DESCRIPTION OF IMAGES
BY DESMOND KYNE

AN OASIS OF PEACE AND PROSPERITY WHEN SO MUCH AROUND WAS ANGUISH AND PERSECUTION

The Rices were a competent, and in many ways a fortunate people when compared with the great majority of their countryfolk. This is expressed in a glimpse of their comfortable homestead at Westcourt, Callan, in the Co. of Kilkenny, where Edmund was born. The traditional thatched farmhouse looks across to the mountains of Slievenamon, and the setting sun.

A warm glow on the windows suggests comfort and hospitality, for the Rice family strongly upheld the ancient Irish tradition of welcome to the stranger, the visitor, and those in need. It was here that Edmund learnt not to draw distinctions between rich and poor.

The harvest stooks of oats symbolise the good husbandry of the Rice family. Here we are in the Gaelic heartland of Edmund’s native county which provided the cultural background of his boyhood years. Irish was still the language of hearth and home, of song and dance, of learning and leisure, of hunting hills and playing fields, of all the manifold comings and goings of a small town in a rural hinterland.

Here too is a scene from Edmund’s boyhood. He and Brother Patrick Grace, a gentle Augustinian who was well known and well loved in the Callan area as the Little Grey Friar, sit talking. The two are engrossed in conversation, their bare feet resting on the brink of a well. Perhaps the well is one of Ireland’s reputed 3,000-plus holy wells, or perhaps it is a well of living water. Its surface is disturbed by a spiral-yet another representation of the holy Spirit's never-ending movement.

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THE BROKEN REED

Edmund’s left hand caresses the head of a child. There is gentleness, love and fatherliness in the caress. The child is his handicapped daughter, Mary Rice, the broken reed (whom Christ promised not to crush), and he draws her close to him. What mysterious part she may have played in directing the course of her father’s life, and in unfolding the divine plan, is beyond human wisdom to gauge, but here she is a central figure in the symbolic treatment of the mystery and meaning of brokenness and suffering. To the nobility of spirit which marks Edmund’s face and bearing, the caress of the broken reed adds an element of intimacy, tender, loving, protective, and an intensification of the sorrow felt.

What pain, or enrichment, Mary’s handicap brought to Edmund’s life he never recorded: all that is known is that he fully cared for her up to the time he went to live in the garret above his stable school, and fully provided for her until the day she died. It is a valid conclusion that his experience of Mary deepened and broadened his sensitive concern for the handicapped and the deprived until it became his exclusive preoccupation.

With his right hand, Edmund extends his fatherliness beyond the confines of family to a distressed young boy who is representative of a multitude of poor, illiterate and wretchedly disadvantaged children of Waterford. In this case, the gesture is one of friendship, an open invitation to a future of fulfilment and dignity through the development and proper use of God-given talents. To Edmund, education was an obvious and practical answer.

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From his right hand, a group of seven stars moves away and upwards. They betoken the seven men who helped him lay the foundation of his work (stars also signify spiritual brightness, and faith, and the presence of the Divinity and much else).

The one second closest to his hand rests over the stable school in New Street, Waterford. It was here the prominent businessman and entrepreneur gathered ragged urchins around him in what former associates, to their dismay and astonishment, considered a hare-brained project, doomed to failure. Nearby, another star rests beside the Presentation Convent at Hennessy Road. Edmund helped in its establishment and, while they awaited their own accommodation, founding Brothers attended Mass in its chapel.

Higher up, yet another star sits on the roof of Mount Sion, the mother house. Opened on May 1, 1804, it became a renowned centre of learning to which the likes of the distressed boy came in droves to be not only educated but clothed and fed as well. It was in Mount Sion that the Gospel vision of service to, and solidarity with, the poor and deprived reached its full blossoming, was given its full expression. A Mass-path links it with the Presentation

A bolt of lightning, like a flash of inspiration or a shaft of Divine energy, passes through Mount Sion, and then through the right hand, to the city where Edmund had become a distinguished figure in trade and commerce. Here the Suir has a larger symbolic meaning: it is the river of life, opening out into the encompassing sea of life and, with the movement of the Holy Spirit again in evidence, carrying the sublime Edmundian vision with it.

Like all other Irish cities of the time, Waterford was a place of divided communities, haves and have-nots, Protestants and Catholics; ascendancy and repressed. But it was a tolerant city, and Edmund Rice was held in the highest esteem by all sections. The opposing loyalties of the people are embodied in slogans engraved on the quayside: Parva Roma shows the Catholic allegiance to the Pope; Urbs Intacta the Protestant attachment to the crown.

There is the staff of Bishop Thomas Hussey, and the H featured at its base is a reminder of the unwavering encouragement and support which he gave to Edmund. The lightning bolt passes through the crook and the staff, and is earthed through the head of the serpent which coils through the centre of the panel’s lower part, touching the deprived boy and the handicapped Mary Rice in its course. Edmund’s foot is planted on its neck, and the earthed lightning represents the victory of light over darkness.

There are other symbols of hope and triumph. The downward thrust of the Holy Spirit through the person of Edmund bursts into a seven-tongued flame at his feet, and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit spring to mind.

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Nearby is the Lamb of God, placed in opposition to the serpent, close to the well of living water, the fire of love alight in the halo-an image of immense serenity, sacrificial innocence, suffering and hope.

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MARY’S PRESENTATION

Edmund Rice was very closely linked to the Presentation Sisters hence this panel. The scene depicts Mary’s Presentation as the New Temple of God. She stands, surrounded in a radiance of green, the colour of hope, rising from out of the flames of the Menorah, the seven-branched candlestick that burned in the tabernacle before the Ark of the Covenant. Under the radiance of God (spiral) Mary responded to the call to become the Mother of Jesus. Her following God’s will in this way was a great inspiration to Nano Nagle who founded the Presentation Sisters. Not only did Edmund Rice help these sisters to get established in Waterford, he initially used their rule and name to establish his own community of Brothers. And just as Mary led the way from the Old Testament to the New, so Edmund cherished the sayings of the Old Testament in striving to give birth to this new Brotherhood. When he looked like losing a school property which he had fought hard to establish he resigned himself with the words: The Lord gave… (From Job)

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EDMUND KNEELING BEFORE CHRIST IN THE CHAPEL

Edmund was famous for spending much time in the chapel quietly praying for guidance in his work. In fact he would bring all his correspondence into chapel. This panel represents the Holy Spirit as a dynamic bird shape inspiring and consoling him in his struggles. At the centre of the powerful spiral is the host reminiscent of what Teilhard de Chardin meant when he spoke of the spiritual power of the Host expanding outwards to encompass all things, and receding inwards to draw all things to the Father.

Directly before Edmund in the actual icon panel, there are bridge-like shapes, symbolic of the barriers to prayer which everyone must encounter and, somehow, overcome in the toiling journey towards God, and on either side of the kneeling figure there are arched shapes which betoken the world of the spirit and the world of matter. He bridged both worlds, through a love which reached out to everybody, and embraced the Sacred even in his financial dealings.

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THE CHRIST HE MET IN THE EUCHARIST….

IS THE SAME CHRIST HE MEETS IN THE CLASSROOM

The kneeling Edmund in the upper panel now gives way to the standing Edmund, meeting Christ in the classroom. The man of deep spirituality and inspiring idealism becomes the man of down-to-earth practicality: the worlds of spirit and matter meet and become one.

The light of the Holy Spirit flows in at the top left-hand side; there are shelves of books, and Edmund is there with a group of his first pupils. His vision of their future, dignified, fulfilled and Christ-centred, shines in the eyes and radiates from his posture.

These street-kids are embraced by the pierced hands of the crucified Saviour, and from a time-bound clock, the timeless spiral spreads throughout the classroom. The classroom clock striking on the hour signalling the time to pause and pray, became the symbol of Edmund Rice schools: the Sacred domain was to animate all aspects of learning. For more than a century the brothers stood for this principle even though it meant being deprived of funds as a result.

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The classroom scene is positioned directly opposite Edmund’s supplicating hand in the centre panel, and below it, the hands are responding to the need. They had been joined: now they are open dispensing bread to a hungry boy while the Divinity spiral fills in the background. Edmund had a bakehouse established in Mount Sion, and also a tailor’s workshop: he was deeply sensitive to the wants and feelings of his pupils, and he did not wish them to experience either the pangs of hunger or the shame of being clad in rags

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"I WAS IN PRISON AND YOU VISITED ME" (Jesus welcoming people into the Kingdom)

During this period (early nineteenth century) law-breaking was rife, and life was cheap. Prisons were miserable and crowded, and the death sentence was frequently handed down for relatively trivial offences. It became the established practice for Christian Brothers to visit prisoners in Waterford, and later in Dublin and other centres, and to accompany the condemned to the gallows.

Here, a young man, his hands fettered behind his back, is being comforted as he is about to mount the steps to the gallows. (It might be one of Edmund’s former pupils.) There is a prison building and a river flowing, as it were, into the sky.

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BLESSED EDMUND

Edmund is here enjoying the fruits of his labours. He has fulfilled his mission and he stands wrapped in symbols of the Trinity, a man of his time, a man of all times, a man placed in the context of the eternal present. Behind him the Divinity spiral, the Sacred Host at its centre, fills the area; on his breast is the Heart of Christ embodying the cross and with inbuilt spirals suggesting the spiritual energy of the risen Christ; the fire of the Holy Spirit swirls around him, and the globe of the world is at his feet.

Edmund here is alive, and very much a man of our time. "Live Jesus in Our Hearts forever" was a prayer he repeated endlessly.

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THE PATRIARCH OF THE MONKS OF THE WEST

The base line series of images links Edmund Rice with the past-a past rich in spirituality, art, culture, selfless endeavour and shining achievement. It was a past of which Edmund had a keen awareness and from which he drew inspiration, motivation and encouragement. In him, the Golden Age found a point of renewal, and to him the concept of the Island of Saints and Scholars was not a felicitous historical fact buried in the past but an objective which could be attained anew. He picked up the threads which centuries of suppression and strife had broken, and applied his vision and charism to weaving them together into a new fabric.

Daniel O’Connell admired his work greatly, and referred to him as "the patriarch of the monks of the West". The base panel recalls men of holiness and wisdom of a much earlier age-monks in whose footsteps he was destined to walk; monks in whose goodly company he found an honoured place.

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There is the boat in the first symbol bearing peregrini pro Christi (pilgrims for Christ) from the shores of Ireland to spread the Good News. It was a missionary initiative which would subsequently embrace the globe, with Irish Christian Brothers making a singular contribution.

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Here is the father figure of the monk missionaries-Colmcille, saint, scholar, poet and artist, the island of Iona nestling in a seascape, the spiral repeated once again, and the dove of the Spirit overshadowing him.

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Here is the wheeled shape of the Celtic High Cross-a cross which is unique in Christendom, with the circular sun symbol of the older religion now dominated by the cross of Christ.

Significantly the whole internal movement of the icon flows downward to find its root in the Celtic Cross, or, perhaps, there is an upward movement of inspiration from the Cross to and through the figure of Edmund Rice.

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Here is Colmcille again, now an artist, a master craftsman, bent in concentration on his work. He is the patron saint of Irish artists.

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Here is a Celtic motif which leads to the age Celtic Druids and Bardic schools, sources of learning and rich tradition. Colmcille made a spirited defence of the Bards at the Convention of Drumceatt in 575 when they were threatened with abolition, and here the long and illustrious Bardic line is represented by the blind Carolan, the last of the bards. He plays his harp, and its notes are suggested in a rhythmic pattern suggested by stonework in the great doorway of St Brendan’s Cathedral, Loughrea, but in this case inverted. Artistic license leads to aesthetic effect.

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JOY OF COMMUNITY LIFE

Colmcille and his brother monks are relaxing together. There is food and drink, conversation and story-telling, and an atmosphere of shared peace, and contentment.

The scene evokes a lovely Irish proverb: "Is ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine." It is in the shelter of one another that the people live.

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Here is expressed the simple beauty of an end window from Temple McDuagh in the Aran sland of Inishmore. Aran of St Enda was another great nursery of learning, and many were the saints who studied there.

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At the right of the spiral are the letters AMDG, AD MAJOREM DEI GLORIAM (OR All My Work Done For God), the Jesuit motto which also became the motto of the Presentation Brothers. Edmund was instrumental in looking after the finances of the Jesuits when they were suppressed for a time and helped them re-establish themselves at Clongowes Wood in Dublin. This was in conjunction with his close friend, Fr Peter Kenney.

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Edmund feasted on the writings of St Teresa of Avila, a Carmelite mystic of the preceding century, and there are strong similarities between the two. She was magnificently practical and expressed her profound spirituality in very plain language. She is seen here with her staff and her book "Interior Castle". Around her are some of her favourite symbols-mountains, rain, river-and there is an affinity between her features and those of Edmund-strength, vision and eyes that look into the far distance.

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THROUGH LANES OF CORK CITY –A LIGHT IN THE PENAL DARKNESS

Nano Nagle, foundress of the presentation Sisters, makes her way through the back streets. The lantern she carries became for the poor of Cork a symbol of God’s love touching and helping the realities of their hard lives.

Nano and Edmund might almost be described as spiritual twins: what she accomplished for the poverty-stricken young girls of Cork, he accomplished for the poverty-stricken young boys of Waterford. She sold everything to give to the poor, and so did he. Holy and heroic they both were, and when Edmund established his Congregation, the rule laid down by Nano for her Order was originally followed.

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A HEART OVERFLOWING WITH LOVE AND BURSTING INTO ACTION

This, for Desmond Kyne, the creator of this icon is his special symbol of the Sacred Heart. Its dynamism epitomises the source and out-flow of compassionate energy which both Nano and Edmund harnessed and worked out of.

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THE RELIGION OF THE HEARTH

Here is a scene depicting a traditional Irish event, the family Rosary. It was part of the daily routine in the Rice home, and in the panel, the woman leading the prayers represents Margaret Rice, Edmund’s mother. The curving, rhythmic shapes around the group betoken the mantralike manner in which the Rosary was recited, or intoned, and the all-pervasive, ever present Divinity spiral moves through the family circle. The imagery has a message for a generation which has let the tradition of the family Rosary die out.

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