By Peg Hanafin, MSc.
Ignatius Rice died on the 29th of August 1884 and left behind him a legacy of service and the educational model known as the” Catholic School Model” which still exists to this day. He was born in Callan, Co. Kilkenny and was one of a family of seven brothers and two sisters. He was educated in hedge schools and at the age of seventeen joined his uncle’s very lucrative business, serving ships that came to Waterford. The port in Waterford was on a par with Rotterdam at that time. From a very early age Ignatius Rice showed empathy and kindness to the poor and very quickly he became known throughout the city. He was shocked at the high levels of poverty and the amount of young boys roaming the city, many homeless and in trouble with the law and no obvious carers.
At the age of twenty five he married Mary Elliot but the marriage was short-lived as Mary was thrown from her carriage and she died. The baby girl she was expecting was born with a disability. Ignatius was devastated and to the amazement of his family and friends sold the successful business that he had started, and was now one of the wealthiest people in Waterford. He opened a school in a converted shed in New Street for the boys who roamed the streets. No teachers would remain with him because the disruptive nature of the boys and they were fearful of them. These teachers he paid for out of his own pocket. One night as he knelt to pray for help a knock came to the door and two men from Callan were standing there and offered their help. They were Thomas Grosvenor and Patrick Finn. In 1803 he opened Mount Sion and the rest lies in the annals of our history. Seven of his staff took religious vows and took as their role model Nano Nagle of the Presentation Order. (For the record Nano Nagle had a convent in Croke Street, Thurles). The Christian Brothers and later the Presentation Brothers were formed and their ethos was the education and care of the poor.
In the recent past the Christian Brothers came in for much criticism over abuse while they took care of the children placed in their care by the State which abandoned them to a group of men not trained or equipped to deal with traumatised and disruptive young boys. The Christian Brothers have a long and outstanding commitment to education and care right across the world from India to Canada to Australia to Europe and it is sad that all the unique and exceptional work for the poor has been clouded and almost forgotten in this process.
But today in Mount Sion a renewed and wonderful facility is growing. This renewal was started by my father’s nephew, the late Brother Paul Power, but today we have one of our own, Brother Philip Ryan, son of the late Denis and Peggy Ryan, Abbey Road, Thurles at the helm. This enterprising, hardworking and energetic Brother, who is one of the Order’s youngest members is responsible for this mammoth venture that caters for over one hundred groups on a weekly basis. It incorporates education of boys, immigrants and facilitates a myriad of courses attended by all classes of groupings. The enormous building, maintained to the highest standard, immaculately kept, has many meeting rooms and classrooms and a museum where you can see the preserved bedroom belonging to Blessed Ignatius along with his casket in which he lies in the magnificent Church, which is also used as a meeting room when not in use. Every square inch of this enormous building is a hive of activity, and the management of such magnitude is a challenge for the man in charge.
Brother Philip reminded me that the first five years of his life he lived in Clonoulty and in spite of all his commitments, he is returning there in the near future to train the hurling team in the hope of winning the County Final in 2013. Following a motor bike accident in his youth he was left with his right arm incapacitated, but this drawback appears to spur him on and his tenacity, his courage, his spirituality and his energy and zest for life is inspirational to say the least. His late father was a very active member of the Thurles Conference of the St. Vincent de Paul for many years and Philip takes example from the way his dad worked for the needy and the disadvantaged and told me he was his role model. The apple has not fallen far from the tree and if Denis was only here to see and enjoy the labours of his son, he would be so proud. Brother Philip is humble, dismissive of his input into the renewed life that is visible everywhere you look, from the litter free environment inside and out, to the management of the centre which for one man, is mammoth. The smile and warm welcome that greets you at the door is memorable.
Philip is quite capable of the enormous task that he has taken charge of and its success, and leaves one very proud of this Thurles native. He is a natural inspirational leader, and is visionary and ready to put his shoulder to the wheel to continue the work of Blessed Ignatius and to achieve the dream that is the Mount Sion International Heritage Centre. His spirituality and Christianity is palpable and serves him in good stead in this enormous project in the current climate of diminishing Brothers and an older community. The burden of continuity falls on the shoulders of a young and generous Brother Philip.
The International Heritage Centre at Mount Sion is a legacy that the Christian Brothers can be proud of, and even though they get no State funding for this worthwhile and community based project, the supporters of the Christian Brothers and their past students worldwide that got their education from their schools, continue to assist in the financial affairs to allow this facility for the people of Waterford and surrounding area to continue. This is a tribute to all Christian Brothers who worked tirelessly and humbly for all the hundreds of thousands worldwide that they educated, and continue to do so. I would encourage any person who wishes to experience the sense of Christianity that permeates this centre, to visit and see the legacy of the Christian Brother community to better the lives of all those who use this unique and wonderful centre, in spite of all adversity. To the unique and courageous Philip we wish him the success that he so deserves and I have no doubt that his contribution will live on after him in the spirit of Blessed Ignatius Rice.