Nagle College, Geraldton reflects on heritage of Nano Nagle
On Wednesday 3 May 2017 at Nagle College, Geraldton Western Australia, a Statue of Nano Nagle, founder of the Presentation Sisters, and the College’s Presentation Windows were blessed. The administration office was re-named the “Presentation Centre”. Nagle College Teacher, Caroline Comiskey, gave the guiding reflection, as follows
“Today, I have the great privilege of guiding us in our reflection of the life and legacy of one of our [College] founders; Nano Nagle, the lady with the lantern.
“Two years ago, I went and visited the Nano Nagle Heritage Centre in Ireland. This centre stands on the land that the Nagle [family] owned and lived on in 1718, when Nano was born. The limestone pillars and gates are the ones that the Nagles had at their home, the Nagles’ barn and stables are also still standing. Nano died, but her spirit still lives on in the Nagle mountains of Ireland and in the green lush countryside that she once played in.
“I was born in the same county and country as Nano Nagle – County Cork, in Ireland. I was lucky, when I was born [that] both primary and secondary education was free and readily available for everyone. Families did not have to pay a penny for the greatest gift of them all – Education. This is thanks to pioneers like Nano Nagle. However, life was not always like this.
“Nano was born into a very dark and challenging world. Although she was born into a loving Catholic family – the label and belief system, “to be a Catholic” would have been Nano’s first encounter with prejudice and oppression. Imagine a world where you are mistreated solely based on your religion. I know that a lot of you are Catholics. If we were living in Nano’s world – you could not be a teacher, you could not serve in the army, your land may be taken, you could not go to school, you would be forbidden from travelling to another country to get an education, you wouldn’t even have the right to own a horse. If you were to do any of these things, you would be breaking the law.
“It must have been incredibly challenging for a child to have to go to school, outside [in the open air], in secret. When it can rain for 225 days out of 365 days of the year and the average temperature is between 4-10 deg C, it makes it even more challenging! Very often, school would be called off; it would end early; it was disrupted and unreliable; people would have to whisper, and education became a secret; a punishable act. Children suffered at the hands of a cruel religious war.
“The world needed people like Nano Nagle to see that this was unjust and to act to remedy this. Being surrounded by constant secrecy and darkness – Nano grew up into a person who noticed things that did not make sense in her world and that she needed to bring light to her world.
“Nano was born into quite a wealthy family, like the lucky ones amongst us, and she had a loving childhood. As the eldest of six children, Nano Nagle was a leader within her family, being a role model for her siblings just like the eldest of you out there. After going through much of her primary schooling – being taught out in fields, in hedges – she was sent to Belgium and France to be educated from the age of 10. This involved being smuggled onto a cargo ship – just to receive something that we take for granted everyday- an education.
“However wealthy and privileged she was, she did not walk through life blindly- she knew that others suffered from poverty. There was a turning point in her life when one morning [in France], returning in her carriage from an all-night ball, she saw a group of poor people waiting at a church door for early morning Mass. The contrast between her life and that of the poor, left a lasting impression on her. She resolved to take action. She truly understood the value of being present. She lit her lantern and she went out to serve. What will be or what was the turning point in our lives?
“How does Nano link to beautiful Geraldton? Nano set up a convent in Ireland. A group of sisters took their vows to God and became known as the Presentation Sisters. They journeyed to Australia to ‘continue the work of God’ and answer the call of the needy.
“Nano is present here with us. She is Venerable. She is on her way to becoming a saint. She may become a saint in your lifetime. This shows us that Nano Nagle is still very important to people who believe in her in our world.
“We use Nano’s name all of the time – when we tell someone we go to Nagle [College]; when we invite someone to come with us to the Nagle Ball; when we wear our school uniform with the crest on the front- it says Nagle Catholic College. The crest means that we pledge to try and be “For Others”, to try and live in a compassionate way like Nano and to speak up if we see injustice in our worlds.
“Teachers and staff at Nagle [College] very often carry their lantern with them to class – they show their light through teaching you something. You bring your light to school when you perform at Nagle College’s Got Talent or when you do your best at the Cross Country race for your House or when you accept yourself and others for who you are and who they are.
“The next time we stroll up the driveway, drive past the statue of Nano Nagle or walk behind her – take a glance at her, or just for a second or minute, let a little light flicker into you as you remember in great gratitude the gift of education that Nano and people like Nano have gifted to you. Cherish the great times that we have together at Nagle [College].
“Remember what she said – that it is not words but deeds that really matter.”
Caroline Comisky, 3 May 2017 (Teacher at Nagle College, Geraldton WA)