I am very pleased and honoured to have been invited to this book launch this evening. It takes place within the centenary celebrations of the Marino Institute of Education. St. Mary’s College, Marino was opened in 1905; one hundred and three years after Edmund Rice started his first school in Waterford. St. Mary’s, Marino, opened as a purpose built Training College and Generalate. Since then Marino has, at all times, been a centre of education excellence. Its contribution to Catholic education over these past one hundred years has been immense. But, I suppose it is fair to say that throughout much of this period there has been relatively little reflection on the charism and achievement of Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice.

However, over the past decade, a huge revaluation and rediscovery, in fact, has taken place of the “jewel that lies at the heart of the Edmund Rice story”, to quote one of the books being launched this evening.

This reassessment has focused on educational achievements, of course, but also on the man’s own personal pilgrimage from being a hugely successful businessman to a reflective, caring, deeply spiritual teacher. That journey involved building a bridge between the rich merchants of Waterford and the street children of that city. Today more bridges of that sort need to be built all over Ireland.

Those who love, remember. A Centenary Committee is, by definition, a group who remember and they celebrate the good things of the past – not in boastful self-congratulation but in a spirit of humble recognition and thankful acknowledgement of the truth.

I congratulate the Centenary Committee on providing this opportunity of paying tribute to the Brothers for their great zeal and generous commitment to the genuine well being of Irish young people.

Today that same generosity and vision are, I am happy to say, alive and well. They enable this vital ministry to continue. Today it continues through the ministry of lay women and men, whom the Brothers have educated, formed and/or encouraged. Marino has given – through its Teacher Training College – a huge number of very competent and dedicated professionals to the Catholic education sector Marino has also been to the forefront in educational research. It has funded and researched a wide range of creative educational initiatives. Through the work of An Tobar for example, it has enhanced many Religious Education Departments.

One of its most recent initiatives has been the Catholic School Project, which is working across the secondary sector throughout Ireland. This Project seeks to engage whole staff communities in the mission of providing a quality Catholic educational environment for our young people. It is an original and exciting initiative, which has largely been made possible through the commitment of the Christian Brothers.

I am happy to say that the Catholic School Project has been, over the past couple of years, involved in many of the schools in the Archdiocese of Armagh. Just last week I was in one of those schools where there was an end of year Mass attended by some 170 pupils with quite a number of parents present. The atmosphere was reverent, prayerful and respectful. I like to think that the involvement of the Catholic School Project in that school was, in some way, in part, responsible for creating that atmosphere.

Two books are being launched. The first is Strategies for Building Faith Communities in Schools, edited by Dr Tony Hanna. It is a series of responses from professionals engaged, at different levels, within the Catholic educational enterprise. Dr Hanna himself holds a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical University Maynooth and has been deeply involved in the Catholic School Project over the last number of years.

There is a wide range of contributors. They include RE teachers, Chaplains, Principals, Bishops, Theologians, Trustees, Diocesan Advisers and others. They all have one thing in common – a deep concern for the future of the Catholic school. One of them speaks of the urgent need for the Catholic schools “to bring the light of Christ to bear on the whole of life”. It is a quote from the late Pope John Paul II’s document on the Church in Europe, which is a long meditation on hope. That document emerged from the Synod on Europe, which it was my privilege to attend some years ago.

I know that it is usual to say, on occasions like this, that the books being launched are timely and challenging. This time I believe it is true. I believe that we are at a pivotal moment in our faith history. The Catholic school is at the very heart of that reality. Building school communities and faith communities lies at the very centre of the whole school endeavour. When the Son of Man comes will he find faith? The man from Galilee asked 2,000 years ago. Today that question is as urgent and as relevant as ever.

I have just returned from a Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes. The words of the beautiful hymn, which I heard there about finding the treasure in the field, still haunt me. But that is what building faith communities suggests. It suggests many ways of finding that treasure. Yes, this book says some tough things about Catholic schools but it is not a case of just cursing the darkness. It lights plenty of candles as well – candles which will prove, I am convinced, a valuable resource for the Catholic education sector.

I hope this book will contribute to the rich legacy of the Brothers who did so much to build faith communities in the schools of Ireland. I congratulate Tony and all of the contributors and warmly welcome its arrival and recommend it to all who have a concern for Catholic education.

The second book being launched this evening is Centenary Essays (in honour of Edmund Rice) by Séamus O’Brien. Séamus is a Senior Educational Consultant with the Centre for Education Services at Marino. He has unique insight into the mindset of the Brothers – both Christians Brothers and Presentation Brothers. He has been in all of their schools across Ireland and has worked with all of their staffs. His enthusiasm and dedication for the work of the Brother has come about through himself having been captured by the magnetism of the charism of Edmund Rice. Séamus has commissioned a wonderful and evocative range of reflections on the legacy of Edmund Rice and of the Brothers who congregated around this magnificent charism.

Centenary Essays in Honour of Edmund Rice comes at an opportune time for both the Institute and the founder of Ireland’s largest boys network of schools. An interesting emphasis throughout this book is the meshing of the Christian Brother and Presentation Brother traditions. Separated for so long, this book clearly shows the common ground shared by both of Edmund’s Orders which are now associated under the umbrella of the Edmund Rice Schools Trust. The essays take a refreshingly upbeat look at Edmund Rice the man; as chapter two so nicely states; husband, father, and founder. The inner turmoil suffered by Edmund Rice following the death of his wife Mary is described as the defining moment in his life. Thereafter he turned to the Gospels for inspiration, direction and strength. The essays break new ground also in that they are collaborative, contributed by vowed religious and laymen and women. I should say woman! Monica you were brave to throw in your lot with those twelve men!

The essays range far and wide, from Edmund’s early formative years in Callan and Waterford, which are skilfully depicted by Matthew Feheney and Séamus O’Brien.

Chapter two carefully analyses an unexplained aspect of Edmund Rice’s early life when he was married to Mary and rearing his daughter in Waterford. Denis McLoughlin, Martin O’Flaherty and Séamus O’Brien give interesting new insights into this influential period of Edmund’s life.

Chapter three examines the concept of the charism of Edmund Rice and here again we are indebted to the new insights provided by Tony Hanna, Ferdia Kelly, Jim Donovan and Luke Monahan.

The final chapter looks into the future and ask the questions ‘what relevance has Edmund Rice to today’s world? Ned Prendergast, Monica O’Reilly, Donal Blake and Donal Leader write reflectively on this challenging theme and give a resounding ‘yes’ to Edmund Rice’s relevant to today’s world.

I hope that this collection of fine essays will bring light, joy and inspiration to its readers. These essays seek to set Edmund Rice free – free from the plaster cast portrayed which restricts appreciation of his relevance for Ireland today.

I am convinced that a careful reading of it will set the reader free as well, free form ignorance and lack of appreciation of one of the heroes of Christian education.