The announcement by Pope Francis, that Nano Nagle, foundress of the Presentation Sisters , is to be known as ‘Venerable Nano Nagle’ in recognition of her heroic virtues, has been greeted with great joy throughout the country, but most especially in Thurles.
Although a native of Cork, Nano’s mother, Ann Matthew came from Anfield, near Inch. Ann Matthew’s mother was Honora Ryan of Cashel, and her sister Mary, married her neighbour, John Ryan of Inch House. Nano was great great grand daughter of Elizabeth Poyntz, Lady Thurles, who is interred at St Mary’s Cemetery in Thurles.
Another branch of the Matthew family had a castle in Thurles, the remains of which can be seen in Parnell Street car park. Matthew Avenue and Castle Avenue are named after this family, while the site for the first ‘Mass House’ in Thurles was donated by the Matthew family - the Cathedral of the Assumption is currently on this site. A third Matthew estate was at Thomastown from where Fr Matthew, Apostle of temperance came.
Nano Nagle founded the Presentation Sisters on Christmas Eve 1775 alongside two companions. Today, the Presentation nuns work in 27 countries worldwide with 2,500 Sisters carrying on the torch she lit during a dark time in Irish history. She believed in the goodness that lies in every child and recognised that education was the path to having a better life. The ‘Lady of the Lanterns’ schools were founded at a time when Penal Laws were rife and it was with great personal risk that she proceeded to pioneer Catholic education in Ireland.
Nano recruited Irish ladies to train in Parish as Ursuline Sisters for her Cork foundation which was established in 1771 after Nano had a convent built for them. However, they were forbidden from going out to the cabin schools and could teach only within their enclosure - a fact which disappointed Nano, but did not deter her from finding a way.
Since 1817 - 33 years after Nano Nagle’s death -the Presentation Sisters have been involved in education in Thurles, where they have dedicated themselves to serving the community by providing primary and secondary education in the town. She would surely be as proud of the school as they are of her.