Event honours birth of Christian Brothers founder

 

EDMUND IGNATIUS Rice, founder of the Christian Brothers, had “big ambitions for a Catholic in the Ireland of the 18th century”. The country was “still subject to penal laws that impacted harshly enough on education at a time when it was the policy of those in charge to keep people poor and ignorant”, former president Mary McAleese recalled.

He “simply wanted to help” to give children “that polish that only education can give you”.

She was speaking at an event in the Convention Centre Dublin on Saturday night held to mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of Edmund Rice. An estimated 1,000 people attended included Christian Brothers, their past pupils and men who had been in institutions run by the congregation as children.

Mrs McAleese said that “in this room tonight there are people for whom the journey here was very easy. They remember their school days with a fair degree of happiness . . . sure it could be tough . . . depending on the generation. But in the round you got a good start in life.”

For others, however, it “was a very hard journey. It took a lot of soul searching to come tonight . . . because for them school was just a misery. And unfortunately it was a misery over and against the Gospel . . . the commandment to love one another. Over and against that it was even more injurious, more harmful, because the physical damage could never, ever match the emotional damage.”

Fianna Fáil Senator Mark Daly and abuse survivor John Allen were physically barred from attending the event. Clearly stressed, and as he grappled with two bouncers, Mr Daly said he wasn’t being admitted because he and Mr Allen wanted to distribute a leaflet.

It said that on August 1st this year an offer of compensation to Mr Allen by the Christian Brothers had been withdrawn and that “the leadership of the Christian Brothers are hoping that I will die soon, so the problem I pose will go away”. Mr Allen (50) said he was suffering from degenerative joint disease and was in chronic pain.

He has been supported by Senator Daly and Senator Jillian Van Turnhout in his efforts to have the situation resolved.

Among abuse survivors at the event were Michael O’Brien of the Right to Peace group; John Barrett of Touched by Suicide; Christopher Heaphy of Voices of Existing Survivors and Owen Felix O’Neill who had been in St Joseph’s in Tralee.

Mr O’Brien said he was there because Mrs McAleese had hosted a function for survivors at Áras an Uachtaráin. In a statement Mr Heaphy said “closure for the Christian Brothers will not come to them until they err on the side of generosity in their dealings with us”. Mr O’Neill said: “We accept the great and good intentions of Blessed Edmund Rice” but that “many of the leaders of the Christian Brothers and the Roman Catholic Church lost their way”.