Edmund Rice Mass

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > Edmund Rice Mass

10 May 2013

One of the special occasions in the calendar of a school is when one of the past students returns to the school to be honoured and recognised for some significant achievement which they have attained in the years following their school days. I remember myself being invited back to St. Virgil’s College following my ordination as a bishop. There are many other instances of notable achievements in the field of higher studies, art and drama, business and sport. It is a day when the school can celebrate, and in particular for the teachers to be reminded of their contribution to the education of the past pupil.

In a sense that is what happened in the case of Jesus, as we heard it a few moments ago in the gospel reading. Jesus had grown up in the town of Nazareth and his parents would have been quite well known there. His father, Joseph was a local carpenter, and no doubt was called upon to build some furniture or put on an extension to some of the homes in the town. Jesus was working with him in that trade for some years, until he judged it was time to get moving on what was his mission in life, to preach the Good News and to set the foundations for the Church.

But from time to time, he would make a short visit back to see his parents and to renew his friendships with the local people. One of the best opportunities for that to happen was to go to the local synagogue on a Saturday morning, and to join in with others in the weekly worship.

But on this occasion, he was more than just a spectator -  he stepped forward to read from the scriptures, and the particular passage chosen was very important to him. It made mention of the Spirit of God being with him, leading him to a new and challenging direction in his life – the pursuit of justice, bringing good news to the poor, taking a special interest in those who were imprisoned or disabled. These things, Jesus said, were happening “ even as you listen.” And they have continued to happen over the centuries, right up to the present day.

Today we are here because in some way or other we have been or are being shaped and formed by the influence of Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice, the founder of the Christian Brothers. Edmund Rice would have heard the same gospel reading as we did a few minutes ago, and eventually he was so affected by the gospel message, that he decided to move away from his earlier directions in life and to establish a group of men who were dedicated to the education of young boys from the poorer backgrounds in Ireland.

For a period, Edmund  had been a business man, and his particular line of business was as a merchant who would source the provisions which ships would need to take on board in preparation for a long period at sea. That would require the purchase of large quantities of meat and other food stuffs which could be loaded into the holds, as well as items such as ropes, sails and anchors which were needed to make the ships safe and seaworthy. Many of the ships were English, and their objective was to engage the enemy at sea, mostly the French and the Spanish. Some of those ships could have been bound for Australia.

In carrying out his work as a merchant, no doubt Edmund Rice would have come across moving examples of poverty among the people who lived close to the port of Waterford. He would have observed that while young children remained in those conditions, there would be a cycle of poor education, lack of opportunity, a lifetime of unemployment, a cycle which needed to be broken. The way forward was to start with the education of the young children. The Presentation Sisters, under the guidance of their founder, Nano Nagle, had already begun this important work in the education girls – now Edmund Rice provided the same opportunity for the boys.

Over the past year, I have read a very informative book on the life of one of the Irish Christian brothers who was a member of the first group of Brothers to come to Australia. His name is Patrick Ambrose Treacey. He would not have known Edmund personally, but after being educated by the Christian Brothers, he decided to follow that vocation and to become a brother himself.

At the age of 34 years, Br Treacey was chosen to be the leader  of  the pioneer group of four brothers who were invited to come to Melbourne by the Archbishop of the time, to establish a school, the first of many that began in his time.

By the time of his retirement, 27 schools had been founded in various parts of Australia. From what the author of the book says, it was not any easy path for the first group of brothers.  They faced many obstacles along the way, but in most instances, these were overcome. Unfortunately the Brothers did not come to Tasmania until 1911, the year before Brother Treacey died. He always had some reservations about coming to this state, but we can forgive him for that.

On 6 October 1996, Pope John Paul officiated at the Beatification Ceremony in Rome of Blessed Edmund Rice. He spoke of Edmund as being “an outstanding model of a true lay apostle and a deeply committed religious. The love which he first gave to his young wife and which, after her untimely death, he always showed for his daughter, blossomed into a host of spiritual and corporal works of mercy, leading eventually to the total consecration of himself and his companions in the religious life.”

Pope John Paul referred to the hope expressed by Blessed Edmund “to be able to educate these boys to be good Catholics and good citizens.” I am sure there are many examples among the past and present students of St. Virgil’s Hobart, and all the other schools represented here, where that aspiration has been planted, and for that too,  we give thanks to God during the celebration of this Mass.