From a bothán on the side of the road in Callan, a young lad was born into the World some 250 years ago. That lad would change the face of history the World over, and even though there are those who will scoff and castigate, it is an undeniable, gilt-edged fact, that the little boy from Callan brought astonishing, and everlasting change to an evolving universe.
Do I over-estimate the claim that no other Irishman has made such an impact, and still does, than Edmund Rice, now Venerated, awaiting Beatification?
I know that I do not.
I am also aware that there are countless millions who would unequivocally endorse every syllable of the above statement. I also know that there are leaders in every element of Society that would never have had a chance to reach the heights that they have managed without the interest, and support of the Irish Christian Brothers, founded by our own man from Callan.
We in Kilkenny can quote the names of the famed and famous. In our little island we can enlarge on that list, but Edmund Rice is not succinctly about fame and the famed. It is about a man, a very ordinary man, who carved out a very rewarding lifestyle for himself, his wife and his handicapped child. It is about a simple man who suffered the loss of his young wife early in their marriage, who after some strenuous soul-searching decided to dedicate his life to the education and needs of the poor of the city of his domesticity, Waterford, thus turning his back on the very considerable affluent trappings that he had become accustomed and used to.
Through education of the poor, Edmund Rice founded his first school in Waterford, at Mount Sion. The place has become a must-visit location for countless thousands from around the World who have travelled many miles to see where it all began for them. There are pictures of the Rice homestead in Westcourt in many places, in all Continents.
Because you see dear reader, Edmund Rice created a culture of progress through education, a culture that he maintained should be the right of all, irrespective of status, class, creed or means. Edmund Rice, and his Irish Christian Brothers Community provided an education for many thousands of Irish children unconditionally. Last weekend, Christian Brothers representing all Continents travelled to Mount Sion on Friday, where the tomb of Edmund Rice is situated, as part of the 250th Celebration of the birth of Blessed Edmund Rice, and they travelled onto Callan, or the Motherhouse at Westcourt in Callan on Saturday and Sunday in further celebration of the great man’s life.
We spoke to Br.Damien Brennan who furnished us with the reasons why so many of the Community had gathered, and the purpose of such a meitheal.
“ We are dealing with a whole year of celebration, but we are calling this year “Beyond 250”. This particular meeting is a culmination of all the celebrations that have been ongoing wherever in the World there is a Christian Brothers Community. We were down in Mount Sion on Friday and tomorrow, (Sun) we will have Brothers from every Continent in the Universe celebrating Mass with the Bishop of Ossory, Bishop Seamus Freeman, a former Christian Brothers pupil, in the Parish Church of the town where Edmund Rice was born”.
Br.Damien is unflinching in his idea that Callan was a very important element in the core values in the metabolism that was Edmund Rice the man, Edmund Rice the champion of the poor. He is also of the opinion that Edmund’s Mother was a hugely important influence in his decision when starting out on the great venture that brought his philosophies, teaching, examples, caring disposition, and humility to countless millions.
“ It should not be forgotten that Edmund Rice didn’t have to do what he did. He was a Callan man from ordinary stock. He became a millionaire. He was married, with a handicapped child. He could have remained a millionaire and probably added to his wealth, but a life-transforming experience influenced him to establish a Religious Community which did all that is well documented, being the very first such Community in this Country and in Europe”, said Br. Damien.
From little acorns great oaks grow, and the Edmund Rice network is widely conspicuous around the World. It has spread its tentacles through the Americas, North and South. It is well established in Europe, and while it has diversified in many respects, its core remit is still helping to spread the Christian values through helping the poor, and the education of those in need. It is still very visible in the Developing World in Asia and Africa, more that in Europe, and making tremendous inroads in the needs of the populace of the Developing World.
On Saturday two magnificent creations were unveiled by the Congregation Leader of the Christian Brothers, Br. Philip Pinto. Both were created by Kilkenny artist, Kevin Fennelly, and they are on display in the gardens of Westcourt for all to admire and visit. They are made of bog oak, donated by the Capuchin Monks of Kilkenny. One depicts the many facets of Edmund Rice’s life, while the other is a recreation of the Resurrection of the Risen Christ.
They are absolutely enchanting pieces, mounted on polished limestone. The next time you pass by the idyllic Westcourt House, you could do worse than call in and view. You would be one of numerous thousands who visit as a simple tourist, or one that comes seeking the intercession of Blessed Edmund Rice, or one that returns to say Thank You for favours rendered.
Westcourt is a veritable Tourist Mecca the year round.
We met with Br.Philip Pinto, the Congregation Leader of the Christian Brothers.
Br.Pinto was born in Mumbai (Bombay), but the family moved to Delhi when he was but a youth. His alma mater, the Christian Brothers school in Delhi is the largest school in the World, catering for over 3500 students
In answer to why he became a Christian Brother, he quite simply said that he was educated by the Christian Brothers, and found that the ethos of Edmund Rice’s Christian Brothers had a serious resonance with him from an early age.
“This man, who came from a small holding on an island on the western extremities of the European seaboard, from a village we knew not except by name, had a profound influence on me”, he said.
How important in the evolving World has the Edmund Rice movement been?
“ It has had an astonishingly influence the World over, especially wherever the Brothers have taken up residence. It was never more poignant than when during his Beatification in Rome, I saw thousands of people from around the World gathered in St.Peters Square to pay homage, and devotion to a man from a little village in Ireland, and I wondered, how in the name of God could, or did this happen? It is a phenomena that still defies a solution. I came to the realisation that Edmund realised at an early stage that he was not that important, that he, as an individual was insignificant, that other people were important, and that his calling was being faithful to the inner journey”.
What other purpose than the 250 celebration did the Community have in coming to Callan?
“ We, our Leadership team, is presenting a proposition to our Community of Brothers about our ideas on best thinking, best practice to our Brothers. This is as far as we can go, so what do you think? The proposition centres around the re-establishment of our core remit concerning the poor, and needy. We need them to share their opinions with us, and tell us whether we are travelling the right path, or is there a better way. It is a hard observation to make, but Religious life dies when there is a removal from the caring of the poor, and God Forgive me, but I feel that that is what has happened to Religion in Europe, there has been a serious cut off from Religion in Europe in the past decade at least”, said the man from Munbai.
We met and spoke with Br. John Casey, the Leader of the Christian Brothers in Latin America. He told us that the Brothers were well established in Argentina, Uruguay, Peru and Bolivia. Br. Hugh O’Neill is the Leader in North America, where his territory spreads from Newfoundland to Hawaii, and down to Granada in the West Indies.
When I suggested that he must be stuck for choice when holiday time came round, with a typical glint in his Irish eye, he opined, “I can spend my Summers in Newfoundland, and Winter in Hawaii”.
Some lads have all of the luck.
Br.Richard Walsh is Leader of the nine-Country Province in Africa.
“We have about 190 Brothers in Africa, with the majority of them being native African”, he told us proudly.
Br.Vince Duggan is Leader over a vast area called the Oceania Province. It includes Australia, New Zeland, Papua New Guinea, the Phillipines, and East Timor, and thousands of islands in the South Pacific. Australian born, but his great grandparents were of Irish extraction.
Then I met Blacid Henriques—I kid you not.
And there was I thinking that I was one of one!
He is Leader in India, where there are some 104 Brothers working in the Indian Province. It was his second visit to Westcourt, where it all began.
We also met Br.Kevin Mullen, the European Leader with responsibility for Ireland, G.B. and Europe.
The event was a remarkable one. It was extraordinary that from every corner of the Globe, people travel to visit the home-place of Edmund Rice for a variety of reasons. It is also astonishing that the light that was illuminated by Edmund Rice two hundred years ago still radiates like a belisha beacon in a dense fog.
In a bothán on the side of a Callan boreen etc. etc. etc.
THE greatest Irishman of all time?
By a distance.