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225th Anniversary of Nano’s Death – 26 April 2009
Riches and poverty, beauty and squalor,
In India, Pakistan and Papua New Guinea,
The Philippines, Slovakia and Thailand —
Paining with Mother Earth, walking with those made poor.
Everywhere faith-filled daughters and granddaughters of Erin …
Generations of English, Australians, New Zealanders,
Canadians, North and South Americans,
Treading the Presentation Path – respecting “the little ones” —
seeking new ways to “use their silk” — to follow their call.
In their stardust moments they ask!
For what do we wait?
How can we tread yet once more
“One step beyond”?
Lois Greene pbvm, Newfoundland and Labrador
I hope it may prosper hereafter …
With a confidence that owed little or nothing to the surface realities, Nano believed in the future effectiveness of their work. For years it seemed that Mary Ann Collins, Mary Fouhy and Elizabeth Burke would remain her only companions. At various times young women joined the group and then departed. No new member reached Profession before death deprived them of Elizabeth Burke in April 1783, though by then there were four novices. In sharp contrast, the Ursuline community numbered fifteen professed Sisters. There was no immediate prospect of Nano’s fulfilling her promise to Francis Moylan, since 1775 Bishop of Kerry, of a foundation in Killarney. Nano knew what it was to experience depression, yet her trust did not waver. Fifteen m onths before her death, in the last of her extant letters, she wrote to Teresa:
Though [neither] you not I should not [sic] live to see it prosper in our time, yet I hope it may prosper hereafter and be of universal service in the Kingdom. I comfort myself with this thought when I am most dejected by the many disappointments I have met with. (LXVI)
Many years later, Mary Ann Collins’ memories of Nano’s unshaken confidence were recorded by M Clare Callaghan in her letters to Dr Coppinger.
She often expressed to our Superioress the consolation she should feel could she see a second house established before her death. Such conversation she always closed by saying, “Ah, my little Sister, be assured it will certainly flourish after our death.” (LXXVII)
It is difficult to escape the impression that Nano had received some interior reassurance regarding the future of her work. The confidence with which she inspired Mary Ann Collins was to survive the tragic losses of the months following Nano’s death, and to sustain the depleted community in its struggle for survival.
Raphael Consedine pbvm, Listening Journey (pg 74)
April 26, 1784-2009
In Celebration of the 225 anniversary of her death
In God’s good time
she pursued a dream
that could not be deferred.
In Cork City
this servant of Divine Providence
defied penal oppression
and planted hope.
With undaunted courage
she stood her ground with the poor,
educated the disadvantaged
and attracted kindred spirits
in the ready
to spend themselves
for what could yet be.
Through her words
and by her deeds,
in her living and her dying,
became the lantern.
Corine Murray pbvm, Dubuque
To Nano Nagle
Take down your lantern from its niche and go out!
You may not dwell in firelight certainties,
Secure from drifting fog of doubt and fear.
You may not build yourself confining walls
And say: ‘Thus far, and thus, and thus far shall I walk,
And these things shall I do, and nothing more.’
Go out! For need calls loudly in the winding lanes
And you must seek Christ there.
Your pilgrim heart
Shall urge you still one pace beyond,
And love shall be your lantern-flame.
They know her in the crowded lonely ways
woman of welcoming heart, whose lantern sheds
kind beams for eyes waste-minded by the weary miles,
for them her hands are open, for her their doors.
Room is made by dim and smoking fire, some small crust shared,
and she, receiving, knows still more to give,
and, welcomed, grows in art of welcoming.
Apart, in shadowed hours of night and dawn,
leaning heart to heart on the One who pulses life
into the lowliest and least of all that lives,
she learns to unclasp the last-kept store
and lay it down in welcome: ‘Take and share.
‘Until, the last loaf broken, the last wine poured,
she can dare the outer darkness, the fine-piercing sword,
and bear to be bereft…
heart-certain that beyond this last black mile
light streams from beckoning windows and from wide-flung door,
where she will hear the voice grown dear in silent listening years:
‘Woman of welcoming heart, here is your home.’
The two poems above are from Songs for the Journey by Raphael Consedine pbvm, published by Presentation Sisters Victoria, 73 Grey Street, West St Kilda Vic 3182 Australia, Phone (61 3) 9534 7044.
Hospitality of the Heart
When Nano Nagle took as her religious patron St John of God, she was giving expression to one of her deepest spiritual insights arising from her contemplation of the incarnate Word – her acceptance of His own identification of Himself with man-in-need. The sixteenth century Portuguese adventurer had been converted from a life of self-satisfaction to one of humble service of the poor. In Paris Nano had seen the continued living out of his vision of love in the Hôpital de la Charité. A legend popularised in the stories of his life clothed spiritual reality in telling of how he had washed and kissed the feet of a beggar brought in from the street, only to find them marked with wounds, and to hear a voice saying to him, “John, to Me is done all that you do for the poor in My Name. I reach out my hands for the alms you give. Mine are the feet that you wash.”
The parallel with Nano’s own life is too clear to be dismissed. Dr Coppinger speaks of the manner in which she entertained the fifty beggars to dinner each Christmas Day, “her faith strongly representing to her the great Patron of the poor, who on that day made His first appearance amongst men”. In this perception of Christ’s presence in the least of His brothers, was born and nourished that extensive compassion which excluded no one who came under her notice. It freed her from judgmental attitudes to exercise a many-faceted charity. Yet this ‘hospitality of the heart’ was beautifully simple, wholly in touch with the daily reality.
Raphael Consedine pbvm, Listening Journey (pg 87)
Everything that was in her power to do
[Nano’s] decision to enter a convent was a mistake, for she gained no peace there, being constantly tormented by the voices of the poor, particularly the children, calling for her return. Their “idleness, dishonesty, impiety, drunkenness (became) like spectres stalking before her.” She cried, she prayed, she used every excuse – the severity of the Penal Laws, her health, her age, her lack of ready money, her lack of expertise, anything she could think of, but all to no avail. She consulted the Jesuit confessor, whose advice she obviously dallied with, until he admonished her that she was endangering her soul by her refusal to listen. Her vocation, he declared, was to instruct the poor children of Ireland, and that although the laws might hinder her from doing as much as she wished, they could not prevent her from doing everything that was in her power to do.
Armed with the faith and courage she had inherited from her family and been nurtured with from childhood, Nano decided to return to Ireland… She would set up a school in Cork. Education, she believed would help replace superstition with true faith, ignorance with knowledge, hopelessness with hope and self-esteem. Her people would have the skills, knowledge and confidence to obtain work, the cycle of crime and poverty could be broken and the darkness of the Penal Laws expelled.
Noela M Fox pbvm, Out of Darkness
The Ursuline sisters were so grateful when Nano became their patroness. She provided a wonderful convent, food, and emotional support for them. They loved her so much. But they couldn’t understand why she would not move into their home. It seemed so foolish to spend money on two houses — one for her and one for them. They couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t let them care for her. So one night, the young novices had a great idea — as young novices are apt to do! They knew Nano wasn’t home; she was always out late at night. They waited until dark, slipped down the lane to her cottage, took her bed and began pushing it up the street to the convent. The bed made so much noise they thought for sure everyone would hear it!!! They took it into a room right inside the back door, lit the fireplace, turned down the bed and waited for Nano to come. And she came. Lovingly she resisted their pleading to stay. No, she must not stay. She must go.
Nano did not know where she was supposed to go. She just knew where she was not supposed to stay. She knew she was not supposed to be in security and certainty. She knew she was not supposed to be cloistered and safe.
We don’t know where we are supposed to go. We just know where we are NOT supposed to be. We know we are not supposed to be in communities with large, growing populations, in communities with power and prestige, in secure, cloistered, safe communities. I hear people speak of Benedictine spirituality, Franciscan spirituality … and I believe that one of the roots of Presentation spirituality began the night Nano knew where her bed was NOT supposed to be.
Elena Hoye pbvm (President, Conference of Presentation Sisters)