slice of the icon 1Our History

Since 1802 our work has spread to 29 countries.

From the humblest of beginnings in 1802, Blessed Edmund Rice and his Christian Brothers have grown from their first stable school in Waterford in post-Penal Ireland, to classrooms and ministries in 29 countries across the globe.

The pivotal story in the history of the Christian Brothers is that of its founder, Blessed Edmund Rice. The Charism of the founder still informs and inspires the Mission of the Congregation worldwide.

The Christian Brothers first came to parts of the Oceania Province in 1843. The presence of the Christian Brothers in Oceania began in Sydney and quickly spread throughout Australia, to New Zealand and then later through Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Timor Leste.

A key figure in the history of the Christian Brothers in the Oceania Province is Br Patrick Ambrose Treacy – most notable for his selflessness and determination. In short, secondary education for ordinary people in Australia owes its beginning to Br Ambrose.

Read More of our founders and the history of the Oceania Province

Blessed Edmund Rice

Blessed Edmund Rice (1762 – 1844)

Blessed Edmund Rice was a lay man, a husband and father, a widower and a visionary.

EdmundRiceBible Sensitively present to God’s poor, Edmund responded to the call of the Gospel with an educational vision – offering liberation for the poor of Waterford.

Edmund Rice was born in 1762, in Callan, Ireland to a modestly prosperous family. They were never to experience the worst of the penal laws which denied Catholics rights enjoyed by other citizens.

Although the fourth child, Edmund was the first of the six sons to be formally educated which led to a mercantile apprenticeship with his uncle in Waterford.

He married in 1785, and was remembered as being “remarkable for his affection and regard for his wife”. Surprisingly, the couple settled in notorious Ballybricken, a Waterford suburb punctuated with borderless markets, makeshift cattle and pig pens, open-air abattoirs, military barracks, extensive prostitution and numerous fatherless and orphaned children.

It is in Ballybricken that Edmund became sensitively present to God’s poor, a presence that stirred in him a compassion that transformed him.

A “delicate” baby girl, christened Mary blest the union. Sadly, in January, 1789 Mrs Rice died, probably of cholera, a “fever” that devastated Waterford’s population.

Immediately, Edmund moved home to the quay with its healthy breezes, where he raised Mary as a single father. It seems that Rice’s experience of married love, his exposure to the rawness of Ballybricken and his intimate experience of fatherhood compelled him to remain unmarried and to seek another way of living and sharing his extensive wealth.

In 1793, he consulted Callen’s Bishop Lanigan, who introduced him to the concept of vowed teaching lay brothers.

"Edmund Rice showed people that life could be lived differently, that human relationships could be different, that the dominant culture need not have the answers to how a society operated."

Philip Pinto cfc, Congregation Leader, 2006

From this time, Edmund prayed about and planned for a future Christian Brotherhood.

It was in 1802, when the teenage Mary was needed in the Callan family home to assist Edmund’s youngest brother, Richard, and his young wife to raise a large family, that Edmund became free to pioneer his education vision.

Edmund’s initiative attracted like-minded, compassionate followers, his Christian Brothers, who like him desired to embrace a life, living with Jesus in their hearts and serving God’s dear little ones, the term Edmund used to describe the pupils.