Thursday, May 5, 2011

Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice

With all the trouble in recent years with regard to child abuse, I fear today's feast may not be celebrated by many in Ireland today.  Today is the memoria of Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice, founder of the Christian Brothers and the Presentation Brothers. 

Blessed Edmund was a remarkable man, a man of deep humility, prayer, service and love. The fact that his congregations have been implicated in the abuse crisis is a tragedy for their founder who abhorred the use of violence and sought, like Don Bosco after him, to teach the boys in his care through love.  He told his brothers that they must not act in anger with the boys that misbehave, but to win their hearts. The infamous "leather", associated with the Christian Brothers, came in after his death - he forbade corporal punishment.  He was not the first founder whose wishes were ignored by his spiritual children after his death.

Blessed Edmund suffered a great deal in his life.  His lost his wife in tragic circumstances, his daughter was handicapped, though she was a joy to him throughout his life.  He saw his congregation split by a bishop who wanted control over the brothers based in Cork.  Towards the end of his life he was also treated badly by some members of his congregation, as are many founders. 

Today, the greater tragedy is that his life's work seems to have not only been lost, but sullied and demeaned, and his congregations are much despised.  Yet there were many good and holy Christian and Presentation Brothers, very much sons of Blessed Edmund.  We can only hope that, with the passage of time, the full truth will emerge and we Irish might one day be proud again of this holy, selfless and loving man who sought to serve the young and prepare them not only for life, but also for heaven.  We have an Irish Don Bosco here, pray the Lord that one day we will realise it.

Here is a photograph of his tomb in Waterford, not really mad about it, touch of the space capsule or even tupperware about it. Actually, to be honest, I hate it......  Poor Blessed Edmund!


  1. Justice is not being done to the Christian Brothers. The vast majority were decent men, working in inauspicious conditions and circumstances; corporal punishment was the accepted norm back then. Not just in Ireland either; public schools in England were bastions of unspeakable brutality.

    Even the Ryan Report acknowledges the efforts of the CBs to keep the use of corporal punishment under control:

    7.224 He [Br Yves] remembered being reprimanded by the principal of the School for beating a boy too harshly, and toned down his severity accordingly.


    7.66 Br Noonan was Superior General of the Congregation from 1930 to 1949. He was anxious to reduce the reliance on corporal punishment and he admonished those who were intemperate in its use. There are some grounds for believing he did keep down its excessive use during his tenure of office.


    7.67 A Visitation Report in the early 1930s described an extraordinary penalty imposed on a Brother in the refectory: ‘Br Sebastien erred on two occasions in punishing boys severely. The Superior reproved him publicly and ordered him to make a public apology, on his knees in the Refectory

  2. A letter to the Irish Times, May 25:

    Madam, – From the age of seven (1930) to 17 (1940) I was a boarder in a Christian Brothers-run Dublin orphanage after the death of my father in 1930. My mother died in 1938, having been left in poor circumstances after the death of my father.

    During the years I was a boarder I was not abused in any way by the Christian Brothers and knew of no abuse of the approximately 100 other boarders.

    I was given free board and lodgings; a good education to Leaving Cert standard. Facilities were made available for all who wished to avail of them to engage in Gaelic football and hurling; handball, outdoor parallel bars; outdoor tennis during summer months; table-tennis for indoor amusement, and every effort was made to occupy us during summer holidays (for those without a home to go to) including occasional day excursions in CIÉ buses to places of interest within reasonable distance of Dublin. As anyone will tell you, looking after 100 lively boys required discipline but, in my experience, any discipline (eg slaps with a leather) was administered without excessive severity. I speak from personal experience.

    The education given so generously was first class and some Brothers gave special classes in their own free time to bright children to help them sit for scholarships.

    When schooldays were over, the Brothers worked might-and-main to secure employment for school leavers. They even provided a hostel in the grounds of the orphanage where low-paid ex-boarders were accommodated until they found their feet.

    I will always be grateful to them for the help they gave me and my brother at an extremely difficult time, and the peace of mind they gave my mother in the last few years of her life. So please don’t tar all these fine men with the same brush. – Yours, etc,

    DONAL KAVANAGH, Dublin 12.

  3. David Quinn wrote a very good article in Studies magazine about the Ryan Report. He attended most of the Inquiry's hearings and felt compelled to give the report greater analysis, having realized that most media commentators had read little more than the summary.

    Here are a few of the facts: 1,090 former residents reported to the Ryan commission; they named 800 alleged abusers in over 200 institutions.

    Boys: 50% of the physical abuse reports and 64% of the sexual abuse reports came from 4 institutions.

    Girls: 40% of the physical abuse reports came from 3 institutions; 241 women religious were named as physical abusers, but 4 of these were named by 125 witnesses and 156 sisters were named by only one witness each.

    Of the 800 religious and others named as abusers, 400 were named by only one person. Sixteen institutions had more than 20 complaints made against them.

    Quinn's point about the discipline is also echoed by Fr Michael Hughes, archivist for the Oblates of Mary Immaculate congregation, and who had been involved with supervision at Daingean. According to the Irish Times ( 'Living hell' reformatory claim rejected; Wednesday, June 07, 2006): "He agreed there were gangs and a hierarchy among the boys with newcomers known as "fish". He did not agree it was a situation which got out of control, though there were disturbances at times. "Discipline at the school was very severe for that very purpose, so staff could keep control. It was intended as protection for the children . . . these lads were not small boys."

    He agreed the Brothers worked all year around, seven days a week with no day off until the 1970s, and that 20 of them were responsible for 150 boys.

  4. The left-liberal Professor of History at UCD, Diarmaid Ferriter (who certainly cannot be accused of pro-Catholic bias) also notes something similar in his book 'The Transformation of Ireland' (page 517):

    "Though it was not fashionable to admit it towards the end of the century, many of the members of religious orders had worked hard under difficult conditions to educate and provide for vulnerable can have some sympathy with the contention of Patrick Touher, an inmate of Artane Industrial School, that 'on the whole the [Christian] Brothers were doing their best, within limited circumstances in hard times and with frightening numbers. They too shared in the hard rigid life. They had no luxuries, nothing to look forward to, except more of the same'."

    The ultra liberal Fr Joseph S O'Leary (of the Spirit of Vatican II blog) describes his experiences as a schoolboy with the Christian Brothers in the 50s and early 60s:

    "My school, the North Monastery, Cork, was a well-run school, and the Brothers devoted their free time to organizing sports, excursions, pageants, debates, concerts, bands, summer schools in the Irish-speaking area of West Cork, even an ecumenical meeting with a Church of Ireland school. These men led Spartan lives and most of them conveyed a sense of idealism that they passed on to their pupils. This had a very wholesome impact on Irish life.

    As teachers the Brothers had the gift of making us study and actually acquire knowledge — something rare in contemporary education. We spent thousands of hours poring over classical English, Irish and Latin poetry and prose — a privilege more with-it curricula no longer accord — and the amount of maths, math-physics, physics and chemistry absorbed then — and now entirely lost — boggles the mind. It is true that students with learning disabilities or incapacity for Irish were sometimes badly handled. Corporal punishment allowed some loutish teachers to use the stick too freely."

  5. I went to O'Connell Schools, Dublin, from 1951 to 1961. I am forever grateful to my parents for this opportunity. When King George VI of England died in February 1952 I was in 2B. We prayed in Irish for the repose of his soul. Brother John Dobson, my teacher then, was an Englishman who gave me a great love for the Irish language. He left the Brothers some years later.

    The 'leather' wasn't as bad in my experience as it was in that of some. I never saw a teacher use it excessively, though my father, who was a classmate of the late Paddy Crosbie of 'School Around the Corner' fame, had some horror stories about one or two teachers, not all of them Brothers. (Theologically, Brothers are laymen so I avoid the term 'lay' for non-Brothers).

    The leather was accepted by our parents. You didn't go home and tell them that you got a 'belt' of it. On the other hand, some teachers didn't use it at all. My brother had a Kilkenny man, Mr Ned Maher, who taught him in 2nd or 3rd Class, I think. On the first day of class Ned showed the 'leather' to the lads and said, 'You play ball with me and I'll play ball with you'. He then put it in the drawer and never took it out again.

    My teacher in 4th Class, the late John Galligan who died the same weekend as 'The Master', Bryan MacMahon, was one of the best mentors I've ever had. He prepared us for Confirmation, taught us how to use the old bilingual missal and shared his deep faith with us. He also gave us a thorough grounding in grammar in both Irish and English. He, more than anyone else, stimulated my interest in journalism.

    In secondary school I never remember the 'leather' being used. I had a saintly man in my final two years in O'Connells, though I had known him since my primary school days, An Bráthair Mícheál S. Ó Flaitile, whom everyone described as 'fear uasal', a much deeper term than 'gentleman'. We all loved him.
    My teacher in 5th Class was Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, another 'fear uasal', as everyone in Ireland knows. I've met him from time to time down the years.

    Many of my Australian Columban colleagues are products of the Brothers. Two of us organized a special Mass in our central house in Manila the day after Blessed Edmund was beatified.
    I had forgot that today was the feast of Blessed Edmund, even though I invoke him each day.

    The Brothers came to the Philippines some years ago at the invitation of two Salesian bishops. Some are in the Diocese of Kabankalan, here on the island of Negros, the territory given to the Columbans in 1950 and that became a diocese in 1987. The Brothers are older men and are involved in a supervisory capacity.

    Thanks for this post, Shane.

  6. Fr Sean and Shane,

    Thank you for your comments. We need to hear more of the good and holy brothers who kept (and keep) the spirit of Blessed Edmund alive in his congregations and the schools and have given up their lives to faithfully serve the young. Such testimonies honour Blessed Edmund on his feast day.

  7. altar looks like a giant licorice allsort - or is that an early prototype bar code?

  8. Perhaps when we get Blessed Edmond canonised they might put him into a more fitting tomb. This looks like those awful vestments you see in Lourdes. Is it made of plastic?

  9. From the Edmund Rice Chapel brochure:

    “Dominating the Edmund Rice Chapel is the tomb of Blessed Edmund Rice. Made of sandstone and glass the tomb has Edmund Rice’s name etched in the side and top in Ogham, the ancient Irish alphabet. Glimpses of Edmund’s coffin - in which are his remains - are visible through the slits in the glass of the top of the tomb. Visitors are welcome to touch the stone of the tomb as they pause for prayer and reflection… Above Edmund’s tomb is a painting by an American Christian Brother, Ken Chapman, entitled Transcendence.

    The Edmund Rice Chapel was dedicated by Bishop William Lee on 3rd February, 2008. Designed by architects C.J. Falconer and Associates, and built by Tom O’Brien Constructions Ltd, its circular shape sits dramatically on the hill of Mount Sion…. Visitors can look over Waterford from inside the Chapel, and allow the vista of Waterford, the World and the Cosmos to direct their reflections. In turn, Waterford, the World and the Cosmos can be affected by the activity of meditation, prayer and reflection in the Edmund Rice Chapel…Visitors may also choose to avail of the Peace Garden between the Chapel and the monastery. It offers an oasis with its flowers and plants, bench seating, the stations of the cross and a cosmic walk.”


  10. I worked for a year along side three Christian Brothers, and two ex-brothers in a secondary school in Dublin in the mid nineties. It was a school in a very socially deprived area. The brothers continually went above and beyond the call of duty, in service of the boys and their families.

    On my first day in the school, a Brother asked to see my timetable, and declared "You're new, you shouldn't have that class". There and then he divided the class in two, he gave me the more manageable students, and taught the rest of them himself for the entire year! (Not typical staffroom behaviour.)