It takes time to begin to get to know someone. Often it happens bit by bit as you get close up to their life. You hear things they have said and done and you listen to stories retold and shared by those who know and love them. But often it is the case that you get to know and understand someone a whole lot better by being able to visit ‘their home’ in the company of friends, walk their neighbourhood, and be physically present in their space.
This in some way is what is gradually happening to me as I try to get to know who Nano Nagle is. From the outset of my encounters with her through the lives of Presentation Sisters around me, it has become very clear that Nano is not an historic figure relegated to ‘romantic memories’ of the past with tales retold and embellished in the telling. There was nothing fluffy and romantic about the challenges of the period in which she lived and how with others, she worked to establish her schools and carry out so many social actions in Cork city and surrounds (it was 19th Century Penal Ireland after all).
It is becoming clear to me that ‘Nano is’, through the diverse and still demanding ministries wisely informed and developed through her evolving Charism, by those faithful to it down the centuries, right up to the present day. This practical expression of ministry by Presentation Sisters across the world continues to make her life relevant to us and to our times. These may seem like thoughts for other times but there is something current and of the moment about ‘being on your feet’ and being active where you are most needed in the black spots of society today – whether that be Ireland or Cambodia, America, Asia or Europe.
I went recently to visit the newly developed Nano Nagle Place in South Presentation, Cork City. This helped me ‘place Nano’ (as they would say where I am from) when you try to get a handle on the ‘seed, breed and generation’ of another person. Who their parents, grandparents and great grandparents were and how they came to be in that particular place? While there, I followed a stream of faces and stories from the ‘global village’ captured by a moving, vibrant, interactive space that is the Heritage Centre in Nano Nagle’s place. I quite literally and emotionally, touched off the lives of women inspired by her life who upped, left all, to go and do, and help and work for those made poor by circumstance. It is still happening now.
But I was reminded most of her humanity, through links of kinship and womanhood, when I stood in the room across from her parlour and experienced the powerful statement made by the simplicity of some of her essential much used belongings. Especially by the hat that fit her head, that held the thought and inspiration of a woman of her time, who saw well beyond that time, in so very many ways. A room, a place, a grave, a neighbourhood cannot contain nor can it curtail in time and space the largeness of this heart, because opening hearts of others always wider to the world in response to what she saw in front of her, is her particular skill.
Today our capacity to see in front of us is larger than the streets surrounding us. Our thoroughfares and path ways are the ‘broadband streams of life’ that absorb our hearing, seeing, feeling every moment of the day. The near is far away and the faraway brought near.