The History of O’Connell Secondary School
The origins of O’Connell Secondary School, located in Dublin’s north inner city, can be traced back to the campaign for Catholic Emancipation. The all-boys school was founded by Blessed Edmund Rice and the Congregation of the Christian Brothers in 1828 and is named after the eminent lawyer and Irish patriot, Daniel O’Connell.
When reviewing the history of any institution, it is often necessary to have an understanding of the conditions which prevailed at the time of its foundation. On June 9th 1828, the foundation stone of O’Connell School was laid by Daniel O’Connell in the company of Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice. At that time the thoughts of O’Connell and the Christian Brothers must have dwelt heavily on hope because more than at any time in Irish history propagators of that virtue were badly needed.
The Penal Laws still existed in statute, poverty was widespread, many people were without any opportunity for education and the country was being governed from London since the passing of the Act of Union some twenty-eight years earlier. However visionaries such as O’Connell and the Christian Brothers looked ahead and had aspirations for a different Ireland.
O’Connell was prominent at the time in the campaign for Catholic Emancipation and the Repeal of the Act of Union was also high on his agenda. The seeds of hope were certainly emerging and it was clear that a stream of personnel with the confidence and abilities to assume responsibilities in the running of a new Ireland would be necessary.
The very name of the school recalls a great deal of Irish history and brings vividly to mind the great difficulties amid which the foundation was made. The annals of the school and community record the extraordinary efforts of Brother Rice to establish the school, the near collapse of his well-laid plans and the grand vision and faith in God which he exhibited in those trying years.
Buíochas mór le Dia gur thuig na Bráithre an riachtanas agus thugadar go díograiseach faoi bhunù scoileanna chun an t-easnamh a leigheas.
In no time following its foundation, O’Connell School became a beacon of hope on the horizon and over the years it produced graduates who were willing and able to play major roles in developing what is best in modern Ireland. O’Connell School has made a striking contribution to the life of the nation over the years and this is indeed a fitting tribute to the faith and vision of the Founder and pioneers at North Richmond Street.
Past pupils have had distinguished careers in all walks of life – bhí fonn orthu páirt a ghlacadh sa Státchòras, a bheith gníomhach i saol cultùrtha na tire, i saol na hEaglaise chomh maith agus a bheith dílis do thraidisiùn ár sinsear.
Thousands of boys in this country and city were provided with post-primary education by a dedicated staff of Christian Brothers. From the very outset the Brothers worked tirelessly to establish the school with its dream of serving the nation. As time went on they were joined in their work by equally dedicated lay teachers and staff.
The story of O’Connell School and the Christian Brothers on North Richmond Street is beautifully outlined in the text “To the Cause of Liberality” by the Allen Library Project. This book charts the history and emergence of the school from its humble beginnings involving the search for a site, the early building development, life in the 1800’s, school times during rebellion and war in the 1900’s and the post-war years. The school (operating within the voluntary secondary sector) is now a member of the ERST (Edmund Rice Schools Trust) Charter which was launched in June 2008 and provides “a framework designed to enable Catholic education in the Edmund Rice tradition to thrive and grow into the future”.
The Blessed Edmund Rice Icon
Desmond Kyne’s artistic portrayal of Edmund’s life in the kinetic glass medium has played a remarkable part in making Edmund’s life known.
Images from the icon are widely used in many websites, journals and other publications.
Edmund dominates the central icon panel. The artist is keen to show him as commanding, relaxed and intent. He is a person of strength and vision. His eyes are large, taking everything in and revealing his compassion and understanding.
He is very much a fatherly figure reaching out to marginalised youth. The significance of Mary, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the presence of suffering, and many other facets of Edmund’s story are vividly portrayed.
O’Connell Secondary School Today
At present (2016-17), the school has a population of three hundred and twenty students. Some of these students participate as a co-educational group at repeat Leaving Certificate level only. The school is staffed by twenty-seven lay teachers and seven SNA staff and caters for students mainly from the locality in Dublin’s North Inner City. The school is classified by the Department of Education and Science as a DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) school.
A number of the students in the school are foreign nationals who have settled in Ireland in recent times. They are mainly from countries in Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia. New immigrants tend to settle initially in urban areas. In this regard, O’Connell Secondary School has typically been the first setting of sustained contact between the new arrivals and the more established citizens. Without any roadmap, the school has found itself at the forefront of a new debate concerning the assimilation into formal education of these first-generation ethnic minorities with their own religious practices including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Eastern Orthodox and some elements of the Coptic Church. This debate concerns broad and complex issues not only of language and race relations but also of culture and identity. O’Connell Secondary School is rightly proud of the manner in which it has responded to this educational need within its locality where the school leads the way in educating together.
Two Crests of the Congregation of Christian Brothers
Many past pupils of the Christian Brothers are familiar with the former crest of the Congregation. It can still be found in prominent positions in many buildings.
The Celtic Designs in the crest represent the Divine, as they have no beginning nor end but weave and wind their way through each other like an overflowing stream. The Star signifies that those who instruct others are like stars. The cross signifies everyday life. Congregatio Fratrum Christianorum (Latin) means the Congregation of Christian Brothers. Facere et Docere (Latin): This is the motto of the Congregation and translates as “To Do and To Teach”. The Alpha and Omega signify that Christ is First and Last, the beginning and the end, from whom we come and to whom we go.
The new logo is designed to appeal to Twenty-First Century tastes. It has replaced the crest on letterheads and in many publications and it will be used on internet sites. The Brothers in many parts of the world wear an emblem in the form of a badge on their lapels or ties. The cross is in a central position representing our daily lives as the way to union with Christ. The circle at the centre of the cross represents the Eucharistic Christ at the centre of our lives. The circle is broken indicating our fragility or brokenness. The shoot represents new life coming from the cross, the resurrection. The colours green and brown are the colours of nature.
BLESSED EDMUND IGNATIUS RICE (1762–1844)
Who is Edmund Rice?
The house at Callan where Edmund Rice was born
Edmund Rice was born into a farming family, under the shadow of the Penal laws, on June 1st 1762, at Westcourt, Callan, County Kilkenny, Ireland. He attended the commercial academy in Kilkenny for about two years after secretly receiving his elementary education at the local ‘hedge school’ in Callan.
In 1779 Edmund was apprenticed to his uncle, Michael Rice in Waterford city. The business involved supplying all the needs of ships that plied their trade across the Atlantic between Europe and the eastern coast of North America. By his late twenties, through his entrepreneurial skills, he had earned enough money to make himself and his family comfortable for life.
Edmund married Mary Elliot, the daughter of a prosperous Waterford businessman, in 1786. After three short years of marriage, Mary suffered a tragic accident, gave birth to a disabled daughter, also called Mary, and died shortly after. Edmund was devastated. After a period of reflection he turned to his special vocation, which was to provide dignity for the poor, especially through education.
Businessman Responds to the Call of the Poor
So, as a 40-year old widower and a successful businessman in Waterford on Ireland’s southeast coast, Edmund Rice changed course radically. He was a rich merchant living in comfortable circumstances, but he was conscious of the hardship suffered by poorer people. Realising the effects deprivation had, especially on the young people of the city, he responded to their needs. He sold off his business interests and started a school for poor boys in a converted stable. He and his assistants lived in some rooms above the makeshift classrooms. In 1802 Edmund was joined by two companions, Thomas Grosvener and Patrick Finn, and the three began to live a form of community life in rooms over the Stable School in New Street.
First School 1802
For Edmund Rice, however, his teaching apostolate was only at a stage of germination. His sights were set on a fully-fledged Religious Congregation, governed by traditional vows and recognised by the Holy See in Rome. He took a crucial step towards this end when, in June 1802 he commenced the building of a monastery on an elevated site in a working-class district in Waterford City. The building, again funded out of Edmund’s private resources, was large and comprised living accommodation and a school. There were two classrooms on the ground floor and, overhead, seven bedrooms which were small and sparsely furnished. They had wooden beds fitted into wall recesses; an alcove served as a wardrobe and the furniture consisted of a table and a stool. The school at Mount Sion was built to accommodate about one hundred boys in each classroom.
The Brother teaching the class was helped by the older boy ‘monitors’, who examined the homework and the catechism. All the boys were taught reading, writing, arithmetic and religion. With the more senior pupils other useful subjects were added, like bookkeeping, geography and navigation. The boys received special preparation for first Holy Communion and Confirmation. Each school had a library. The boys brought books home to read them to their parents who were unable to read. In this way their parents received education as well. Twenty years after the death of Edmund a beautiful monastery was built at Mount Sion in 1864. It has served as the residence of the Brothers since then. Today the Primary and Secondary Schools are on the other side of this building.
Bake House and Tailor’s Shop
At Mount Sion Edmund built a bake house and tailor’s shop. The children in the school were hungry. Their parents were too poor to feed them. On arrival at school each morning the boys were given freshly baked bread. This gave them the energy necessary to do their school work properly. Besides feeding the boys, Edmund noticed that the children suffered a lot from the cold, due to scanty clothing. Tailors were employed to make suits for the boys. A lady was engaged on a full time basis making shirts. The tradition of feeding and clothing the children was carried out in all the Brothers’ schools. Visitors to Mount Sion are invited to visit the old bake house and tailor’s shop, a true monument of Edmund’s charity and his compassion for people, especially the poor.
Something New Emerging
Edmund and his companions worked and prayed together, sharing their lives and possessions in mutual support as a community. They shared a common vision where they combined a semi-monastic life with the hard work of teaching unruly boys under primitive conditions. They were focused on the poor and especially the young. The Presentation Sisters had already opened a school in Waterford city and were educating the girls. In 1808, following the example of the Presentation Sisters, Edmund and his companions took vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience, and devoted themselves to the education of poor boys. At this time he and his companions were known as the Society of the Presentation. In the early days, when Edmund first began to attract followers to his way of life, they formed themselves into little groups of laymen. They lived together in community, and began to follow an adaptation of the Presentation Sisters’ Rule from 1809 onwards. It helped to guide their first faltering steps along the path of religious life.
Education Was Banned
All of Edmund’s educational activities were illegal in the eyes of the ‘authorities’ in Ireland at the time. His chief concern was for the poor, mainly boys and young men and he identified education as the key to survival. Most Irish Catholics were effectively cut off from education and consequently cut off from social and political progress. By founding schools and teaching congregations, Edmund Rice, like Daniel O’Connell, was a liberator. That is one reason why O’Connell greatly admired the man he called “patriarch of the monks of the West.”. Appropriately, therefore, one of Edmund’s first Dublin Schools, namely O’Connell School in North Richmond Street, was named after Daniel O’Connell. Edmund sent Brothers to open schools in many parts of Ireland. Schools were opened in England in 1825, India (1841), Australia (1842), USA (1843), New Zealand (1876), South Africa (1897), Rome (1900), Canada (1913), China 1920 and South America 1948. Today the Brothers of Edmund Rice are working in 30 countries across five continents. Besides education the Brothers encourage the local people to develop their own skills and God-given talents and to become self-sufficient.
Edmund’s Prayer Life
In the words of eyewitnesses Edmund’s devotion to the Blessed Sacrament was intense. He received Holy Communion very frequently. When he founded his congregation he encouraged the Brothers to assist at Mass daily. It was at prayer before the Blessed Sacrament that Edmund got the courage and confidence in God to face all difficulties. As a young business man Edmund attended mass here at St. Patrick’s Church, just 200 metres from his place of work in the centre of Waterford city. The church, as seen in this photograph, has changed very little and is still in use today. Edmund was a frequent visitor to this small church. From the beginning each Brothers’ house had a chapel where Mass was celebrated and the Blessed Sacrament reserved. Edmund visited the Blessed Sacrament every day. In the schools he encouraged the boys to do likewise.
Each new foundation presented Edmund with new challenges and difficulties. He had spent all his money in Waterford. There was nothing left for foundations elsewhere. Most of the schools were in poor districts. The Brothers suffered great hardship from poverty. However, Edmund encouraged them in their vocation. They experienced difficulties while teaching the boys. However, the great improvement in the children made their sacrifices worthwhile. Some of the Brothers’ schools were attached to the National Board of Education in 1832. Within a few years they were withdrawn. When asked how the Brothers could survive without money Edmund replied, “Providence will be our inheritance.” This prophecy was proved to be very true.
The Death of Edmund Rice
In 1838 Edmund Rice retired as Superior General of the Order and returned from Dublin to live in Waterford. He was then 76 years of age and suffering from painful arthritis. Besides physical pain he suffered a lot from misunderstandings. Edmund spent the last two years confined to his room suffering from periods of memory loss. In his lucid moments he loved to read the Bible and prayer remained central to his life. Edmund died on Thursday, 29th August 1844. He was buried at Mount Sion in the heart of Waterford city. His death led to widespread sorrow in Waterford. The people felt they had lost their greatest benefactor.
In the early days, when Edmund first began to attract followers to his way of life, they formed themselves into a small group of companions. They lived together in community, and followed an adapted version of the Presentation Sisters’ Rule. The Brothers took vows for the first time, according to the Rules and Constitutions of the Congregation of Our Lady of the Presentation, on 15th August 1808. The Presentation Sisters had been founded in 1775 by Nano Nagle. With the success of the schools and the growth in the number of Brothers, Edmund applied to the Pope for the approval of his Congregation. On 5th September 1820, Pope Pius VII approved the Congregation of Christian Brothers. The granting of this Apostolic Brief in 1820, allowing the infant Congregation to become an Apostolic Institute, was a defining moment for all of the early brothers.
In January 1822, at Mount Sion, Edmund was elected first Superior General of the Christian Brothers. However, Edmund Rice’s founding charism actually gave birth to two Congregations, the Congregation of Christian Brothers and the Congregation of Presentation Brothers. Prior to pontifical approval of the Congregation, each new community was under the authority of the local bishop. Edmund’s wish was to have a central government so brothers could be moved from place to place, enabling them to freely expand in answer to developing needs. Some brothers wished to remain subject to the local bishop in the Diocese of Cork. They continued to follow the Presentation rule which Edmund and his companions had initially adopted and became known as the Presentation Brothers Congregation.
It might be noted that all of Edmund’s educational activities were illegal in the eyes of the ‘authorities’ in Ireland at the time. Most Irish Catholics were effectively cut off from education and consequently cut off from social and political progress. Arguably by founding schools and teaching congregations, Edmund Rice, like Daniel O’Connell, was a liberator. That is one reason why O’Connell greatly admired the man he called “patriarch of the monks of the West.”. Appropriately, therefore, one of Edmund’s first Dublin Schools, namely O’Connell School in North Richmond Street, was named after Daniel O’Connell. Edmund sent Brothers to open schools in many parts of Ireland. Schools were also opened in England in 1825, India (1841), Australia (1842), USA (1843), New Zealand (1876), South Africa (1897), Rome (1900), Canada (1913), China 1920 and South America 1948. Today the Brothers of Edmund Rice are working in 30 countries across five continents.
Each new foundation presented Edmund with new challenges and difficulties. He had spent all his money in Waterford. There was nothing left for foundations elsewhere. Most of the schools were in poor districts. The Brothers suffered great hardship from poverty. However, the great improvement in the children made their sacrifices worthwhile. Where did Edmund get his inspiration? What kept him going in the difficult and anxious times as his Congregation grew and more and more schools were opened? Put simply, it was his faith in God. In the words of eyewitnesses Edmund’s devotion to the Blessed Sacrament was intense. He received Holy Communion very frequently. When he founded his congregation he encouraged the Brothers to assist at Mass daily. It was at prayer before the Blessed Sacrament that Edmund got the courage and confidence in God to face all difficulties.
From the beginning each Brothers’ house had a chapel where Mass was celebrated. It was also from his Brothers in faith that he got the strength to do the great work that he did. That for Brothers today is at the ‘heart of being Brother’. Mutual supports, prayer together and working together are central to this day to all that the congregation seeks to do in our world.
In 1838 Edmund Rice retired as Superior General of the Order and returned from Dublin to live in Waterford. He was then 76 years of age and suffering from painful arthritis. Edmund spent the last two years confined to his room suffering from periods of memory loss. In his lucid moments he loved to read the Bible and prayer remained central to his life. Edmund died on Thursday, 29th August 1844. He was buried at Mount Sion in the heart of Waterford city. His death led to widespread sorrow in Waterford. The people felt they had lost their greatest benefactor.
At the start of the third millennium the followers of Nano Nagle and Edmund Rice are again working in close collaboration. The spirit of partnership between the Presentation Sisters, Presentation Brothers and Christian Brothers is in evidence in various joint programmes and courses that they run in Ireland and abroad. On 6th October 1996, Pope John Paul II beatified Edmund Rice, the founder of the Christian Brothers and the Presentation Brothers. He was declared ‘Blessed’.