Edmund Ignatius Rice was born on the 1st June 1762 in Westcourt, Callan, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland. He was born into a large family of two stepsisters and seven brothers. At the time there were a lot of poor people in Ireland.
From a very early age Edmund showed great kindness to the poor. He received some education from the hedge school masters, who travelled the country at this time teaching children, where ever they could. At the age of seventeen he left his native Callan to work for his uncle, who had a business in Waterford city. Edmund was amazed when he saw the poverty of the Waterford people, he was especially taken at the number of young boys who were running about the streets and no one seemed to care about them. A lot of them were homeless and often got into trouble with the law. After a while Edmund opened up his own chandler shop (a person who supplies goods to ships). Edmund employed mostly poor people for his business. At the age of twenty-five Edmund married a lady called Mary Elliot.
By now every person in Waterford knew Edmund. He became a very successful businessman and soon became one of the richest men in the city. Then one day a great tragedy occurred. While Mary was out on a trip on her horse and carriage, the horse panicked and Mary was thrown from the carriage. She was killed instantly. She was pregnant at the time and a baby girl was born too early. The girl was also handicapped. When news got back to Edmund that she was dead he was devastated.
After this he sold his business and started a school for poor children in New Street. Most of his business friends thought he was mad, to give up a good life to work with wild and scruffy children. But there was a problem getting anyone to teach them, none of educated teachers would teach the poor children. They were afraid of them. One night while Edmund was praying there was a knock at the door. When Edmund opened the door he got a shock, his two friends from Callan, Thomas Grosvenor and Patrick Finn, had come to help him. They had heard that he was looking for people to help him. After that, things started to get better. More people came to help him with his work.
One day the Bishop of Cork came to see Edmund. He wanted to know if Edmund would give him some men to take back to Cork. Edmund had no men to spare, but then he had an idea, he told the Bishop to send up some men from Cork and he would train them. The Bishop agreed. As the years past Edmund began to slow down.
At the age seventy-six, Edmund retired. Although he was retired he was never far from his Brothers. In his later years Edmund suffered from arthritis, this meant he had to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. One day Edmund became very ill and he fell into a coma. When he woke up he recognised Br. Stan Hyland. When Br. Hyland was outside the room he told Edmund’s minder Kitty that he was near and that she better call the rest of the Brothers. Soon all the Brothers were at Edmund’s bedside.
On the 29th of August 1884 Edmund Ignatius Rice died. Large crowds filled the streets around Edmund’s house. Catholics and non-Catholics, the well to do and especially the poor gathered on the streets of Waterford to honour this great Man.
He is buried in Edmund Rice Chapel, Mount Sion, Co. Waterford. He was beatified in Rome in October 1997. He is now Blessed Edmund Rice.
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