Friday 18 October 2019

Schools were established with

Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

IT was an unlikely career change for a 39-year-old wealthy trader -- to found a religious organisation to provide free education for poor boys.

Edmund Ignatius Rice had amassed a fortune on imports and exports. But clearly something was missing from the life of the young widower who had a handicapped daughter.

In 1802, as a band of ragged boys passed him on a Waterford street, he was asked by the sister of the Bishop of Waterford if he would devote his "wealth and life to the spiritual and material interest of these poor youths".

And so he set up the Christian Brothers in an effort to provide free education for poor boys along similar lines of that offered to girls by Nano Nagle's Presentation Sisters.

He quickly built a network of successful schools and the growing religious congregation opened its first industrial school in Artane, Dublin, in 1870. It went on to open five more, which, at any one time, could take in 1,750 boys.

The Brothers, whose core values were Faith and Fatherland, spread their wings to Britain, Australia, Newfoundland, Gibraltar, New Zealand, India and Rome and today have institutions in more than 26 countries.

Christian Brothers were recruited when they were very young, many when only 14 years of age. In 1920, the Brothers had 30,000 pupils in Ireland, but a massive explosion of student numbers occurred in the 1970s following the introduction of free secondary education.


Although their founder did not support physical punishment, the Brothers were known to be strict disciplinarians. They also had an impressive record in academic results and many past pupils went on to become high achievers in all walks of life.

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