Thoughts for the Feast of Blessed Edmund Rice (May 5)

Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice

Having completed his course of philosophy, Willie returned to Clongowes in 1901 for another period of prefecting. Here he remained for two years, and he was then transferred to the teaching staff of Belvedere College, Dublin, where he spent a fruitful year of labour. For, as the immediate preparation for the priesthood drew near, zeal for souls that was afterwards to become so strong and ardent, began now to show itself more markedly in his life. He did much good work for the Apostleship of Prayer and for temperance among the boys in Belvedere, with whom he was even more popular than among those he had left behind in Clongowes. The stirring little talks he gave occasionally to his class made an impression which some of his pupils still recall. Especially was he insistent on the spirit of self-sacrifice and on Holy Communion. His attractive character and kindness led many of the boys to give him their confidence and seek help and counsel in their difficulties and doubts; and more than one vocation was discussed and decided at these interviews.

COMMENTS: These words about Fr Doyle are taken from O’Rahilly’s biography of his life. Fr Doyle seems to have been a conscientious and popular teacher in the two Jesuit schools in which he was stationed during his years of formation. He realised that the task of Catholic education is not just to train children for jobs, but to shape and mould their character and to equip them for a future of personal virtue and civic service.

Today is the feast of Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice, the founder of both the Irish Christian Brothers and the Presentation Brothers, though the feast is not celebrated as it is a Sunday. These congregations were formed to provide a specifically Catholic education for boys during the period immediately after the Penal Laws when there was little or no Catholic schooling in Ireland. Blessed Edmund’s contribution to Irish life is incalculable. Numerous generations of men were educated and formed by those who followed in Blessed Edmund’s footsteps.

Yet one wonders what Edmund makes of things today. The wonderful work of Edmund and his faithful followers has been undermined by a small number of morally corrupt Brothers who damaged the children in their care. The details of this evil are well known. It is hard to imagine a more treacherous repudiation of the legacy of a saintly educator like Edmund.

And yet, this is not Edmund’s fault, nor indeed the fault of the many very loyal and faithful Brothers who continue to serve children with generosity and who still keep Edmund’s legacy alive. We should pray for these faithful disciples of Edmund in both the Presentation and Christian Brothers, and especially pray for vocations. We should also pray for the canonisation of Edmund Rice.

Those disciples of Blessed Edmund who dedicate themselves to Catholic education also need our prayers because of the plans that the Irish Government has in store for Catholic schools in Ireland. I normally avoid contemporary political controversies on this site, but in this instance it is very relevant…It is generally accepted that Ireland has too many Catholic schools for the actual demand that exists. This can have a negative impact on the ethos of these schools. There is wide agreement that some of these schools need to be placed under different patronage, although that is itself a thorny matter – which schools and how many of them?

The Forum on School Patronage issued a report last year which recommended removing a significant number of schools from Catholic patronage. But most seriously, it recommends the subtle, but complete, destruction of all religious schooling in primary schools in Ireland. The report recommends that Catholic schools be open to applicants of all faiths, and that no denominational prayers be said in school if those of other faiths are enrolled in the school; that the religious symbols of all students be displayed in the school (this is impossible in a Catholic school) and that the school ethos not be allowed to permeate the school day. Remember – these recommendations would apply to the remaining “Catholic” schools. Perversely, in the name of diversity, these initiatives would destroy all diversity.

It is unlikely that these recommendations would be implemented. But perhaps they are so deliberately extreme so that the inevitable compromise would still result in a massive loss of freedom for Catholic schooling.

A scenario where Ireland, now politically free, would essentially eviscerate all Catholic primary schools would surely strike both Fr Doyle and Blessed Edmund as utterly bizarre. We should pray today for Catholic education and educators everywhere, but especially here in Ireland.

We shall conclude today with some appropriate consoling words from Blessed Edmund Rice:

Be intent on prayer and whatever may happen will turn to our good.

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