Meet a woman
“Meet a woman whose
love was stronger than
the viciousness, greed
and violence that
swamped her city and
She was a woman of
and indefatigable zeal for her faith”.
~ Adapted from Salvador Fink, OFM
Nano Nagle Cork’s Lady of the Lantern
“Benefitting from an education in Europe Nano Nagle lived a lifestyle that would have been the envy of many, moving in social circles that allowed her to meet interesting, attractive and influential people. But as well as being educated to take her place in society her heart was also open to being moved by the struggles of those less fortunate around her and the challenges imposed by the inequalities on her doorstep”.
Just as in our own lives, Nano came to a point where changes in her personal and family circle brought her close to the harsh reality of life for people deprived of all that she could most easily have taken for granted. This could also be said to describe our own experience today as we are challenged and made aware of the crucial issues impacting on those around us who are facing sufferings of any kind.
Nano Nagle’s story is not solely an historic one, rather, it can be an inspiration, if we follow it through, and recognise the legacy that is evolving today from those choices made by Nano Nagle then, and the choices that now continue to be made by Presentation people everywhere.
Nano Nagle’s story – is also ours
Nano was confronted (after returning from Paris in the 1800’s) with the dehumanising effects and social injustices of the penal code: “the law did not exist for an Irish Catholic, nor did the law presume and Irish Catholic to exist”. This young woman, with every possibility of a privileged and gentle life was at once prepared in response to lose the friends of years, to leave the city of her choice, and to work anywhere if it would be of benefit to ‘those made poor’.
Nano took on these challenges with undaunted trust and courage and an unwavering confidence in God’s love, and particularly in his care for the poor.
In responding to God’s call through her ministry, she restored human dignity, freedom and hope to people for whom these values had been just a dream. With her companions she was present and active in the human struggle and was seen to alleviate it.
Nano Nagle had a conviction that God had called her. She saw the immensity of the work and she was not naïve to the challenges and dangers inherent in undertaking it. However, her idealism led her beyond seeing how things were, to understanding how God intended things to be.
As a child initially sent to France in safety, to study, she returned to Ireland as a mature woman in her 30’s (with a woman’s heart and mind) striving, with huge compassion to address the realities of life in Ireland for those made and kept poor, willing to walk a path very different from the ways of her youth. Nano allowed herself to be touched by the struggles of her time.
Addressing the struggles of our time
At various times and in various places God continues to invite us to be in partnership with Him in creating a more just and caring world. The creative Spirit of God awakens many different responses in people’s hearts. Indeed, there are a multitude of invitations available to women today and one could say that the call to Presentation Life today is as challenging and radical as it ever was.
The poet David Whyte has spoken and written about a ‘spacious sense of unselfish and ultimately generous uniqueness within each of us’. In this paradoxical life of ‘social distancing’ and at the same time ‘spaceless-ness’ during this Covid-19 pandemic, we are somehow sensitised to recognise the inspiration and resources that exist within those around us.
In these ‘unknowing and unknown days’ it is good to tap into the sources of wisdom and light that come from the lives of many of our Sisters. It is grounded on their ministry of prayer and action locally and globally.
Here are just a few insights:
Frances is a Presentation Sisters’ liaison with Sophia Housing (Ireland). Sophia currently houses 259 adults and 169 children, with another 108 people supported in outreach programs that help older people as well as those with disabilities. It also provides training, education, nurturing and parenting services. Frances feels that this work with Sophia ties in with the housing outreach of our founder Nano Nagle, who through one of her many social projects provided a safe home for poor elderly women in 18th-century Cork.
Frances says: “Housing is one of the greatest needs of our times. […] “We see the ethos of Sophia in looking after the vulnerable and excluded as close to the hearts of Presentation Sisters; we see ourselves involved in this by providing properties we can no longer use for our own ministries.” (Frances Crowe, pbvm)
Lillie shares her experiences in ministry saying:
“I have been active in numerous ministries and I have learned so much about courage, resilience and a joy of celebrating life. During my time in Chile, Ecuador and South America, the poverty of the people there opened my eyes to the inequality of access to resources that exists in our world”. (Lillie O’Reilly, pbvm)
“My journey [to Africa] took three weeks! There was no doubt that I was very lonely leaving my parents and family for another continent. I was to spend 48 years there”. (Philomena Ryan, pbvm)
“I remember when I was about twelve years old watching a film on Nano Nagle and the ‘something’ that captured me was her spirit. I said to myself: “If she could, why can’t I?” And it is this dream that is still with me today. What Nano actually inspired in me was to be of service”. (Sheila D’Sa, pbvm)
“We ask ourselves the question, if Nano Nagle came back today, what would she be doing? I think she would be doing just this”. (Pauline McGaley, pbvm – speaking as CEO of Warrenmount Community Education Centre)
And some collaborations:
Presentation Sisters also actively contribute by collaborating with many projects on the ground e.g. with the work of APT (Act to Prevent Trafficking) a faith-based group working against Trafficking in Persons (TIP). The members of APT belong to religious congregations or missionary societies which are part of AMRI (the Association of Leaders of Missionaries and Religious of Ireland). They have a wide network of international contacts through colleagues working in countries from which trafficked people originate. As well as addressing the evil of human trafficking, they use this network to help victims and to work on prevention.
Angela writes: “Human Trafficking is the fastest growing illegal trade in the world as well as the most lucrative. We are told you can only sell drugs and arms once, but you can sell a human being many times. […] I am continually inspired and motivated by the commitment of the Sisters in the group. The creativity and passion are palpable. Two quotes from speakers at our Conferences keep me active. One is ‘The eye cannot see what the mind is unaware of’”. And the other, a victim of Human Trafficking shared with us, saying that Human Trafficking is all around us ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’ – we chose this as a title for one of our conferences”. (Angela Dolan, pbvm)
Imelda has been actively committed to Prison Chaplaincy for more than 20 years. She describes this experience as a dream come true, saying: “I had found my true vocation in life, a vocation within a vocation. I felt an overwhelming surge of gratitude”.
“The Kingdom of God ‘on Earth, as in Heaven’ will be realised when in a just, caring and forgiving society, right relationships are restored and the people of God have learned to live as brothers and sisters in the family of God and His kingdom”.
And continues: “All of those who have destroyed the lives of their victims do not cease to be our brothers and sisters. This is a way for us to continue to find ways to ‘love the sinner and hate the sin’. I believe that each and every one of us needs to become the voice of restorative justice in our society, as a means of renewal and restoration both individually and as communities”. (Imelda Wickham, pbvm)
These life experiences shared by our Sisters remind us to continue to open our hearts wide to understand well ‘what is ours to do’ by being vigilant, responsive and courageous to the creative awakening of the Spirit of God in our lives, more especially during this Covid-19 experience of pandemic which knows no borders of either country nor heart.
See this article by Sarah MacDonald for Global Sisters Report 29 Oct 2020 – Sophia Housing & Mercy Law take a holistic approach to homelessness in Ireland
Note: The initial inspirational source for the content of this article came from reading an account of Nano Nagle’s Bicentenary Celebrations (1718-1784) that took place in Ireland in 1984.
The opening poem ‘A Woman’s Heart’ is adapted from the original by Salvador Fink, OFM and was taken from the prayer resource ‘Praying Our Journey’ that was prepared by the Presentation Sisters Union for the Tercentenary Year of Nano Nagle’s birth in 2018.
To find out about Nano Nagle check out any of the ‘Tags’ on the front page of our website with Nano’s name in them https://presentationsistersne.ie/