Nano Nagle


  Nano by Carolyn Link, PBVM  


On Christmas Eve, 1775, with a group of like-minded women, Nano Nagle established a religious community that would later become known as the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Nano Nagle (1718-1784) was born in Ireland, which suffered under oppressive British rule. Their strict penal laws barred Irish children from attending school or learning about God. At age 32, Nano secretly gathered the children of the poor, teaching them catechism, reading, writing and mathematics. As word  spread, Nano’s hedge schools increased in number, and more teachers were needed. Nano eventually established seven schools in Cork, Ireland.

Tireless in service, Nano spent her days teaching the children, and her nights caring for the sick and the elderly, bringing them food, medicine and comfort. Captivated by the spirit of the poor she served, she often visited with them late into the night. Lamp in hand, she would return home making her way among the winding lanes. Before long, Nano became known as the “Lady of the Lantern.”

The Nano Nagle Website

The Nano Nagle Mural in the Díseart Centre

Nano Nagle Mural, Dingle Ireland

The Nano Nagle Mural in the Díseart Centre of Irish Spirituality and Culture in Dingle , Ireland

The Nano Nagle Mural in the Díseart Centre of Irish Spirituality and Culture

A mural depicting the life of Nano Nagle now decorates the walls of what used to be the Sisters’ community room in Dingle Co.Kerry, Ireland, where they spent their recreation period in the evening. International mural artist Eleanor Yates painted the work at the invitation of Monsignor Pádraig Ó Fiannachta, Director of the Díseart Institute, who, having seen some of her work in Dingle and in Greeley, California, decided in consultation with the Presentation Sisters to invite her to create a commemoration of Nano.

Artist Ella Yates has embarked on a year-long project with the Presentation Sisters Union which will see her travelling the world to visit places of ministry and work with members of the community to create murals based on the life of Nano Nagle. Ella’s itinerary included stops in England, India, the Philippines, New Zealand and other areas.  The accomplished artist’s work can already be seen in many locations across the globe.

Icon of Nano Nagle


Lucy D’Souza , PBVM

After reading and reflecting on the life of Nano Nagle, I was inspired by her great efforts towards the inward journey and by her love for the poor and for all human beings.

She was deeply rooted in Christ. This strengthened her to reach out to many more people. Hence, she is shown here as a lamp burning for Christ and others. She is in a prayerful posture, according to our Indian tradition. Her rooted ness in Christ enabled her to receive the sap of life to grow, to reach out with great love to the children, the sick, to the needy and to her sisters and to nature.

 I feel she is the “Grain of Wheat” that dies that she and others may have life.

 I see her as the ‘Asvattha tree’ that is mentioned in the Bhagavad-Gita, that is thought to relate to the sun, which is the root of the cosmic tree. Its branches like the rays of the sun come down to Earth. These branches have the fruit of her prayer and her triangular form above her- these are the fiery roots of the tree-the seven gifts of the Spirit symbolizing also the fire on the hill that was lit by St. Patrick. This l thought could be the fire that is lit on the Holy Mountain, Arunachalam at Tiruvanamalaya in Tamil Nadu. This fire is lit on the dark night of the Indian month- Kartik, around November.

 The symbol at the left comer symbolizes the sun and the Sacred Heart inside it. Nano had a great devotion and love for the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The warm colours and petals of the flower symbolize the sun, and the lighter (blue) signifies it to be the day.

 The symbol at the right hand corner: This depicts Mary in the form of a Star with a ‘Shanka’ the conch shell-the word of God in the centre. This tells us also that Mary carried within her the word of God. She is the Morning Star announcing the arrival of the sun.

 Nano in her lifetime was the herald of the Kingdom of God. She had a great devotion to Mary.

 Right hand side First Circle:  Nano has received the light and she passes the light of Christ to her sisters, to go out and share this light with all beings-not only to the humans but to the creatures of the water and vegetation. This is shown blue, green and red colours.

 Circle two: Being ‘Water’ to the other is giving life and Growth. This was Nano’s life. She grew up in close, contact with nature, especially the mountains and rivers. In Ireland, in the Celtic tradition, rivers were considered sacred and so it is in India-we have River   Ganga, Kaveri Yamuna. Here I see her as River herself, giving Life and growth wherever she went. She holds the pot, which again is a symbol of life.

 Circle Three: Nano sharing life with the poor and distressed. In bringing joy to others she also receives joy- as in playing the music, the giver and the receiver both receive and learn. The Celtic cross reminds us that she was from that origin. We are aware that the Celtic and the Indian symbols were very closely linked. We see them in ancient Indian art and Temple art. The Spirit coming down in the form of signifies the word of God coming down to us.

 Circle Four: Caring and consoling the sick and lonely. Nano has said. “If I could be of service in any part of the world in saving souls, I would willing do all in my power.”

 Circle Five: Nano is like the Mother Earth here; she receives and gives the holy vessel that gives life. In doing this, I was reflecting on the theme of the Holy Grail, the Tamil Buddhist legend dating from the third century A.D. where a lady goes about with a bowl in her hand. This bowl belonged to Buddha once. Manimekhalai now goes with this bowl and feeds the hungry from this inexhaustible bowl.

Manimekhalai is the main person in this legend from Tamil Nadu who goes around with the bowl of the Buddha.

 Circle Six: Nano brings light to the children. She has no book, no classroom,  but  much  like  Tag ore’s idea  to  sit  under  a  tree and  learn  from heart to heart. I was also thinking of the Gandhian idea of education that we are to allow the child the space and environment to express, draw out and to grow. Coming back to the centre Icon, Nano sits like a Yogi, holding the flame at Her centre. In a way, she looks inward. She has the halo of the sunflower, signifying the sacred space and Holy, (saintly) person.

 Nano lived long ago in the 18th century. She started the Religious Order of Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She continues her work of hope, love and sunshine to many children and people through her sisters. The yellow colour in the circles symbolizes the light and sunshine she carries to all in need.

 She challenges us to answer the need of the time, to read the signs of the time and act accordingly.

 She is dressed in orange-the colour of the mendicant in India­ complemented with blue-the spiritual colour that is usually used.

 Nano tells us, “Love one another as you have done until now.” This could be the point of departure for us as we see this painting.

Lucy D’Souza , PBVM
Silvepura, India
January 1993


Commemorating Venerable Nano

When Pope Francis declared Presentation founder Nano Nagle Venerable on 31 October 2013
there was a huge amount of celebration amongst Presentation Congregations, friends and
associates across the globe. Read how Presentations Sisters and friends celebrated this occassion around the globe. CUL Special Edition #35

To Nano Nagle

lantern_ovalTake 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.
    by Raphael Consedine, PBVM

Woman of Welcoming Heart



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 (613) 9534 7044.

Hospitality of the Heart

heart_of_the_matterWhen 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


Lantern Flame, 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 months 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)

Valiant Woman

Nano Nagle, April 26, 1784-2009
In Celebration of the 225 anniversary of her death

Nano-Nagle-IconA saint walked among us
and graced us with her life.

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,
Nano, herself,
became the lantern.

Corine Murray, PBVM, Dubuque IA

Nano—225 Years

nano_companions_mary_southardFrom the vast blue deep
Twinkling stardust
Nano peers ‘cross 225 years –
Swirling in the distance she sees …
Tiny orphans in Zambia,
Oppressed in Zimbabwe,
Daughters serving joyfully in Zim-Zam.

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

Nano's Bed

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 (past president, Conference of Presentation Sisters)

Venerable Nano

Guided by Divine Providence
and light from a lantern
she navigated penal laws
to plant hope
in the hearts of those
without privilege or possibility.

With heroic virtue,
love’s staying power against
the curtain of night,
she forged a future.
Daughter of Erin.
Woman of zeal.
Advocate for the poor.
Visionary foundress.
Servant of God.
Venerable Nano.

Vatican City, October 31, 2013 Pope Francis declared Nano Nagle venerable
Corine Murray, PBVM

A Lantern in Her Breast

On the edge of a faraway mountain village, in an old and creaking cottage nestled in a hollow bordered by a forest, there lived a wise woman of undeterminable age. A well-worn footpath led to a small, spring-fed stream below the cottage, just past a clearing that housed a chicken coop, a ramshackle stable and a small pigsty.

The wise woman hummed to herself as she prepared for the party that evening; her friends were coming to celebrate Nothing At All – their favorite celebration. The occasion came about, as you would expect, out of nothing at all. One simply would say to another. “Time to gather?” and sure enough, they would soon be on their way to the cottage in the hollow. For this particular celebration, the wise woman set out her fine china tea cups and an arrangement of dried Indian corn, pumpkins and squash. A loaf of herbal bread rose on the iron cookstove in the corner. It was an unusually cool autumn, hinting at a harsh winter to come.

As night began to fall, the wise woman heard the sound of her friends’ laughter echoing in the valley below. Snatching a lantern and shrugging into her old woolen cloak, she rushed out to great her guests making their way up the path. As the wind spiraled around the lantern and the flame began to flicker and falter, the woman pressed the lantern even closer to her breast. It must not be extinguished. It must remain strong and visible.

From a distance, the woman’s friends did, indeed, see the light. “Look!” one of them said with wonder. “Our host has a lantern in her breast!” And another sagely replied. “Of course, she does, don’t we all? Light within never goes out.”
God of Lanterns within Our Breasts, protect the flame when the winds of darkness and trouble swirl around us along our path. Yours is the warmth and light that connects the disconnected, illuminates the past, present and future, and comforts us when the Kingdom of Night falls upon us. Our very bodies are housed within the lantern of your love – within, without, above and below.

From THE LIGHT WITHIN: A Woman’s Book of Solace; Joni Woelfel, ACTA Publications, Chicago, IL, 2001.