acts justly
stands in solidarity with those who are powerless and marginalised
fosters in its members the mind and heart of Edmund, who acted with compassion
acknowledges the traditional relationship of indigenous peoples with the land
actively encourages all its members – teachers, staff and students – to reflect on the contemporary world in the light of the Gospel.
Taken from one of a series of core documents prepared by
The National Planning Committee for Schools Governance
Christian Brothers Australia