EDMUND RICE BUSINESS MAN THIRSTING FOR JUSTICE
Peter Hardiman cfc
Return To Homepage
Return To Page One
By 1820 ten houses had been established, with each one involving huge amounts of delicate negotiation, requiring financial security, provision of manpower and right relationships with the ecclesiastical and secular authorities. However, this was only some of the business Edmund was involved with. Throughout this period and subsequently there were enormous calls on his financial, legal and business expertise particularly when these calls came as a result of alleviating the lot of the poor in some way.
MR BOLGER SETS THE SCENE
Mr Brian Bolger was a life-long friend of Edmund's and in a letter to him dated 1810 we have one of the rare insights into what motivated Edmund in his great works of compassion and his intimate knowledge of the legalities of settling estates especially when they were likely to be contested in the courts.
I forgot to mention to you in my letter yesterday not to send the Bill for Acceptance until it was known whether you wanted to make use of it, as if it's not passed by you, they are to take it back to the bank here, provided it's not accepted.
I am sorry to be giving you so much trouble; perhaps it may come in my way to do as much for you; however, I hope God will supply our inability in this way; it's a poor thing, I must own, to be expecting the reward of labour from creatures who frequently are forgetful and ungrateful of favours done them, but let us ever do so little for God and we will be sure he will never forget it, nor let it pass unrewarded. How many of our actions are lost for want of applying them to this end, and were we to know the merit and value of only going from one street to another to serve a neighbour for the love of God, we should prize it more than Gold or Silver.
You have an ample field of merit before you in getting through all the trouble annexed to poor Mr Byrne's affairs. I see you have a mountain of difficulties to get over, to be able to save anything for the Charitable purposes, but one thing you may well be sure of, that whilst you work for God, whether you succeed or not, he will amply reward you. You see how free I make with you in putting you in mind of things that, perhaps, you are better acquainted with than I am myself.
But to turn to Back Lane I think if they do not get bidders to their liking, they will adjourn the sale as they did in the others; I am still of opinion, that they have no one to give the 7 years purchase, as they would give it to me for £1,000 and I think they would not give a person who offered £200 so much time to reflect; however, I may be wrong-but am easy about it, only if I should be right in my conjecture it would be a means of your coming in more easy about Black Lane-The Will of God be done in this and everything we undertake-When you see Mr Meighan you'll please to give him my best respects. I think him A True Israelite without Guile-
With best respect to Mrs Bolger,
I rem. - Dear Sir,
Yr. very sincerely,
The context of this letter says quite a bit about Edmund's discerning when it was necessary to "turn the other cheek" to one's enemy and not fight back and when it was necessary to stand one's ground in the pursuit of justice for oneself, and the poor one was representing. Here he fully supported his friend Brian Bolger who was representing the interests of the charities set down in the will of a priest, Fr John Byrne. The late priest's father was contesting the will and claiming £100 annually out of the estate of his son. It must have been some satisfaction to both of them when the court found in their favour.
HUMOUR MAKETH THE MAN
It would be a peculiar Irishman who was not in touch with the fount of stories told around the hearth and in the pubs. His support of the poets and bards of his day is eloquent testimony to the saying of the Celts: "A teacher has to be a poet first."
However, with the weight of school, business and legal cares on his shoulders it would not have been unusual to note that he looked somewhat serious as he moved around. On one occasion as he was walking along the street, he was greeted by his solicitor but, preoccupied with his thoughts, did not return the salute. Not long afterwards they met again and the gentleman said: "Brother Rice, you passed me a few days ago without speaking to me." With a touch of characteristic humour Edmund replied: "That was so, as I was afraid to speak lest it would mean another 6/8." (T 79)
This dry wit can often be found even in his business letters. He found he had to be very persistent in appealing for funds to be released from monies invested, the interest of which was meant to be applied to very needy cases. On one occasion he described the people confined to an asylum as after him like "leeches" because their premises were so dilapidated.
Writing to his friend Fr Peter Kenney sj he begins with a little bit of "slagging".
My Dr. Sir,
I received your letter by Mr. Curtis whereby I find how dangerous a thing it is to touch a Jesuit; a finger laid on one of them I suppose would be worse than if a whole community of Poor Presentation monks were laid prostrate. (C 17-19)
[Such was Edmunds' expertise in a whole range of business areas that he felt quite confident to predict that there would be a sharp fall in the price of timber in the following year-1815-and advising that he would do well to cut the timber immediately to clear the way for a Jesuit College. It was his recollection that the was a "clause in Grayden's Article" for leave to cut down timber, &c. (C 18)]
This same Peter Kenney was able to get his own back some years later when writing from the U.S. In apologising for the delay in writing back he went on:
I hasten to cancel the debt and the interest due on it (for I know my man) by giving you a letter twice the length of the one you wrote to me in the summer of 1831!! (C 405)
Needing to go up to Dublin from Waterford frequently he, on one occasion, called in on the Presentation Sisters and asked if they wanted him to bring back anything for them. "You could bring us a ciborium (made of precious metals and used for storing Holy Communion in) replied the Reverend Mother. With a smile Edmund Rice observed: "What excellent beggars you are!" Nevertheless they got their way and still treasure the gift he brought back.
"THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN APOLITICAL GOSPEL"-Martin Luther King
Long before Pope Leo wrote the first social justice statement, and even though compassion for the poor and alleviating their needs has always been held to be crucial to a following of Christ, Edmund Rice could see that it was not enough to feed, clothe and indeed educate the poor. He recognised that, where political structures were in place that hampered the poor from getting access to their share, then something needed to be done to address those structural injustices.
His normal method of acting was to use his skills, none the least of which was his diplomacy and ability to be at home with all sections of society. An example of this is the interest he took in the Mendicity Asylum set up in 1821 to try and mop up the many people made homeless after the collapse in farm prices following the end of the Napoleonic War. These beggars had become such a public nuisance that an Association for the Suppression of Mendicity was established in 1821. Subscriptions were requested and a large building was rented at £40 per year. This became known as the Mendicity Asylum, where street beggars were compelled to report every morning . They were giving a basic breakfast and were put to work on sweeping, and crushing oyster shells for fertiliser. Women too were put to work making sacks and mops.
Edmund joined the Association and was one of the few Catholics on the Board of Management. He was elected Chairman in 1826 and used his influence to get increased support for the charity. In addition to his annual subscription of two guineas and other donations he sent regular supplies of vegetables from the local monastery garden. They also undertook the religious instruction of the inmates preparing them for the reception of the sacraments. This was carried out for the full time the establishment was in existence (ten years). Even when he took his seat of government of the Brothers to Dublin, Edmund sent a letter to Sir John Newport. "I enclose you £20," he wrote "which you will have the kindness to send to the Mendicity Asylum. I have reasons for not wishing my name to be identified with it and, therefore, shall thank you not to mention it. This institution is very dear to me and I shall feel much regret if it were to go down." (Written 1830) (T 83-85)
But right from his earliest days as a businessman Edmund was quite prepared to put his name to petitions which sought change and a proper recognition of Catholic religious rights. Even when some Bishops and members of the clergy thought the newly proclaimed Oath of Allegiance to the King was not offensive, Edmund responded to the Catholic Committee of Waterford decision to protest, and signed the petition. The petition was successful and the oath of allegiance was rephrased so as not to give offence to the Catholic position.
By 1808 Edmund had three schools going in the Waterford diocese.
Edmund was biding his time before openly constituting his band of followers as a religious congregation, something forbidden by the penal laws. However, the British government was completely preoccupied by the rise of Napoleon. "We are disputing about catechisms while Napoleon is conquering kingdoms," it was stated in the House of Commons. Waterford was at the forefront of this softening of attitude towards Catholics and was in some measure due to the work of Edmund and his companions. Early in 1808 a numerous and representative body of Waterford Protestants passed a resolution in which they declared; "that they knew no reason why all the benefits of the British Constitution should be any longer withheld from so large a portion of His Majesty's faithful...." (T 70-1) Edmund was confident that his local parliamentary member Sir John Newport, who was so impressed with what Edmund was doing, would ensure there would be no interference with his plans. Thus on 15th August 1808 eight members assembled to make vows and consider themselves religious like the Presentation Sisters. They then had to work towards getting themselves properly constituted and having that approved by Rome. This was a regular minefield for Edmund and a full treatment of the endless difficulties he had here in gaining consensus among his own men and the hierarchy lies beyond the scope of this work. It will have to be enough to remark that in choosing mature men, many of whom had been pursuing professional careers before joining Edmund, and, granted the prevailing political conditions of the time when the Catholic Irish were just beginning to get a sense of freedom under the law, it is not surprising that there were cliques and parties who did not see eye to eye with Edmund on all matters, and in fact were quite opposed to being governed by him. This group was largely centred in Cork which had always prided itself on being second to none in terms of culture, industry and trading levels. From the outset they had been able to gather their own finances and set themselves up in independent fashion. The school offered a very extensive curriculum and was much admired right from the outset. Again, it says a lot about the largeness of heart Edmund had that he was able to offer a very democratic form of consultation and government process even though it meant encountering an often vociferous opposition which engaged in the character assassination of Edmund.
However, by 1821 the Brothers had received their Brief from Rome establishing the first congregation of lay-religious men in Ireland. In it Rome acknowledged the opposition that had been directed against the group from some ecclesiastical authorities and in the last paragraph of the Brief indicated that the opposition was to cease:
We thereunto add the Authority of Our Apostolic support:...depriving any judges whatsoever, ordinary or delegate, even the Auditors of the Sacred Palace, and Nuncios of the See Apostolic, of judging or interpreting otherwise. And we declare invalid and void, everything that shall be attempted regarding these by any person whatever and with whatever authority, knowingly or ignorantly, notwithstanding any Apostolic orders or constitutions whatever. (T 136)
Would that regulations could so easily bring about the changes desired! There was no softening of attitude towards Edmund, and, possibly, jealousy was the root cause of it.
At this time, 1823, [C (iii)] Edmund wrote a series of scripture references in the front of his bible. The first eight of these, from the Hebrew Scriptures, all deal with the sin of usury, that is lending money which then becomes a crippling debt that cannot be paid back. Such a person is to be condemned. Then follows Ez 18:31 a call to repentance and a change of heart. Now, from 2 Esd 5:11 the call to give back that which was taken, vineyards, houses, corn, wine. Finally the call to radical discipleship enunciated by Jesus on the mountain, the new Moses: Mt 5: 42. "Give to those that ask and from them that would borrow turn not away." Lk 6: 35. "Love your enemies; do good and lend, hoping for nothing thereby; and your reward shall be great and you shall be the sons of the highest for he is kind to the unthankful and to the evil."
One interpretation of all this is to see that at one point Edmund's eyes were opened to the evils of making money at other people's expense. The tragic death of his wife would seem to be such a turning point for him. In fact, if she died as a result of an accident while riding in the chase, Edmund might well have felt guilty of being too preoccupied with his business and not caring for his wife properly. Then, once his daughter's financial and emotional security was catered for, he was tempted to dispose of his wealth and live a life of solitude in a monastery. The voice of the feminine cautioned him against this action in favour of applying his wealth and business acumen to the needs of the poor and giving them the longed for chance of taking their rightful place in society through education. It is interesting in this respect that he did not choose to include those scripture references which challenge the disciple to: "Go sell what you have, give the money to the poor and come follow me." While he thought about it, this would not be his chosen path. He would make his wealth available to alleviating the plight of the poor; but with all the financial know-how available to him it would be through liquidating assets, where necessary for capital works, but also investing wisely in land and housing, particularly, to maintain recurrent expenditure without losing his asset base.
It cannot be stressed too strongly that while the churches have always urged their followers to bring a code of Christian ethics to their work-place it can be seen in Edmund's case that he was deliberately choosing school and business life as a means of sanctification for himself and his members. Certainly he was a devout Mass goer and applied considerable sums of money towards having Masses said for the success of his mission. But he was animated with such a sense of faith that he was determined to discover his God in the workplace as well as in the chapel. The fact that he would sit in the chapel with all his correspondence in his lap would seem to indicate that there were no boundaries between secular and sacred for him. All of God's creation was the domain of the Sacred. Fortunately today we are beginning to find suitable articulations for this presence of God everywhere which was lost for too long while westerners, in particular, set about exploiting creation for material gain, and the churches concentrated on preaching about the heavenly kingdom as being more worthy of our attention.
THE SERVANT OF THE SUPREME COURT
While there are many instances of where Edmund was called upon to offer financial advice as well as be executor of wills devoted wholly or in part to the alleviation of poverty there are two bequests which call for an investigation because they illustrate Edmund's reluctance to engage in matters of the law except when pressed to do so both by the Archbishop of Dublin and the Attorney General. (T 188) But, more importantly they show the lengths he would be prepared to go to in order that justice might be done.
THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE BUTLER CHARITY
Mrs Anne Butler, who died in 1770, had erected two hostels in Waterford for the accommodation of twelve widows and by her will she left £1,800 for their support. Her executor, Father Phelan, lent most of the money at interest and built seven small houses, but neither interest nor rent was paid for many years. His successor also was a poor administrator and it was left to the next executor, Fr William Power, to recover most of the deficit. When he was transferred to Carrick in 1808 he succeeded in getting the Bishop, also Power, to convince Edmund to be executor for the sake of the charity. He reluctantly agreed, and with the Bishop, and a Father Flannery became co-executors.
Father William Power died in 1814 and, apart from the charity funds, left a sum of £1,500 for the education of clerical students in the diocesan seminary. Bishop Power took out probate and immediately used the special legacy to provide additional accommodation at the seminary, feeling sure that this was in accordance with the testator's wishes. He died intestate with his will made but not signed in 1816. When Bishop Power died and the other executor, Fr Flannery, was declared legally unacceptable, the administration of the estate devolved on Edmund Rice who was loath to undertake the burden. He consulted Dr Murray , the Archbishop of Dublin, who pointed out that he was bound in both justice and charity to act. Hence Edmund applied for the necessary authority which was granted over the Protestant Archbishop of Armagh.
The new Bishop of Waterford was Dr Walsh who had vehemently opposed Edmund setting up his Congregation to be outside diocesan control. He demanded that the monies be handed over to his trusteeship and when he found that £1,500 had been expended on the seminary, accused the executors of misappropriation:
The Bishop, my predecessor, collected many alms, which before the time of his death he was not able to administer according to the wishes of the benefactors. These monies, on the death of the Bishop, came into the hands of a factious priest, Foran, and a turbulent layman, Rice, who refused to hand them over to the Bishop's successor, to whom they are rightly due.
Edmund felt obliged to send a sworn statement to the Holy See presenting the facts as he knew them. He stated:
That this deponent (Edmund), dreading that they might proceed to law for the recovery of this £1500, he was induced on the third day of this investigation to bring with him a professional Gentleman in the law to argue the point with them and their Attorney that Doctr. Power was legally authorised to dispose of the £1,500 as he had done.
The Revd Mr O'Neill P. P. of Carrick (who was present at all the conferences and who was the only surviving trustee with the Revd Mr. Flannery) was asked what his sentiments were on the subject, he answered that he not only at all times did approve of Doctr. Power's laying out the money as he did, but that from the knowledge he had of the sentiments of the Revd. Wm. Power that the money could not be laid out in any manner more accordant to his wishes. This avowal put a complete check to them for this Deponent heard and believes that on the same day Mr. Flannery's Attorney in the presence of the parties charged the Revd. Mr O'Neill with destroying the business & so disagreeable was it to Dr Walsh that the Deponent believes that Mr O'Neill lost the confidence of Dr. Walsh from that day to the present.
That this Deponent felt much regret at so ungracious an attack on the memory of his dear & lamented Bishop, for had the parties been successful in wresting this £1500 from the poorhouses the poor women and the public would be given to understand that Doctr. Power had destroyed the funds for their maintenance (coming from the Butler Charity) and this was not the only circumstances which this Deponent and the Execrs. of Doctr. Power had reason to feel and complain of, but also that reports had been circulated in Town and Country that they were making attempts to defraud the Diocese of this money, and turn it over to their own use or to the use of Doctr Power's sisters, for this Deponent Saith that he had it from very respectable Authority that on the Revd. Mr. O'Maher's return to Dungarvan from this meeting he mentioned how Cautious people should be in Selecting Trustees, for that he himself was after returning from an investigation where Trustees did attempt to Secret or embezzle a sum of £1500 which was evidently known to apply to the Execrs of Dr. Power.
There was also collusion going on with some of the diocesan clergy one of whom had forged a letter, supposedly signed by seventeen parish priests of the Waterford diocese, including within it the grossest of allegations:
"This man (Rice) sometimes was a Dealer in cattle and a common Butcher in the streets of Waterford-Your eminence will judge from this, his Slaughtering profession of the savageness of his nature and absence of tender sensibility and want of human feeling. This impertinent intruder in the affairs of the sanctuary was of habits irregular and of desires lustful, which to the prejudice of morality and the scandal of the faithful he fully gratified-from his loins issued many a bastard child, some of which breed and spurious progeny are still living. (T 120)
Rome was very concerned about this state of affairs and conducted its own enquiry asking Bishops in neighbouring dioceses to comment on the allegations levelled at Edmund. They gave unequivocal support to Edmund and consequently Bishop Walsh was summoned to Rome until his death. In addition, all the Bishops of Ireland were instructed that any correspondence sent to the Holy See in future had to be certified by an Apostolic Notary appointed for each diocese. (T 122)
However, it was some time before Rome acted and Edmund had to administer the Anne Butler bequest under the threatening gaze of Dr Walsh. In addition to these troubles Edmund had difficulties with the bequest itself. Most of the funds were bonded out and on the default of the holders, Edmund was obliged to have recourse to legal proceedings to recover the capital and the accrued interest. Pending the results of the action he paid the charity demands out of his own funds rather than permit the asylum widows to suffer through no fault of their own. The legal details occupied him all through his life and were not concluded until 1854 (ten years after Edmund's death), when the then Bishop of Waterford, Dr Foran, gave a stamped receipt to Brother Joseph Hearn, heir-at-law of Edmund Rice. (T 184-6)
THE MARY POWER CHARITY
Dr Power was also executor of the will of Mary Power, nee Merry, the wife of a wealthy corn merchant of Waterford. She had died in 1804 and left assets of £14,000. half of the money was willed to different charities and the other half to her nephew Mr Merry, a wine merchant, living in Seville. Dr Power had obtained probate of the will and the "Mary Power Asylum" was built at the cost of £1,000 in 1805. At that point any further action had to be suspended because Mr Merry filed a bill in the Court of Chancery impeaching the will of his aunt. Automatically the court called in the assets not yet expended pending the hearing of the case, a most important one, as bequests in favour of Catholic charities were held to be null and void in Irish law.
The case Merry v Power became a test case of whether Catholic emancipation was real or just something for the politicians to argue about. In the end something of a compromise was made. Judgement was given for the defence in June 1815, on the advice of the Attorney general, that all the bequests for charitable purposes enumerated in the will of Mrs Mary Power should be vested in the Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests and that Dr Power was to act as sole executor of the will. In effect this meant that although Catholic Charities could benefit from these monies they had to be invested with the Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests, a Protestant group, who were able to tie up the procedures of release and put almost unsurpassable obstacles in the path of an executor trying to apply the funds to their stipulated purpose.
Scarcely had the bishop resumed his responsibilities in this regard than he died, his executors being Fathers Foran, Murphy and Edmund Rice. This unexpected turn of events induced the Commissioners to invoke the authority of the Attorney General who, in December 1816, appointed Edmund Rice the administrator of the Mary Power Charities. The fund, amounting to £6,400, was invested in a Government 3½ % stock by the official receiver, Mr Mostyn. It was his responsibility to collect the dividends, and forward them to the Commissioners whose secretary, Mr Causland, would transmit them to Edmund Rice for distribution. Mr Causland cut the bank notes in half and sent one set of half-notes to Edmund for distribution as required. The recipients signed receipts which Edmund sent to Mr Causland who then posted the second set of half-notes.
Delay in receiving the interest payments and inefficient management of the capital caused Mr Rice considerable inconvenience, many journeys to Dublin, and frequent correspondence.
One of these letters was to the Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests (C 40) complaining of the low return on the substantial investment and wanting to know why the money was not invested in stock which earned 5% interest. Actually the lump sum was broken up into smaller parcels and it was in reference to one of these that Edmund was able to point out that investing in the higher rate would mean "a difference of some twenty pounds to these poor creatures."
At other times he had to complain of the delay in sending the dividend monies owing:
I need not tell you how much we want money here for the discharge of these charities.... The premises of the Asylum are partly going to ruin for want of money to repair them-and the objects in it are after me like leeches.
If anything should happen this money, in justice I think you would be responsible for it, as it is through your indulgence it would occur.
I am sure you will acknowledge that it is too bad that I should be obliged to go to Dublin so often for the purpose of settling this account.... I have written by this post saying that I would be up in a few days and I am determined never to quit it till paid the balance.
But for all Edmund's insistence the attitude of the Commissioners and their officials caused frequent delays. Edmund hoped to be able to conclude his dealing with the Commissioners by 1818 but he was still deeply engaged in the affairs up till 1840 when he was old and virtually a broken man of 78! For this period the files of the Commissioners contain two affidavits and twenty three letters pleading for payment of interest and recommending more profitable investments. He was required to forward all receipts and invoices for payments. Moreover, at one stage the secretary of the commission imposed a levy of 2½ % on the interest on the investment. As this levy would greatly diminish the charity fund, Edmund lodged an objection with the Attorney General, who upheld his appeal and the imposition ceased.
When delay in securing payments brought difficulties for the administration of the asylum, Edmund provided the money from his own resources, a total of £884 over a short period. He was so attentive to his duties that when he died there remained outstanding from the Commission the small sum of £199/4/5. The extraordinary care and accuracy of Edmund was attested to by Mr Matthews, the accountant for the Commission, who was deputed in 1845 to audit the account books. In the course of a long and detailed report he stated:
I have examined the accounts referred to me and have found them of a very troublesome and complicated nature, embracing a period of upwards of thirty years and extending through a vast number of small receipts and payments. The accounts have been kept as satisfactorily as possible, due allowance having been made for their nature and extent.... I have found also that the books of Mr Rice, to which I had to refer, had been so regularly kept by him since the year 1816 to the present period that I experienced no difficulty in the exercise of my judgement of admitting the several credits claimed upon this evidence solely.
This audit was made for a differently constituted Board of Commissioners, containing now equal numbers of Catholics and Protestants. The previous Protestant dominated board seemed determined to harass Edmund as much as possible. They had instituted court proceedings against him and the Brother Trustees of his will in the belief that money bequeathed to him for charitable purposes could not be used in his schools. These monies stretched back as far as 1803 at the original bequest of Bishop Hussey. Fortunately the new Board discontinued the court action much to the relief of the Brothers. (T 182-191)
"TO FIGHT WITHOUT COUNTING THE WOUNDS"
The fact that Edmund had to engage in so much litigation and had to spend so much time in these troublesome business matters did not endear him to some of the Brothers, who complained to Rome of his preoccupation with these affairs to the detriment of his religious life and the running of the Institute. One can imagine the sense of betrayal he must have felt in this but at least he had the satisfaction of being defended by those Bishops who were most keen that he take on these responsibilities. However, it became a traumatic wrangle for Edmund and the Trustees whom he appointed to ensure that the monies he was entrusted with were used for their correct purpose. Br Paul Riordan, who succeeded him as Superior General, himself one of the Cork party, took great exception to not being in full control of the Brothers' finances, but in the intense rivalry he and his party had towards Edmund and his Trustees, he had no appreciation for the delicate legal entanglements which Edmund had to endure. The result was that when Edmund died in 1844 aged eighty two, while the general population were loud in their praises of him as a great man and saint, some of his own brothers had much antipathy towards him.
Return To Page One
Return To Homepage