Former president Dr Mary McAleese made the comments yesterday at the official opening of Nano Nagle Place in Cork City on the site where Nano Nagle founded her religious order, the Presentation Sisters, in 1775, and pioneered Catholic education.
“It is not just a place where Nano Nagle’s history is celebrated but where today’s social issues are tackled. That surely would make Nano Nagle rest happily,” said Mrs McAleese.
Born into a wealthy family in Ballygriffin, Co Cork, in 1718, and educated on the continent, Nano Nagle began her charitable work upon her return to Ireland, ministering to the poor of Cork where she became known as the Lady of the Lantern.
She soon realised that education was the key to a better life and she opened her first school around 1750 in defiance of Penal laws.
By 1758, she had seven schools catering for several hundred pupils across the city, before she used her family money to acquire the South Presentation site, which went on to house the South Presentation Convent and School.
She founded the Presentation Sisters religious order on Christmas Eve, 1775, and took simple vows on June 24, 1776, aged 58. The order now works in 24 countries around the world.
She died in 1784 and is buried in the cemetery in the grounds of the historic site on Douglas St.
The redevelopment of the entire 3.5-acre site, which has been in the pipeline for almost 20 years, was funded entirely by the religious order.
Under the stewardship of a board, chaired by former city councillor, Jim Corr, the project has delivered a new heritage centre, redeveloped the gardens, a cafe, a design shop, education spaces, and it also houses the Lantern Project and Cork Migrants community inclusion projects.
The 1779 convent building holds the archives of the Congregation, and it is also home to a small resident community of Presentation Sisters.
Mrs McAleese paid tribute to all involved in delivering the regeneration project.
“Now they have remade this place as a living showcase of the depth and breadth of Nano Nagle’s work, a place where the history she made is told and the work of care continues in these changed times,” she said.
Bishops John Buckley, William Crean and Paul Colton led a prayer service before lord mayor, Cllr Tony Fitzgerald, described the new development as a fantastic addition to the city’s historic tourist trail which will act as a catalyst for the regeneration of the entire South Parish area.
Sr Mary Deane, congregational leader of the Presentation Sisters Union, said she was delighted to see the facility formally opening ahead of the tercentenary celebrations next year of Nano Nagle’s birth.
“Nano Nagle Place holds the vision and the dream that honours the past and yet is an expression of our living heritage,” she said.
Nano Nagle Place is open seven days a week from 10am to 5pm, including Sundays and Bank Holidays. It is free to visit Nano Nagle’s tomb and the gardens.