The Founder of the Congregation of Christian Brothers was Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice. Edmund was born in Callan, County Kilkenny, Ireland in 1762 and died in Waterford, Ireland in 1844. He was a wealthy businessman, a widower and parent.
As a young man, Edmund went to work in his uncle's business. His talents and abilities allowed him to transform the business and eventually assume its ownership. At a time when most of the Catholics in Ireland were extremely poor and living under repressive laws, Edmund became a wealthy and influential businessman in the city of Waterford.
Edmund seemed to have everything going for him: financial security, a prospering business, and a happy marriage. But in 1789, his wife died in a tragic accident and his world seemed to have turned upside-down.
As he struggled to find meaning in his wife's death he heard the Word of God speaking to him through the poor, uneducated, marginalized young boys of Waterford and he set about to establish Catholic schools. This was at a time when such schools were illegal in Ireland. He took in those boys most thought hopeless. He soon realized that he must attend to all the needs of the boys, not just their education -- the boys needed to be fed, clothed and housed.
Gathering about him a few men who shared his vision, Edmund began what seemed to others the impossible task of educating Ireland's poor. With his first followers, Edmund very quickly began to live the life of a religious and in 1802 he founded what became known as the Congregation of Christian Brothers to provide quality, Catholic education to the materially poor.
The first Brothers came to Canada in 1876 and to the United States in 1906.
His Holiness John Paul II beatified Edmund Rice on October 6, 1996, in St. Peter's Square. Speaking of Blessed Edmund, the Pope stated, "Here we have an outstanding model of a true lay apostle and a deeply committed Religious. Today, his spiritual sons, the Christian Brothers and the Presentation Brothers, continue his mission: a mission which he himself described in this simple and clear intention: 'Trusting in God's help, I hope to be able to educate these boys to be good Catholics and good citizens.’"
Blessed Edmund Rice was beatified after the Church investigated and recognized a medical miracle that was the result of people praying to the Founder for his intercession with God. The miracle was a recovery from a terminal medical condition that the patient's doctors could not scientifically or medically explain.
With beatification, Edmund Rice was declared "Blessed" by the Church. This allows a limited form of veneration. Another miracle is needed between beatification and canonization, at which time Blessed Edmund would be declared a saint.
His feast day is celebrated on May 5th.