Edmund Ignatius Rice (1762–1844), a wealthy import and export trader in the city of Waterford, opened a school for poor children in that city in 1802. He began recruiting men who shared his ambition to provide a free education for the poor Catholic children of Ireland. By 1803, a monastery was built in the city and more young men joined. In this way he founded the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, which became known as the Irish Christian Brothers.
His schools were a success and, as Edmund Rice’s reputation spread, his Community grew rapidly in numbers. By 1806, schools were established in Waterford, Carrick-on-Suir, and Dungarvan, and by 1808 the Community had Houses in Dublin, Cork and Limerick. Initially, they adopted, with modifications, the Rule of the Presentation Order of nuns and, like them, were subject to their local bishops. In 1820, however, the Order now known as the Christian Brothers became the first Irish Community of men to be granted a charter by the Holy See1 and to be recognised as a Papal Institute. This new status meant that the Brothers were no longer under the authority of local bishops, and could develop their own internal management, under the overall authority of the Holy See, through the Secretariat of State for Religious. Br Rice was unanimously elected Superior General, and all the Houses were united under the new regime except for Cork, as the local bishop there refused his consent. In 1826, they too joined the greater Congregation, although one member, Br Austin Reardon, opted to remain under the old Order and founded the teaching Congregation of Presentation Brothers.
The Presentation Brothers owe their origin to Edmund Ignatius Rice when, in 1802, he founded the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. The Communities inspired by Edmund Rice adopted a modified form of the Rules of the Presentation Sisters and were under the jurisdiction of the bishops of their local dioceses. In 1820, Pope Pius VII granted Edmund Rice’s application for his society to be given papal approbation and a Constitution. Under this new Constitution, all the houses became united under a Superior General except for the house in Cork, where Bishop Murphy refused his consent, despite the desire of most of the Brothers to be part of Br Rice’s wider congregation. In 1826, the Cork house joined the others, but one of the Brothers, Br Austin Riordan, dissented and offered his services to the Bishop of Cork who placed him in charge of a school in the south of the city. With his secession, the teaching congregation known as the Presentation Brothers was created. The number of Brothers grew rapidly and, despite their having split from the main group of Brothers of the Christian Schools, they still regarded Edmund Rice as their founder and inspiration.
In the same year, three members of staff wrote to the Provincial complaining about the education provided. They stated that the educational set-up that prevailed in the Institution was ‘grossly inadequate to meet the educational requirements’ of the type of boy found there. They concluded by stating that, were the staff shortages not remedied, the Province would be ‘failing in the real work of Edmund Rice’, and further expressed their view that ‘the school should be closed immediately if the ... situation is to prevail’.