Fethard community bids fond farewell to Presentation Sisters
In the summer 2020, in the midst of ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, the last six Presentation Sisters of the Fethard Convent departed quietly bringing to a close 158 years of dedicated service to the local townspeople. It was fitting that those six sisters, Sr. Maureen Power, Sr. Juliana Purcell, Sr. Rosarii Treacy, Sr. Maria Fletcher, Sr. Kathleen Dooley and Sr. Mary Martin, accompanied by sisters who previously served in Fethard and other convents, should return on Sunday, June 6, 2022, to be publicly acclaimed by a grateful Fethard community.
The celebration began with Mass in the Parish Church concelebrated by Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly with Fr. Liam Everard, P.P., Canon Tom Breen, A.P., Fr. Pat O’Gorman A.P. and Fr David Fitzgerald, O.S.A. representing the Augustinian Abbey. The combined Parish and Abbey choirs, Fethard Choral Group, supplemented by children of Holy Trinity N.S., directed by organists Ann Barry and Denise O’Sullivan, provided the wonderful music throughout the Mass.
Margaret Prendergast, a former past pupil/teacher in the Patrician Presentation Secondary School, delivered the opening address welcoming the Presentation Sisters back to Fethard, commending their dedicated service throughout the years in the primary and secondary schools, in the Group Homes and in the wider community. In conclusion, Margaret read a poem entitled ‘Generosity’ by Helen Laurie Marshall.
Mass then commenced with the processional entrance of Archbishop O’Reilly and the attendant clergy. The various aspects of the Presentation Sisters contribution to life in Fethard were reflected in those chosen to do the readings and the Prayers of the Faithful. Past pupil Mark Hayde read the first reading and Mary Hanrahan, former teacher Nano Nagle N.S., read the second reading.
The Prayers of the Faithful were read by Patricia Treacy, former principal Holy Trinity N.S.,
Billy Walsh, Principal, Patrician Presentation Secondary School, Liam Hayes, Fethard & District Day Care Centre CLG; Tríona Morrisson, Principal, Holy Trinity N.S.; Michelle Walsh, past pupil; and Dermot O’Donnell, Fethard Parish Church Committee.
In his homily the Archbishop said, “We have come to look back and to look forward, to give thanks and to acknowledge all that has passed in that time here in Fethard. I would like to stress that when the sisters did come here in the 1860s, it was a very challenging time for local communities, not least because they were only twenty years after the famine times, the memory was still very, very vivid in people’s minds and in family memories. It was a time of great poverty and deprivation and coming from Thurles to Fethard was probably quite a journey into the unknown for the sisters of that time. So much depended on their own resources, and their own talents and their own gifts.
It is summed up, by the simplest of symbols that Nano Nagle had, a lamp, and that lamp she needed to find her way through the hovels and the side streets where she was based in Cork. And that was the lamp that she raised up, the lamp of faith, the lamp of hope, the lamp of light. Let us give thanks for the sisters, and the people of Fethard and Killusty who welcomed them and were part of their lives for many generations.”
The archbishop also commended everyone involved in the compilation of the commemorative booklet, ‘Presentation Sisters Fethard 1862-2020’ which was given out at the end of Mass.
Sr. Maureen Power, former Principal Nano Nagle N.S. and Mrs. Marie O’Sullivan representing the Fethard community, brought up the offertory gifts of bread and wine. An especially poignant hymn was the rendition of the traditional Irish Blessing, ‘May the Road Rise to Meet You’, a most apposite farewell to the sisters.
Before the end of Mass, Fr Liam Everard invited Sr Mary Hanrahan, Provincial of the Presentation Order, to say a few words. Having thanked everyone involved she said: “Today isn’t just about remembering the past, it’s a special day to also remember the present. I think it’s very fitting that we are celebrating on Pentecost Sunday, the day on which we welcome the gift of the Spirit into our lives. And that same Spirit which led the first Sisters here from Thurles to Fethard continues to inspire all of us today. When war broke out in Ukraine over one hundred days ago now, you here in Fethard were one of the first local community groups to come forward to offer help. In true Presentation spirit, you opened your hearts and made your resources available so that the former Convent building here, which is being used by the Day Care Centre, could become a home for a number of Ukrainian families. It makes us, as Presentation Sisters so proud to see that the seed of compassion and generosity which was nurtured by the sisters here over the years continued to flourish when we moved on; that you, as a community, are doing much more than we could ever have imagined. Today, we are the privileged ones to be associated with a local parish who are so proactive in reaching out to your brothers and sisters in need.”
Sr Mary then congratulated Joe Kenny, who edited the booklet and oversaw its publication, “for painting such a captivating picture of the lives of the sisters here since the beginnings in 1862. It will be a treasured book in the Presentation archives.” Joe received an enthusiastic round of applause from the congregation in acknowledgement of all his hard work. Fr. Everard thanked all those who had contributed to the celebration before the archbishop gave the final blessing.
Plaque unveiled by Archbishop
The second part of the commemoration event was the unveiling of a plaque on the pier of the entrance to the Presentation Convent on Lower Main Street. The plaque, which will serve as a permanent acknowledgement of the sisters’ one hundred and fifty-eight years’ work in Fethard, was unveiled by Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly in a simple ceremony in the presence of the congregation who had walked down from the Church.
The celebration continued in the Fethard Ballroom where the Fethard Historical Society made a presentation to the six sisters who left on July 20, 2020. Michael Mallon, Chairperson, welcomed the sisters on stage and then said the society had commissioned well-known local artist, Dóirín Saurus, to make unique presentation pieces for the individual six sisters, inspired by the Lady of the Lantern, Nano Nagle. The sisters were then each given the presentation pieces by members of the society. Each piece, a votive candle holder in the shape of a lantern, painted in Presentation blue, was inscribed with the name of the sister for whom it was intended.
Then it was time for all present to sit down and enjoy the lovely hot meal prepared by Liam Sweeney and his staff. The Ballroom committee had pulled out all the stops and the tables were beautifully laid out in celebratory style. A large crowd had come along to meet the sisters, celebrate with them and to reminisce about the past. The Fethard community had indeed paid a worthy tribute to the Presentation Sisters on their special day.