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Historical Masterpiece


By Denis McLaughlin, David Lovell Publishing, Melbourne, $45

Reviewed by Terry Oberg

EDMUND Rice’s path to canonisation has been an ordeal because of lack of hard information.

The procurator of the cause now, surely, has a new ally.

Professor Denis McLaughlin’s epic biography of the founder of the Christian Brothers has re-discovered a man whose memory began to fade and, even, distort, 150 years ago.

This superb piece of historical research sets out to uncover the authentic Edmund Rice whose motivation in setting up two religious teaching orders was not to snatch poor boys from rival Protestant influences but to enable them to live with the human dignity this visionary knew to be the birthright of all.

It was love that inspired him.

This is the Edmund Rice unveiled in these pages, notable for their rigorous exactitude and a white-hot desire to find the truth.

The resultant detailed account makes its case so convincingly that it must, in future, be considered as potent evidence whenever this great educator’s life and apostolate is evaluated.

The title is a philosophical study in itself. The motif is introduced in the frontispiece. “Knowledge is the price of freedom. Know thyself and thou art free.”

It was this invaluable, elusive self-knowledge that Edmund sought to impart to the youthful, impoverished Irish – “the abject poor” as the author describes them. Every chapter revolves around Rice’s desire to pass this on.

The work is divided into four sections.

Two analyse the nature of the original Ricean education.

As compelling as these are even more interesting are the pages revealing how the founder’s message was distorted early in the Christian Brothers’ saga.

Self-indulgent men, often engaging in personal, nationalistic vendettas, became opponents rather than fellow labourers in the vineyard.

This is sad but captivating reading characterised by a thread that binds the book – documentation that is exemplary and unchallengeable.

Section four is a work in progress. An attempt is made to define contemporary Ricean education.

From a universal menu of definitions a synthesis is developed but, as the chapter’s title implies, the ultimate defining words are still in the wings.

The followers of Edmund are still searching.

The Price of Freedom is a most welcome new resource in this hunt for the truth behind a great educator and a genuine man of God.

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