St Ambrose Preparatory School is one of five Prep schools in England which are part of the Edmund Rice network of schools. Edmund Rice began his work over 250 years ago.
Below is an account of Edmund’s life and how he strove to help those less fortunate than himself.
Edmund Rice (1762-1844) was the founder of the Christian Brothers. He was born in Callan, County Kilkenny, Ireland. As a young man he came to the bustling port city of Waterford and worked in his uncle’s business. He was talented and energetic and soon became a very wealthy man. In 1785 he fell in love and married Mary Elliot. However, his happiness was shattered with the tragic death of his wife just four years later. Mary died in childbirth and Edmund was left with a handicapped daughter.
This shattering experience was to mark a decisive turning point in Edmund’s life. He spent more and more time in prayer and in helping the great numbers of people in Waterford who suffered poverty and injustice. In 1802 he set up a free school for poor young people. Having provided for his daughter, Mary, who was cared for by his family, he left his comfortable house and lived over the school.
Influenced by the work of Nano Nagle and the Presentation Sisters, he gathered around him a group of men, forming a religious community of Brothers dedicated to ‘raising up the poor’. Today he is honoured as the Founder of both the Christian Brothers and the Presentation Brothers. Many others were attracted by his vision and generosity, and the educational mission of the Brothers spread throughout Ireland and to many parts of the world. All followers of Edmund Rice are committed to education as liberation.
The Ideals of Edmund
Edmund read and interpreted the Gospel of Jesus Christ, mindful of the moral, social and political realities of his day.
He saw the plight of the Catholic children of his town and looked to restore their dignity through a process of liberation through education.
He longed to see them rescued from:
- an oppressive political situation
- an aggressive system of religious discrimination
- a future without the prospect of employment
- a life of ignorance and exploitation
- a life starved of spiritual nourishment
- the closed circle of anti-social behaviour
- a life of poverty and powerlessness
- a life of economic dependence
Edmund’s attitude and motivation arose from the experience of his own life which enabled him to:
- value the virtues of family life
- have compassion for the sick and bereaved
- discover the value of productive employment
- discover his dependence on the providence of God
- find fulfilment in the service of others
- recognise a deep sense of personal vocation
- value companionship in the service of God
These experiences gave him the strength and generosity to:
- leave behind a successful career
- actively devote himself to the needs of the young people
- immerse himself in reflection and prayer
- give away his own personal fortune
- call others to Religious brotherhood
The Christian Brothers’ Schools
The way of education begun by Edmund Rice expressed both sides of his character. Compassion for the children in his care and the fervour of his own personal commitment to Christ described his fundamental attitude, but it was balanced by the practical acumen of a shrewd man of business. Edmund not only had a vision of transformation for the poor boys of his own town, but he wanted to make it a concrete and lasting reality.
Christian Brothers’ schools today are challenged by the story of Edmund as they seek to live out gospel values in the competitive climate of today’s educational world.
For more information about Edmund Rice, please refer to the Edmund Rice website in Ireland.