May 5 is the feast of Blessed Edmund Rice, an Irish businessman who was so moved by the plight of children in the port city where he worked that he founded schools and eventually a religious order to serve them.
Edmund was born in 1762 in Callan, Ireland. As a young man, he moved to Waterford and began to work for his uncle in the shipping business. He became quite wealthy, and when his uncle died, he took over as head of the company.
When his wife passed away and his daughter grew up, Edmund began to contemplate the next direction he should take in life. He thought about leaving everything behind and joining a monastery. However, one day, as he was talking about his vocation and his future with a friend, a ragged group of poor boys walked by on the street. Inspired by the sight, his friend exclaimed: "What! Would you bury yourself in a cell on the continent rather than devote your wealth and your life to the spiritual and material interest of these poor youths?"
Edmund took the conversation as a sign from God. He took on the mission of improving the lives of poor children through education. He founded his first school in Waterford, Ireland in 1802 with the intention of helping poor boys to “become good Catholics and good citizens.”
Selling his business, he immersed himself fully in this mission, and in 1808, he founded the Presentations Brothers, an order of men dedicated to education, and the first order of men to be founded in Ireland. The rule of the community was approved in 1821 by the Pope, and the name was changed to the Christian Brothers. By 1825, Edmund and his 30 Christian Brothers were providing free education, clothing, and food to about 5,500 boys in 12 different towns.
Edmund served as the superior general of the community from its inception until 1838, when he retired at the age of 76. He died in 1844, and was beatified in 1996 by Pope John Paul II, who called him “an outstanding model of a true lay apostle.”