Harman Patil (Editor)

Congregation of Christian Brothers

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Abbreviation  CFC
Location  Rome, Italy
Formation  1802 (214 years ago)
Congregation of Christian Brothers

Motto  Facere et docere (to do and to teach)
Founder  Edmund Ignatius Rice (1762-1844)
Type  Roman Catholic religious order

The Congregation of Christian Brothers (officially, in Latin: Congregatio Fratrum Christianorum; members of the order use the post-nominal "CFC") is a worldwide religious community within the Catholic Church, founded by Edmund Rice (later beatified). The Christian Brothers, as they are commonly known, chiefly work for the evangelisation and education of youth, but are involved in many ministries, especially with the poor. Their first school was opened in Waterford, Ireland, in 1802. At the time of its foundation, though much relieved from the harshest of the Penal Laws by the Irish Parliament's Relief Acts, much discrimination against Catholics remained throughout the newly created United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland pending full Catholic Emancipation in 1829.


This congregation is sometimes confused with the De La Salle Brothers – also known as the Christian Brothers, Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools and Lasallians – founded by Jean-Baptiste de la Salle (later canonised) in France. Rice's congregation is sometimes called the Irish Christian Brothers or the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers to differentiate the two teaching orders.


At the turn of the nineteenth century, Waterford merchant Edmund Rice considered travelling to Rome to join a religious institute, possibly the Augustinians. Instead, with the support of Dr. Thomas Hussey, Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore, he decided to found a religious community dedicated to teaching disadvantaged youth.

The first school, on Waterford's New Street, was a converted stable and opened in 1802, with a second school opening in Stephen Street soon after to cater for increasing enrollment. Two men from his hometown of Callan, Thomas Grosvenor and Patrick Finn, soon arrived to aid Rice in his makeshift schools, with the intention of living the life of lay brothers. In the same year, Rice used proceeds from the sale of his victualling business to begin building a community house and school on land provided by the diocese. Bishop Hussey opened the new complex, christened “Mount Sion” on June 7, 1803, and pupils were transferred to the new school building the following year. The reputation of the school spread and across the next few years several men sought to become “Michaels”.

On 15 August 1808 seven men, including Edmund Rice, took religious promises under Bishop John Power of Waterford. Following the example of Nano Nagle's Presentation Sisters, they were called "Presentation Brothers". This was one of the first congregations of men to be founded in Ireland and one of the few founded in the Church by a layman.

Houses were soon opened in Carrick-on-Suir, Dungarvan, and in 1811, in Cork. In 1812 the Archbishop of Dublin established a community in the nation's capital and by 1907 there were ten communities in Dublin, with pupils in excess of 6,000. The schools included primary, secondary and technical schools, along with orphanages and a school for the deaf. A community was founded in Limerick in 1816, followed by establishments in several of Ireland's principal towns.

The Holy See formally established the congregation in 1820. This, too, was an unusual event, since the Christian Brothers were the first Irish congregation of men approved by a charter from Rome.

Some brothers in Cork chose to remain under the original Presentation rule and continued to be known as Presentation Brothers, a separate congregation but also recognising Edmund Rice as its Founder.


The congregation of Irish Christian Brothers spread to Liverpool and other parts of England. These new ventures were not always immediately successful. Two brothers had been sent to Gibraltar to establish an institute in 1835. However, despite initial successes they left in August 1837 on account of disagreements with the local priests. In 1878 the Brothers returned to the then Crown colony of Gibraltar. The school eventually flourished supplying education to the twentieth century. The "Line Wall College" was noted in 1930 for the education that it supplied to "well to do" children.

Similarly, a mission to Sydney, Australia in 1842 failed within a couple of years. Brother Ambrose Treacy established a presence in Melbourne, Australia in 1868, in 1875 in Brisbane, Australia and in 1876 a school was commenced in Dunedin, New Zealand. In 1875 a school was opened in St. John’s, Newfoundland. In 1886 the Pope requested that they consider setting up in India, and a province of the congregation was established there.

In 1900 came the invitation to establish houses in Rome, and in 1906 schools were established in New York City. In 1940 Iona College was founded in New York, as a Higher Education College, facilitating poorer high school graduates to progress to a College education.

In 1955 Stella Maris College (Montevideo) in Uruguay was established. In 1972 the alumni rugby team was travelling in Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 when it crashed in the Andes, stranding survivors in freezing conditions with little food and no heat for 72 days; 16 of the 45 people on the aircraft survived.

In 1967, the Christian Brothers had a membership of about 5,000, teaching in around 600 schools.

The Christian Brothers teacher training center has become the Marino Institute for Education which has trained lay teachers since 1972 and has offered degrees validated by the University of Dublin since 1974. In 2012 Trinity College Dublin became a co-trustee with the Brothers of the Institute.

The Brothers' schools include primary, secondary and technical schools, orphanages and schools for the deaf. A number of these technical schools originally taught poor children trades such as carpentry and building skills for which they could progress to gain apprenticeships and employment. As the National School system and vocational schools developed in the Irish Republic, the Irish Christian Brothers became more concentrated on secondary education.


As of 2013, the Christian Brothers were living in 280 houses, and numbered 1,149, including one priest.

In 2008 it was reported that not more than ten Christian Brothers were teaching in Irish schools, with the expectation that there would soon be none. This was contrasted with the mid-1960s, when over 1,000 Brothers worked in schools, with no shortage of new recruits.

Organizational structure of the Christian Brothers

Geographically, the Christian Brothers are divided into several provinces that encompass every inhabited continent. The brothers within each province work under the direction of a Province Leadership Team. In turn, the entire Congregation operates under the leadership of a Congregation Leadership Team that is based in Rome (and led by the Congregation Leader). These provincial and congregational teams are elected on a six-year basis at Congregation chapters.

Restructuring has taken place in the congregation to account for the changing needs, in particular the declining number of brothers in the developed world. The three provinces of North America (Canada, Eastern American, and Western American Province) restructured into the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers North America on 1 July 2005. The provinces that cover Ireland, England and the Congregational Leadership Team in Rome combined into a single European province on May 5, 2007, while the five provinces covering Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea combined into one Oceania province on October 1, 2007, The English Province is a registered charity. The Dublin Headquarters are in the grounds of Marino Institute of Education, Claremont, Griffith Avenue, Dublin 9, Ireland.

A special community within this new European province will be based in Geneva, Switzerland, working to establish an NGO known as Edmund Rice International. The purpose of such an organisation is to gain what is known as a "general consultative status" with the United Nations. "This position allows groups the opportunity to challenge systemic injustice and to engage in advocacy work with policy makers on behalf of people who are made poor." As well as including Christian Brothers from provinces all over the world, members of the Presentation Brothers will also have a presence within this community.

Edmund Rice Development is a faith-based non-governmental organisation with charity status in Ireland. Based in Dublin, Edmund Rice Development was established in 2009, to formalise the fundraising efforts of the developing world projects for the Christian Brothers globally and received its charitable status in 2009. Funding raised by the charity is directed mainly to nine countries in Africa, where The Christian Brothers work on mission in development: Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Additional funds are also raised for similar work in South America (Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay) and India.

List of Superiors General

The following is a list of the Superiors General of the Congregation of Christian Brothers. In recent times, "Congregational Leader" has been the title used.

  1. Blessed Br. Edmund Ignatius Rice, C.F.C. (1820 – 1838)
  2. Br. Michael Paul Riordan, C.F.C. (1838 – 1862)
  3. Br. James Aloysius Hoare, C.F.C. (1862 – 1880)
  4. Br. Richard Anthony Maxwell, C.F.C. (1880 - 1900)
  5. Br. Michael Titus Moylan, C.F.C. (1900 - 1905)
  6. Br. Calasanctius Whitty, C.F.C.(1905 - 1920)
  7. Br. Jerome Hennessey C.F.C (1920 - 1930)
  8. Br. Joseph Pius Noonan, C.F.C. (1930 - 1950)
  9. Br. Edward Ferdinand Clancy C.F.C (1950 - 1966)
  10. Br. Arthur Austin Loftus (1966 - 1972)
  11. Br. Justin Linus Ketty, C.F.C. (1972 – 1978)
  12. Br. Gerald Gabriel McHugh, C.F.C. (1978 – 1990)
  13. Br. Jerome Colm Keating, C.F.C. (1990 – 1997)
  14. Br. Edmund Michael Garvey, C.F.C. (1997 – 2002)
  15. Br. Philip Pinto, C.F.C. (2002 – 2014)
  16. Br. Hugh O'Neill, CFC (2014 – present)

Irish nationalism

The Irish Christian Brothers were strong supporters of Irish nationalism, the Irish language revival and Irish sports. In most of their schools in Ireland Gaelic football and hurling were encouraged as opposed to other sports and there were even examples of boys being punished for playing soccer. Conor Cruise O'Brien called them "the most indefatigable and explicit carriers" of the Catholic nation idea.

Sexual abuse of children

In the late 20th and early 21st century many cases were exposed of continuing emotional, physical and sexual abuse of children in the Christian Brothers' care over many decades. Cases emerged in Ireland, Canada, the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom.


Convicted sex-offenders in Australia include Brother Robert Best, who taught at Catholic primary and secondary schools in Ballarat, Box Hill and Geelong (all in Victoria, Australia) between the 1960s and 1980s. He was convicted by a jury after pleading guilty to more than 40 child sex offences against dozens of students, some as young as eight years old. Robert Best was sentenced to fourteen years and nine months jail on August 8, 2011. Many of his victims were in court for the sentencing and shouted at him as he was led away. In May 2013 the Christian Brothers admitted to Victoria's parliamentary inquiry into child abuse that they did what they could to defend members accused of sexual assault against children. They admitted to hiring a private investigator to follow one of Brother Robert Best's victims. They spent nearly A$1 million defending Best, and hundreds of thousands to defend other members also accused of rape.

In December 2014 a royal commission found that "Christian Brothers leaders knew of allegations of sexual abuse of children at four WA orphanages and failed to manage the homes to prevent the systemic ill-treatment for decades." The minutes of the meeting of the Christian Brothers Provincials with their lawyers on 7 December 1993 showed that the meeting was not focused on settling the proceedings; the concern was the cost, and there was no sentiment of recognising the suffering of the survivors.

During the 2016 Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Ballarat it was found that 853 children, average age 13, had been sexually abused by one or more Christian Brothers. Child abuse complaints were made against 281 Christian Brothers, and the Congregation had paid A$37.3 million in compensation.


In December 2012 the Christian Brothers school St Ambrose College, Altrincham, Greater Manchester was implicated in a child sex abuse case involving teaching staff carrying out acts of abuse both on and off school grounds.


The Congregation of the Christian Brothers published full-page advertisements in newspapers in Ireland in March 1998, apologizing to former pupils who had been ill-treated whilst in their care. This advertising campaign expressed "deep regret" on behalf of the Christian Brothers and listed telephone lines which former pupils could ring if they needed help. In 2003 the Congregation brought a case against the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse seeking to prevent the Commission from naming brothers accused of child abuse. This case was lost in the High Court, but the congregation appealed to the Supreme Court. The appeal was dropped when the Commission agreed not to name brothers. In May 2009 a report was issued by an independent government commission on child abuse committed on thousands of children in residential care institutions run by various religious institutes for the Irish state. This report found that sexual abuse of boys in institutions run by the Brothers was common. In response, the Irish ecclesiastical province issued a pledge to pay 161 million euros toward a fund set up to compensate male and female victims of such abuse in both their institutions and those run by other religious institutes. As of 2013 the Christian Brothers in Ireland continued to seek out-of-court settlement for historical claims initiated by survivors of sexual assault by Brothers committed in day schools managed by the order in Ireland. Towards Healing was set up by CORI to offer therapy to survivors of clerical abuse; it is a Catholic organisation about whose independence there has been controversy. The Christian brothers in Ireland used the services of the L&P group to set up an education trust, its intent being disputed by the liquidator of the Christian Brothers organisation in Canada, representing victims claiming reparations. As of December 2001 the liquidator was preparing to investigate an Irish-registered company in his search for tens of millions of pounds of the organisation’s assets.


The headmaster and a teacher at St Ninian's Orphanage, Falkland, Fife, run by the Christian Brothers were in 2016 convicted of sexual abuse of boys from 1979 and 1983. More than 100 charges involving 35 boys were made. The orphanage closed in 1983.


In 1987 men came forward to say that when they were being raised in Mount Cashel Orphanage in St. John's Newfoundland from the 1950s until the 1970s they had suffered physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, and that when the Archdiocese became aware of the abuse, it removed brothers who were guilty of these acts, but took no other immediate action. Both the St. John's Archdiocese through the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops as well as the Congregation of Christian Brothers have since enacted policies aimed at the prevention of child sexual abuse.

United States

Christian Brother Robert Brouillette, who had taught at St. Laurence High School, was arrested in April 1998 in Joliet, Illinois, for indecent solicitation of a child. He was convicted in March 2000 of 10 charges related to child pornography. In 2002 a civil lawsuit was filed in Cook County, Illinois, against Brouillette for sexual assault against a 21-year-old man.

In 2013 the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers North American Province, known as Irish Christian Brothers paid US$16.5 million to 400 victims of child sexual abuse across the US, and agreed to enforce a zero-tolerance policy for brothers accused of abuse. This followed the Brothers filing for bankruptcy in April 2011 following rising legal costs, leading to a reorganization settlement between creditors and the order according to the US Chapter 11 bankruptcy code.


The Christian brothers composed and published a number of text books on several subjects, many in the Irish language, which were used by their schools.


  • Irish History Reader, Christian Brothers, M. H. Gill & Son, 1905.
  • Graiméar na Gaeidhilge, Na Bráithre Críostaí, 1907.
  • Matamaitic na hArdteistiméireachta Na Bráithre Críostaí, 1967.
  • Leaving Certificate Chemistry, Christian Brothers Congregation, Folens, Dublin, 1970?.
  • Leaving Certificate Physics [translated from the Irish], Christian Brothers Congregation, Folens, Dublin, 1973.
  • Our Boys

    Our Boys was a magazine for boys by Christian Brothers and the Educational Company of Ireland, published from September 1914 until the 1990s. It was based on British Boys Own adventure comics, with illustrated strips and adventure stories in English and Irish. It had an overt Catholic and Irish Nationalist outlook, featuring Irish Legends, GAA figures, the Missions and Catholic juvenile organisations. Illustrator Gerrit van Gelderen contributed to the magazine.

    Notable Christian Brothers

  • John Philip Holland – inventor of the motor-powered submarine
  • Paul Francis Keaney – Australian educator
  • Joseph G. McKenna – American educator
  • Paul Nunan – Australian educator
  • Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice – founder of the Christian Brothers and the Presentation Brothers
  • Michael Paul Riordan – Irish early Christian Brother and second Superior General of the congregation
  • Patrick Ambrose Treacy – Australian educator and leader of the first Australian community of Christian Brothers
  • The television miniseries The Boys of St. Vincent is a fictional story based on real events of sexual abuse that took place at Mount Cashel Orphanage in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, an orphanage run by the Christian Brothers.
  • The play The Christian Brothers, first performed in 1975 and written by Ron Blair, is a one-man show depicting a Christian Brother teaching at a Catholic school in Australia in the 1950s, focusing much on the Brother's use of corporal punishment.
  • References

    Congregation of Christian Brothers Wikipedia