Growing up in Callan in Kilkenny in the 1760s and 70s I guess you were both rich and poor. Politically and socially it was not an easy time. Neither was it a time of plenty. There was poverty. Yet for you, you had the joy and richness of both family and faith. You were a member of a big family, two families really. I am sure there was much chat, and music and dance. I think of Callan tonight. I think especially of Westcourt. Now a special place of heritage, a place of pilgrimage. I wonder what it was like back then. I see its natural beauty. Even still quite unspoiled. More so back then. I think of an brathairin liath visiting your area. Was Grace his name? He certainly was the source of it. Clearly a formative influence on you. He, with your parents, shaped the early days of your faith.
Were you homesick when you went into your uncle Michael’s place in Kilkenny? Maybe a little. I am sure though you were glad of your space. You were a teenager now. I am sure Callan was cramped. I have no doubt you loved them and missed them but maybe you had outgrown Callan a bit. I would say working in the business in Waterford was fascinating. It must have been a huge contrast. The gentle easy days of Westcourt now replaced by the bustle and constant noise of this large vibrant port. I hear the business was thriving. I’d say your uncle Michael must have been delighted with how you took to the work. Keen to learn, I am sure you brought great energy to the place. I imagine these were happy days for you. These were the carefree days before loss or failure or disappointment. I can only imagine your sadness when Michael died. From the outside looking in I am sure many focussed on the fact that your inheritance made you rich. Be that as it may I am mindful of your grief and also the frightening responsibility that you had also inherited.
I often wonder when was the first time you set eyes on Mary Elliot. Apparently by all accounts she was a real stunner. Gorgeous. Not forgetting the loss of your uncle, it must have been great to find someone like Mary. To be in love. Someone once told me that your inheritance would have made you like a modern day lotto winner. I cannot imagine the contrast between your happiness and the day of tragedy. To have a beautiful young wife, your first child on the way, great wealth and position, in truth the world was your oyster. What an unspeakable tragedy to befall anyone. Your lovely new spouse killed tragically in a horse riding accident and the premature birth of your first and only child. Little Mary. Fortunately you had the resources and family to give this little girl all the care and love that she needed. I would say your poor heart was absolutely broken.
Then the grace – filled moment when you got the nudge of the Holy Spirit. That day when you were lost in your grief, looking out at the children of Waterford in their poverty, and not really seeing them, such was the depth of your sadness. ‘ Could you Mr. Rice, even though you have lost so deeply , you have much wealth, could you not do something to help them? ‘ In the darkness and loneliness perhaps you saw the opportunity to lift them from not only their poverty but also their hopelessness.
I see the absolute sense in setting out to educate them, but I really love that you quickly discovered it’s hard to maintain any discipline or inculcate any desire for learning in a young boy whose belly aches with hunger. It was then that you built the bake house. Not long after this you followed it by building the tailors shop. I will never get over your beautiful thoughtful sensitivity to the danger that the boys would be singled out, stigmatised if they all wore the same simple uniform, and how you instructed your tailors to ensure no two uniforms were made the exact same. Lovely.
Little did you know then that your work and especially your unique charism, the Christian Education of poor boys, would spread all over the world. Indeed you lived to see much of this. I am so grateful for your inspirational example of trusting in Divine Providence. I also love your encouraging words to some of your early companions who were becoming frustrated and downhearted. You urged them to trust that the seeds they sowed today would be brought to a harvest by the Holy Spirit in beautiful ways beyond their imaginings.
Today I see you as an advocate and patron for those who live on the street, those who are single parents, especially single Dads, those who have a child with special educational needs, those who are widowed. In these days you might help us re-found Christian education. We thank God for the gift that you were and remain to the Irish Church.
Blessed Edmund Rice, Founder of the Congregation of Christian Brothers
and the Presentation Brothers, Pray For Us.