Not Words But Deeds
Who is Nano Nagle?
Nano (Honoria) Nagle was born in Ballygriffin, Country Cork, Ireland in 1718. She was the foundress of the Presentation Sisters and pioneer of Catholic education in Ireland.
Her family were devout Catholics who had managed to hold on to their land in penal times, when landownership and education were forbidden to Catholics. They were connected to some of the most prominent families in Munster and their ancestors had lived in the area for hundreds of years.
Nano was educated in Paris and enjoyed an active social life. The family had relatives in Paris and Nano lived with them for some years to escape the persecution of Catholics in her homeland. While enjoying the social life and the freedom that living in Paris allowed, Nano maintained a strong faith and sense of social justice.
Between 1746 and 1748 Nano's life was marked by grief. Having returned to Ireland to be with her family,she now had to endure the death of both her parents and her sister Ann. Nano returned to Paris and entered a convent.
During her time in the convent Nano struggled with the problem of what to do about the poor in Ireland. She prayed, she consulted, she sought advice from the more eminent for their experience, they unanimously declared that to instruct poor children in Ireland was doubtless the object of Nano's vocation.
Finally Nano decided that she could be of more use to the poor by actively helping them rather than by prayer alone. She returned to Cork, Ireland in 1750 to set up the first of her schools. It was based in Cove Lane and although Catholic schools were illegal at that time it soon had several hundred pupils.
Although it was not unusual for ladies, Catholic or Protestant, to interest themselves in charitable activities in Ireland at that time, they usually did so from the safety of their parlours or committee rooms. Nano's first school was a mud cabin in a very poor part of town.
Nano Nagle spent all of her considerable fortune on establishing schools for the poor of the Cork. In the school the children were taught to pray, work, read and write. Nano lived with her brother and his family who supported her charitable works and who often pleaded with her to reduce her efforts as her health was suffering.
The Lady with the Lantern
In the evenings after her schools were closed, Nano was a familiar sight in the city's dark and dangerous streets, seeking out the hungry, the homeless and the elderly. With her lantern in hand, she tended to anyone who was in need, but particularly to destitute women.
By 1770 Nano and her supporters had decided that a religious foundation was necessary to ensure the permanence of her project to educate the poor. Nano set up her own sisterhood. It was the first female religious group in Ireland to combine religious life with systematic; charitable works.
In 1783 Nano established a home for aged and destitute women and she asked her companion to personally tend to the needs of these women. By 1784, Nano's health was very poor yet she continued to walk the streets giving aid to the poor and hungry.
Nano died from tuberculosis on April 26th at the age of 65.
The Presentation Sisters
The religious group of women who has chosen to work with Nano eventually became the Presentation Sisters in 1805, 21 years after Nano's death. The order expand rapidly, as it did in the 19th century. By the late eighteenth century the Order had spread to England, Scotland, America,India and Australia.
The founding story of Nano Nagle is still taught in all Presentation Sisters convents. She is always known simply as Nano Nagle never by the religious name she adopted in 1776.
Her historical importance lies in the fact that she was the first woman in Ireland to set up a women religious group to run projects which catered mainly for poor females. The schools provided girls with survival skills and resources they could not otherwise have acquired.
Nano's motto was 'All for God's poor'. She often said.
"If I could be of service in saving souls in any part of the world I would gladly do all in my power. Where there is a need I will go."
The Nano Nagle Prayer
Read More About Nano Nagle
- Nano Nagle
A short article about the life of Nano Nagle.
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