Presentation Secondary School Thurles Celebrates 200 Years Service

We began our preparations for the Bi-centenary year (2017) in May 2016 when we, Srs. Evelyn and Fidelis were appointed to spearhead the celebration of the historic year. We approached Anne Lanigan with the request that she would write the story of the 200 years. Anne is a Presentation Associate member, a past pupil of our Primary and Secondary schools and a past Principal of our Primary School. She accepted the challenge willingly and spent much time researching and writing what turned out to be a definitive history of the 200 years of Presentation presence in Thurles. We then invited a number of interested people to join us in forming a committee. Each person approached, took up the task with great enthusiasm, giving themselves heart and soul to all aspects of the celebrations. Past pupil, Mary Hanafin agreed to act as chairperson of the committee and brought her considerable expertise to the task. We decided that it deserved a yearlong celebration and so we devised a number of events throughout the year. Each and every event organised, was a worthy celebration of the Sisters gone before us, on whose shoulders we are privileged to stand. The following is a brief account of each of these events.

Book Launch

In February 2017 we celebrated the launch of Anne’s book “The Presentation Sisters in Thurles 1817-2017”. This publication was launched by local historian Jimmy Duggan, and the writing of it was, in Anne’s own words, ‘a labour of love, a real honour and privilege’. It is a well-researched, scholarly work and, in the words of Noel Dundon, Editor of the Tipperary Star, “what emerges through the pages is a brilliant account of the contribution of the Presentation Sisters to the local community through educational, social, spiritual and economic manifestation. It is a real keepsake and the many photographs included enhance a publication which brought Anne from the accurate, comprehensive archives in the Convent to the National Library and a host of tangential journeys in between” The School hall was packed to capacity on the night of the launch, the speeches and comprehensive photographic display and the music and song provided by the students evoked many memories of bye-gone days and created a warm and lively atmosphere. Srs Evelyn and Fidelis presented Anne with a beautiful lantern inscribed with the Nagle motto ‘Non Vox sed Votum’. During her research Anne came to recognise how this motto was lived out by the Sisters and it became one of her favourite quotations. Credit must go to the three retired teachers on the committee for their tireless work in assembling, mounting and displaying the photographs which captured the life of the schools, past and present. In this they were ably assisted by our school photographer, Laura Bryan, whose expertise with the camera enhanced every event of the year and was always willingly shared.

School Mass

On April 27th Students, Staff and Sisters went in procession from the school avenue, to the Cathedral led by Sr. Mairéad, dressed as Nano and carrying the lantern. This, the first Mass of the Bicentenary year, was celebrated by Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly. Mass began with lights and lanterns being carried from all corners of the Cathedral by Sisters and Students to the singing of ‘Gather from the East, gather from the West, gather from the North and South…’ This set the tone for a truly magnificent celebration during which Archbishop Kieran, holding up the lantern for all to see, urged the children to lift Nano’s lantern and to shine its light into the dark corners of the world. Sr. Mary Deane speaking on behalf of the Congregation took up the same theme. She encouraged the children to have the courage to let their light shine. ‘Look around, listen to the needs of the world….there is still much work to be done and I believe you my dear young people have the ability, generosity, courage and commitment to do what needs to be done to make a difference in our world today. Shine your light, be true to who you are and become a fire of love, compassion and hope in our world.’ After the Celebration the entire congregation, including our 1000 students assembled in the Cathedral yard for a historic photograph. After this the Community hosted a celebratory meal in the Anner Hotel for the Bi-centenary committee, the Archbishop and the parish clergy.

200 Years Presentation Convent Thurles Celebration Mass over 1000 attended Photo by Ni Riain Photography Cassestown Thurles Co. Tipperary

Photographed at the celebratory Bicentenary Mass are our Primary and Secondary school staff and students. The Mass was celebrated in the Cathedral of the Assumption, Thurles by Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly.

A view from the gallery at the Bicentenary Mass, celebrating 200 years of the Presentation Sisters in Thurles

The Great Debate, and Art & Poetry Competition

In May the schools held a number of events including a debate between present and past pupils. The theme for the debate for the debate was ‘School-days were easier then than now’ Much to the delight of the present students the motion was carried and the students revelled in the fact that they had overcome a team which included the former Minister for Education and Science! Poetry and Art competitions were also held on the theme of their journey/Nano’s journey and generated much enjoyment and displayed extraordinary talent.

As part of our celebrations we held a debate and welcomed back past pupils to compete against our current students. The motion was “The school journey is easier now than it was in the past”. The winners of the Bicentenary debate are our current 6th year Presentation Secondary students:L-R Aislinn Kinsella, Avril Hogan, Zoe McGrath and Sinead Leahy.

Foundation Day 16th July

On the 16th of July the community celebrated Foundation Day , the day on which the Blessed Sacrament was installed in the little thatched house in Stradavoher which had been given to Margaret Cormack by her brother, John. She had lived in the house for three days prior to this and to honour this we assembled for special prayer and reflection on the three evenings preceeding the 16th. For us this was the high point of the whole year. We reflected, prayed and talked together and were moved and inspired by the image of this humble woman planting a fragile seed with total trust in God. On the 16th we walked together to Stradavoher to the site of Margaret’s little thatched house where a plaque now marks the hallowed spot. The plaque was erected by ‘Friends of the Presentation’ On the following day, the 17th July, the Community and Bicentenary committee went on pilgrimage to Nano Nagle Place. The coach for this pilgrimage was supplied as a gesture of appreciation by a grateful past pupil/parent/friend. This was a memorable day for everybody involved. The spectacular sight of Nano’s newly restored grave with the cascading waters behind symbolised for us the abundance of blessings showered on us by this heroic woman. The whole sense of history of the place was awe inspiring. We came away with a deep sense of connectedness and gratitude.

The Mathew Home Honoured

On a bright Autumn day, the October Bank holiday, a large crowd of local people assembled at Inch Church, a few miles outside Thurles, at 10.30am and took a guided walk to Annfield where the Mathew home is situated. There, a plaque was unveiled to mark the home of Nano Nagle’s mother, Ann Mathew. On the invitation of Michael Long, who was instrumental in having the plaque erected, Srs Mairéad and Evelyn unveiled the plaque/information Board. This gives a detailed account of the Mathew family history and of the work of Nano Nagle, ‘the Lady of the Lantern, who shone a light into those dark days of persecution and inspired other great people to follow her vision of education and care for the needy’. The Inch community spoke to us of their immense pride in their connection to the great Irish woman, Nano Nagle. This was an occasion of great joy for the Presentation Sisters on the 200th anniversary of their foundation in Thurles.

Radio Interview

On Thursday 16th November Eamon O’Dwyer from Tipp FM called to the convent to record an interview for his hour-long programme ‘Down Your Way’. The program consisted of the history of the house, the experience of past pupils and teachers and some insights into the Sisters’ Vocation and the changes in convent life over the years.

Tipperary Star Supplement

A 24- page Supplement was published by the Tipperary Star on 15th November which show cased life, past and present in the Convent, the Primary School and the Secondary School.

Concluding Mass 19th Nov 2017. Cathedral of the Assumption

Once again Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly was the chief Celebrant, assisted by Archbishop Emeritus, Dermot Clifford and many priests. The Cathedral was packed with friends for this special occasion.

Opening Ritual
The Chairperson of the Bi-centenary Committee, former Minister for Education and proud past pupil, Mary Hanafin, welcomed everyone and explained the opening ritual. Sr. Mairéad conveyed the lantern to the Altar while Srs. Evelyn and Fidelis brought 2 candles representing the two founding Sisters, Thurles women, Margaret Tobin and Margaret Cormack. Twenty students each carried a banner representing a decade of the 200 years while Mary Hanafin gave a commentary on the main event of each decade. When the 20 banners were held aloft around the Altar 20 Primary School children filed in bearing a light which they held in front of each decade, while the choir sang ‘We are standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before us’. As the children placed their lights on the Altar the Congregation burst into rapturous applause. Many said later that they were moved to tears at this ritual. The Readings of the Mass which were chosen to suit the occasion were delivered by Sr. Mairéad and Catherine McCormack(Ceist). Srs.Evelyn and Mary Paul with four friends of the Community read very meaningful Prayers of the Faithful.

Archbishop’s Homily
Appropriately, Sunday Nov 19th was World Day of the Poor and Archbishop Kieran spoke of Nano Nagle and the early Sisters and their work for the poor. He described Margaret Tobin and Margaret Cormack as ‘two marvellous examples of commitment and dedication without whom the Presentation Sisters’ presence in Thurles might never have happened.’ He went on to address the ‘young ladies of the Presentation’ asking them the question ‘how can I raise the Lantern in my time – the lantern of Faith’ He added that Nano Nagle would surely echo the sentiments of Pope Francis in asking people to look after the world in a way that we had never done before. “ We run the risk of handing on to the people who will celebrate 300 years, a terrible heritage of damage to the beautiful world around us. The challenge is to lift the lantern and leave a better world than the one we have because that is exactly what Nano would have wanted of us. The challenge is great but with the Holy Spirit to guide their works, the Presentation Sisters have never been afraid to face the odds, considerable though they have been at times, including now. St. Paul wrote to the Romans ’With God on our side who can be against us?’ The Presentation Sisters continue to walk with God in the footsteps of Nano Nagle, to do his will. Congratulations all”
Another impressive ritual followed at the Offertory with the Dressing of the Altar by eight children accompanied by a commentary in verse spoken by Sr. Fidelis.

Sr. Margarita’s Address
Before the Final Blessing of the Mass Sr. Margarita delivered an address which was filled with hope. Picking up on the theme of the Sisters establishing a linen and embroidery business, to create employment, during the very difficult times after the famine, she said that the tapestry is not yet finished, the weaving must go on. ‘They were weaving the fabric of life. They were weaving a hope and a new life for many fine people who had no standing or status. For two centuries the weaving has gone on and all of you have played a part in producing the fruit of the loom.’ She encouraged all to be proactive about weaving a better world. ‘Could we dare to hope that we will have a world where hunger and poverty may be eliminated; where the distribution of wealth may be fair and equitable; where all citizens are valued equally and treated with dignity’ she asked.

Presentation by the Lions Club
Following this there was a surprise presentation by the Lions Club on behalf of the people of Thurles. Eamonn Medley made the presentation to Sr. Mairéad ‘in recognition of the Sisters’ contribution to the Cathedral town’, Gary Roche read the citation to rapturous applause as the magnificent Globe was hand over. This globe symbolised the spread of the Presentation Congregation world-wide and also the theme of ‘Care for the Earth’ and the challenge to make the world a better place
The Recessional Hymn, a beautiful rendition of ‘Who will light the Lantern’ was visually interpreted by a spectacular Liturgical Dance performed by the students, choreographed by Trish McElgun, teacher and past pupil. The choir and orchestra, under the direction of teachers, Patrick Conlon and Emer Harrold greatly enhanced the whole celebration.

Final Ritual – Handing on the Light of the lantern.
Recognising the importance of our lay colleagues in carrying Nano’s Charism into the future we selected representatives from the following groups: Presentation Associates, Management of our schools and the student body. Sr. Regis, our most senior Sister lit candles from the lantern and presented one to each of the ten representatives, Anne Lanigan and Mary Ryan (Associates), Carol White and Marie Collins (Principals), Dr. Marie Griffin, (CEO CEIST), Margaret Skehan, Jim Ryan Seamus Hanafin (Chairpersons BOM), Noreen Bohan (Boarding School) and Caoimhe Wixted (Fourth generation Boarder). Carrying their lights these led the procession out of the Cathedral while the choir continued singing ‘Who will light the Lantern’. In the words of Archbishop Kieran ‘The hope is that the ethos and vision of the Presentation Sisters will continue to prosper in the decades to come. The model may be changing, but the message remains the same – carry the lantern and let the light of humanity shine brighter in our families, in our communities and in our world.’
The celebrations continued afterwards with refreshments in the Sports hall where the photographic exhibition was a major hit with all, especially our past pupils. The convivial atmosphere which prevailed was totally appropriate for such an historic occasion – the celebration of a memorable milestone.

Letter from the Taoiseach

On Saturday 25th November we were surprised and delighted to receive a letter from an Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar extending his “congratulations and thanks to you, the sisters of Presentation Convent, Thurles, past and present on the occasion of your bi-centenary”. He went on to say “The contribution of the Presentation Sisters in Ireland and in missionary countries has been enormous. Presentation Convent, Thurles has been to the fore in providing excellent education and service to thousands of children from your locality over the past 200 years as well as in preparing many sisters for dedicated missionary work abroad. The charism of your foundress, the Venerable Nano Nagle, is well and truly alive as a result”.

Gala Concert

Our Gala Concert on Saturday night, 25th November, was a magnificent finale to our Bicentennial year of celebrations. We were entertained by the amazing talent of a number of past pupils as well as some of our present students. Mary B Lanigan Ryan was a class act as MC for the night. She introduced each of the performers, recalling their musical exploits as students in our school and their present outstanding achievements in their various academic fields. We were treated to the highest standard of singing- solo, groups and choirs, and to virtuoso playing of the violin, flute, harp and piano. Our music teacher, Patrick Conlon, accompanied the musicians on a Steinway grand piano which was hired for the night and was a perfect foil for his magical playing. A dramatic monologue and some graceful ballroom dancing were a pleasing contrast to the music. We were immensely proud of all the girls and their exceptional talents, which were God-given but nurtured to a high degree in our schools. Their performance was later described by a member of the audience as ‘a taste of Heaven’ Among our past pupils performing on the night was Majella Roche, who, together with her famous husband, Daniel O’Donnell, added greatly to the enjoyment of the enraptured audience who filled the Premier Hall. Majella and Daniel sang solos and duets including some of his most popular songs and brought a wonderful concert to an even more wonderful end.

Daniel’s special rendering of ‘Slievenamon’ was a real hit with the audience who joined enthusiastically in the singing of the chorus. When we thought our enjoyment was full to overflowing our hearts were lifted another octave when the children from our Primary and Secondary schools came on stage carrying lights and joined Daniel and the other singers in a truly heart-warming and uplifting version of the Rolf Lovland classic, ‘You raise me up’. This received rapturous applause and a standing ovation. Daniel then took everyone by surprise when he called all the Sisters on to the stage where he spoke warmly of Nano Nagle and her great work in education, which has been carried on for 200 years by the Presentation Sisters in Thurles. He then led the full cast and the audience in a final verse of ‘You raise me up’ especially for the Sisters. At this there was prolonged applause, and it was reported that there ‘wasn’t a dry eye in the hall’! Daniel finished on a lighter note by leading the audience and cast in singing ‘Happy Birthday to You’.

This delightful Gala Concert brought to a fitting conclusion our never-to-be-forgotten year of celebrations.

Daniel and Majella O’Donnell performing at the Presentation Thurles Schools Gala Concert. It featured past and present pupils performing to a full audience. A fantastic night was had by all.

A Word of Thanks to the Committee

A well- deserved word of thanks must go to our hard working and totally dedicated Committee. These embraced the challenge of organising the year-long celebration, and were full of enthusiasm in honouring the ‘ heroic and heretofore unacknowledged contribution of the Sisters to the people of Thurles down the years’ We are hugely indebted to the generosity and creativity of the committee, these true friends of the Presentation. In their commitment and generosity they surely went, like Nano, ‘one pace beyond’. We salute and thank you: Mary Hanafin (Chairperson), Anne Lanigan, Marie Collins, Carol White, Catherine McCormack, Trish McElgun, Sr. Mary Paul, Mary B Lanigan Ryan, Margaret Healy, Bridget Jones, Mary Anne Fogarty, Josephine Molloy, Mary Glasheen, Margaret Skehan, Dearbhla Neville, Aileen Colton, Laura Bryan and Patricia O’Callaghan. Our sincere gratitude also goes to our school secretaries Ailish O’Dwyer and Tina Bracken, whose expertise and unstinting hard work were invaluable and so generously given. We also thank sincerely our Caretaker, Donal Taylor and Sports Hall Manager, Martin Hehir for all their help.

Finally we have to acknowledge Noel Dundon, Editor of the Tipperary Star, for his insightful and beautifully written tributes in our local newspaper, as well as the wonderful 24-page Supplement he published. The celebration of this memorable year, and the story recounted in Anne’s book will be treasured in our Archives for future generations.
Míle Buíochas libh go léir!

Signed: Srs. Evelyn and Fidelis (Co-ordinators of Bi-centenary Committee)