Foundress of the Presentation Sisters
Nano Nagle (1718-1784) was born in Ireland among a people deprived of culture, religion, education and livelihood because of the penal laws imposed by England in 18th century Ireland. Having been educated in Europe she returned to Ireland to be confronted by the squalor, ignorance and accompanying social ills of the people.
Nano Nagle’s life of prayer, her concern for her people, her courage and perseverance inspired her to establish schools and support other works of charity for those who were poor and oppressed by unjust social structures. At the age of 57 she established a religious community to become known as the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She insisted that the Sisters serve those who were poor in their own community.
In 1874 the Presentation Sisters answered the call from the town of Wagga Wagga to meet the needs of the Catholic Church in Australia which was struggling to provide its people with an education while at the same time nurturing their faith in a secular society. From Wagga Wagga the Sisters were to establish other foundations including Convents in Sydney.
Founder of the Christian Brothers
Edmund Ignatius Rice (1762-1844) was also born in Ireland during Penal Times. He was fortunate as a Catholic to be educated. At 17 he joined his uncle’s business in Waterford, supplying ships for long trips at sea, and eventually took over the business.
In 1785 he married but tragedy struck four years later when his wife died after giving birth to a disabled daughter. Edmund provided for his daughter who was cared for by his step-sister. During the following years his prayer and spirituality deepened and his concern and care for the poor of Waterford intensified.
Edmund considered becoming a monk in a monastery in Europe but a woman friend in Waterford challenged him to do something for the poor children of Waterford, similar to the work being done by Nano Nagle and her Presentation Sisters in Cork. Edmund responded to this by establishing a night school for the uneducated boys from the quays in Waterford.
Edmund’s first helpers deserted him but two friends from his native Callan came to help him not only teach but also to establish a religious order. In 1808 seven of the group took religious vows and by 1825 Edmund Rice and 30 Christian Brothers were educating, free of charge, 5500 boys in 12 different towns and cities. The first group of Christian Brothers to arrive in Australia responded to Bishop John Bede Polding’s call to begin a mission in Sydney in 1843 but, as they were unwilling to separate from their Superior General in Ireland, they returned in 1847. The Christian Brothers, however, came back to Australia in 1868, the year of cessation of transportation of convicts and commenced a school in Fitzroy in 1869.
From here there was an extraordinary growth across Australia as the Brothers adapted to conditions in the colonies.