15. Nano Nagle – Angel of Mercy

Scripture reading for Monday 14 March 2016         Mark 6: 53 – 56

“… All those who touched him were cured…”

The miracles indicate the Kingdom of God is near. We are ambassadors for God’s Word. Our parents and grandparent showed us the way. Who is your role model?  I look to a lady I greatly admire, a woman of love, a woman of mercy.  She ministered to the children, the sick people, to all those in need. She pointed them to the Kingdom of God. She taught them about the miracles, she taught how to pray through word and example.


Nano Nagle (christened Honora) was born into a1718 of a long-standing Catholic family at Ballygriffin, near Mallow Co .Cork. Her home was in the beautiful valley of the River Blackwater, backed by the Nagle Mountains to the south. Her father was Garret Nagle, a wealthy landowner in the area; her mother, Ann Mathews,was from an equally prominent family in Co. Tipperary. Like others  of the old Catholic gentry, the Nagles had managed to hold on to most of their land and wealth during the era of the Penal Laws in the eighteenth century.

Nano was sent to France to be educated because of the situation in Ireland. After the death of her father, she and her sister returned to Ireland and went to live with their mother in Dublin. When Nano discovered that her sister Ann had given away a valuable piece of silk to relieve a distressed family, it set her thinking about how she herself might serve the poor. At first this sent her back to Paris to find her vocation, as she thought, by praying for them as a member of a religious order. However, it was while she was there that a perceptive spiritual director advised her to return to Ireland and take up the education of deprived children there. She went back to Cork, where her brother Joseph lived, to set up her first little school for the poor, modelled on the “petites écoles” she had seen in France, in a rented mud cabin in Cove Lane, in defiance of the law, and in complete secrecy at first, even from her brother. Her secret was soon discovered by him, as she described in a letter to a friend: “This passed on very well until one day a poor man came to him, begging to speak to me to take his child into my school. On which he came to his wife and me, laughing at the conceit of a man who thought I was in the situation of a school mistress. Then I owned up that I had set up a school.”

The first school in Cove Lane had about thirty children, all the poorest of the poor, in accordance with her purpose from the beginning. Support and pupils soon poured in; within a year the numbers had risen to two hundred: there were five schools for girls and two for boys.

By the time of her death in 1784 she had set up a whole network of such schools in the city, with over four hundred pupils in seven parishes. To support them she used her own considerable wealth, inherited after the death of her uncle Joseph, and when even this ran out, she became a beggar on the streets, at times looking so poor that she was offered alms for herself by passing strangers! True to her own religious education the main aim of her schools, was to provide a sound religious education based on the Douai catechism she would have learned in France. However, being a realist with her feet firmly on the ground, she did not neglect their need for a general education in the basic forms of reading, writing and simple arithmetic.

To put her schools on a more lasting and more professional basis, she decided to bring Ursuline Sisters from France to teach in Cork. But, for various reasons, the experiment as it materialised did not fit in with Nano’s vision. This led to her setting up her own congregation of religious sisters. Thus was established, on Christmas Eve 1775. Nano was the Order’s first superior, known officially as Miss Nagle under the Penal Laws which still prevailed. Her sisters in religion were called Nano’s Walking Nuns. She herself was to become famous as the Lady with the Lantern. Nano’s heart was always centred on the poor and her work did not end with the end of class in her schools; it continued in her visits to the sick and the poor people in their homes in the back streets of Cork. “How often have we seen her, after a well-spent day, returning through the darkness of the night, dripping with rain, mingled in the busy crowd, move thoughtfully along by the faint glimmering of a wretched lantern.”

Her lantern has now become the symbol of the  Presentation Sisters all over the world.

In 2013, Nano, a woman of mercy, a woman of heroic virtue was declared Venerable by Pope Francis.

-Sister Bernadette Doherty, Presentation Sister   

Nano Nagle – Angel of Mercy

She came like an angel of Mercy, with power and trust in her step

carrying the flames of a heart on fire, for the poor, the unloved, the forgotten.

From her night of vigil, she came, renewed by the strength of her God

she gathered the children, consoled the afraid and ensured the hungry were fed.

From daybreak to nightfall, they watched her on her errand of mercy and care

to the sick, the weary and helpless, her lamp a light for the stray.

A far cry from Paris and lights, dancing each night until dawn

Nano taught a new way to be, with the light of love in her step.

May I carry her lantern of mercy in the dance that is faithful and true

to the street and towns of these islands. To the people who need her today.


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