Bishop Ray Browne’s Homily at the School Prayer Service to mark the 90th anniversary of the Presentation Secondary School, Castleisland, on Friday 24th November 2017
Briefly let us recall the detail of Nano Nagle’s life. In 2018 it will be 300 years since her birth. She was from a wealthy merchant family in Cork. After a childhood and youth where she had the best of everything, in her thirties, in the late 1740’s, she gradually became convinced she could use her wealth to help the poor: she saw so many poor families with nothing, – maybe not that different from families in some crowded refugee camps today.
She could give them education. She gathered helpers, she paid the teachers from her own money, she worked with the priests, and she ended up with seven schools in the city. For ten or fifteen years she did all this as a single person. Then, because she could see no other way to ensure the work would continue, she founded an Order of Religious Sisters, what we know of as the Presentation Sisters. This was in the 1770’s. She died in 1784 aged 66.The new Order struggled; at the time of her death it had maybe just five or six Sisters.
But seeds sown yielded a rich and enduring harvest. Today, 233 years later, there are over 1200 Sisters worldwide. The Sisters came to Killarney from Cork in 1793, and to Castleisland from Limerick in 1946. In recent years a sister in Australia, Noela Fox, wrote a novel, “A Dream Unfolds”, based on Nano Nagle’s life. It wonderfully captures her life and times. Maybe for her tri-centenary many of us could read it. It is a powerful account of history, of the reality of poverty, of courage, of love, and of faith in God.
Gospel Mt 6:24-34 “Look at the birds in the sky, your heavenly Father feeds them. Think of the flowers growing in the fields. Will God not much more look after you, you of little faith? So do not worry.”
When I am free to choose a Gospel for a Liturgy, my choice most often is this Gospel. It touches on the very heart of our faith.
- There is a loving God.
- God the Creator loves his creation and the human family at the heart of it.
- God has provided for us. God will continue to provide.
- Love, not evil or cynicism, nor chaos, love is at the heart of creation.
- God has revealed himself in Jesus. God had prepared the way in the people of Israel. In Jesus, God has come to be with us always.
Remember today’s Gospel. If lifelong you only remember one sentence about your faith let it be:
“I know God loves me and cares for me. I trust in God.”
- I trust in God.
- I am a person of faith.
- I see every person as a child of God.
- I believe in the dignity and infinite value of every person.
Belief in the dignity, goodness and value of every person was what motivated Nano Nagle. She visited families who lived in desperate conditions. She saw parents desperately longing that at least their young children would have a better life. She started schools . . .
Remember she was an ordinary person in the community. Yet, a strange thing! She personally involved herself in the religion classes in all the schools. The schools taught all the practical things, – Nano taught the faith. Why? Why? Nano Nagle was convinced that faith in God brought out the best in people.
- Knowing God
- Knowing God’s love for us
- Knowing God’s help is always there for us
- Knowing that loving one another, seeking to be loving in all that we do, brings out the best in us as human beings.
She knew God was truly good for our hearts and souls.
Nano Nagle wanted the children to read and write, she wanted them to develop their abilities and talents, and she wanted them to know God loved them. Nano Nagle’s conviction is the conviction of every Presentation Convent community and school.
A final word about the ‘lantern’ that lit Nano Nagle’s path through the night streets of Cork . It lit the path to the houses of the poor for her. The lantern also lit the path of her calling in life, her vocation to bring help and hope to the poor, to bring Christ’s love to the poor. In serving the poor she was serving Christ.
The lantern was also a light for the poor amid their desperate lives. With no money, no work, no food, nothing for their children; to catch a glimpse of the light carried by Nano Nagle, was light appearing in their darkness. It was the light of some help, the light of some hope for their children, the light of education. It was the light of the presence of God and his love and care for them. That light shone in Nano Nagle, in the Sisters, and in the work of the schools.
In our time may people continue to find joy in taking up Nano Nagle’s lantern and going out to the needy and the poor. For people in poverty and desolation may the day come when amid their darkness they glimpse the light of a lantern approach; a lantern heralding Christ’s love and care coming into their lives. May the symbol of the lantern continue to inspire the whole school community here in Castleisland.
Bishop Ray Browne