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Logo of the Christian Brothers, adopted in January 2006.
The Congregation of Christian Brothers (officially, in Latin: Congregatio Fratrum Christianorum) is a worldwide religious community within the Catholic Church, founded by Blessed Edmund Rice. The Christian Brothers, as they are commonly known, chiefly work for the evangelisation and education of youth, but are involved in many ministries, especially with the poor. Their first school was opened in Waterfordmarker, Irelandmarker, in 1802. Br Philip Pinto is the current Congregation Leader of the Christian Brothers, and head of its Congregational Leadership Team that is based in Romemarker. At the time of its foundation the British Governments Penal Laws which discriminated against Catholics and excluded Catholics from education were still in force, and the Hedge school system was still the main source of Catholic education throughout Ireland.

They are sometimes confused with the Brothers of the Christian Schools, or "De LaSalle Christian Brothers," founded by Saint Jean-Baptiste de la Salle, a completely separate though similar order. For the sake of clarity, Rice's congregation is sometimes called the Irish Christian Brothers.


At the turn of the eighteenth century, Waterfordmarker merchant Edmund Rice considered travelling to Romemarker to join a religious order, possibly the Augustinians. Instead, with the support of Dr. Thomas Hussey, Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore, he decided to found a religious community dedicated to teaching disadvantaged youth.

The first school, on Waterford's New Street, was a converted stable and opened in 1802, with a second school opening in Stephen Street soon after to cater for increasing enrolments. Two men from his hometown of Callan, Thomas Grosvenor and Patrick Finn, soon arrived to aid Rice in his makeshift schools, with the intention of living the life of lay brothers. In the same year, Rice used proceeds from the sale of his victualling business to begin building a community house and school on land provided by the diocese. Bishop Hussey opened the new complex, christened “Mount Sion” on June 7 1803, and pupils were transferred to the new school building the following year. The reputation of the school spread and across the next few years several men sought to become “brothers”.

On 15 August 1808, seven men, including Edmund Rice, took religious promises under Bishop John Power of Waterford. Following the example of Nano Nagle's Presentation Sisters, they were called "Presentation Brothers". This was the first congregation of men to be founded in Ireland and one of the few ever founded in a Church by a layman.

Houses were soon opened in Carrick-on-Suirmarker, Dungarvanmarker, and in 1811, in Corkmarker. In 1812 the Archbishop of Dublin established a community in Dublinmarker and by 1907 there were ten communities in Dublin with in excess of 6,000 pupils. The schools included primary, secondary and technical schools, along with orphanages and a school for the deaf. A community was founded in Limerickmarker in 1816, followed by establishments in several of Ireland's principal towns.

The Holy See formally established the congregation in 1820. The Christian Brothers was the first Irish order of men approved by a charter by the Rome.

Some brothers in Cork chose to remain under the original Presentation rule and continued to be known as Presentation Brothers, a separate congregation but also recognising Edmund Rice as its Founder


The order spread to Liverpoolmarker and other parts of Englandmarker. Brother Ambrose Treacy established a very successful presence in Melbourne, Australiamarker in 1868, and in 1875 in Brisbane, Australiamarker. In 1875 a school was opened in St. John’s, Newfoundlandmarker. In 1878 the Brothers were introduced to the then Crown colony of Gibraltarmarker. Communities were established in New Zealandmarker and, in 1886 the Pope made it clear that he wanted the Brothers in Indiamarker. A province of the order was established there. In 1900 the order was invited to establish houses in Romemarker. In 1906 the order established schools in New York Citymarker.

These new ventures were not always successful. Two brothers had been sent to Gibraltar to establish a school in 1835. However, despite initial successes they left in August 1837 on account of disagreements with the group of local Catholic leaders. Similarly, a mission to Sydneymarker, Australia in 1842 failed within a couple of years.

In 1955 Stella Maris College in Uruguaymarker was established, famous for being one of the top schools in Uruguay, also known for the accidental fame for the Andes Flight Disastermarker involving its alumni rugby team.

The Brothers' schools continue to be of many types, including primary, secondary and technical schools, orphanages and for the deaf. A number of these technical schools taught poor children trades such as carpentry and building skills for which they could progress to gain apprenticeships and employment. As the National School system and vocational schools developed in the Irish Republic Christian Brothers became more concentrated on secondary education.

Irish nationalism

The Irish Christian Brothers are strong supporters of Irish nationalism, the Irish Language and Irish sports. In most of their schools in Ireland Gaelic football and Hurling were encouraged as opposed to other sports and they inflicted physical punishment on boys playing Association Football. Conor Cruise O'Brien called them "the most indefatigable and explicit carriers" of the Catholic nation idea. In the absence of state devised texts, or expensive text books, the Christian brothers composed and published a number of text books which were used by their schools. Many of these were in the Irish language but also in Mathematics and other subjects.


In the late 20th and early 21st century the reputation of the order was blackened by a series of scandals that exposed widespread sexual, physical and emotional abuse of children in the order's care, stretching back over decades. Ireland was not the only site of widespread physical abuse, as such crimes occurred in every country wherein the Order had a presence and including Canada, the United States and Australia.

In Ireland in March 1998, the Congregation of the Christian Brothers published full-page advertisements in newspapers apologizing to former pupils who had been ill-treated whilst in their care. The unprecedented advertising campaign expressed "deep regret" on behalf of the Christian Brothers and listed telephone lines which former pupils could ring if they needed help..

Organisational structure of the Christian Brothers

Geographically, the Christian Brothers are divided into several provinces that encompass every inhabited continent. The brothers within each province work under the direction of a Province Leadership Team. In turn, the entire Congregation operates under the leadership of a Congregation Leadership Team that is based in Romemarker (and led by a Congregation Leader). These provincial and congregational teams are elected on a 6-year basis at Congregation chapters.

Restructuring has taken place in in the congregation to account for the changing needs, in particular the declining number of brothers in the developed world. The three provinces of North America (Canada, Eastern American, and Western American Province) restructured into the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers North America on 1 July 2005. The five provinces covering Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea combined into one Oceania province on 1 October 2007, while the provinces that cover Irelandmarker, Englandmarker and the Congregational Leadership Team in Rome combined into a single European province on 5 May 2007. The English Province is a registered charity. The Dublin Headquarters are in the grounds of Marino Institute for Education, Claremont, Griffith Avenue, Dublin 9, Ireland.

A special community within this new European province will be based in Genevamarker, Switzerlandmarker, working to establish an NGO known as Edmund Rice International. The purpose of such an organisation is to gain what is known as a "general consultative status" with the United Nations. "This position allows groups the opportunity to challenge systemic injustice and to engage in advocacy work with policy makers on behalf of people who are made poor." As well as including Christian Brothers from provinces all over the world, members of the Presentation Brothers will also have a presence within this community.

Notable Christian Brothers

See also


  1. Portrait of a Christian crusader - Reviewed by Dermot Bolger, Sunday Business Post, August 31, 2008.
  2. Embracing a Common Future
  3. Shaping Our Future
  4. - New European Province
  5. Presence, Compassion, Liberation
  6. Viva la Quince Brigada by Christy Moore

Further reading

  • Davies, K. (1994) When Innocence Trembles: The Christian Brothers Orphanage Tragedy. (Angus & Robertson: Sydney) ISBN 0207184194
  • Normoyle, M. C. A Tree is Planted: The Life and Times of Edmund Rice (Congregation of Christian Brothers: n.l., 1976)

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