Catholic Free Press

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  • Aug
  • 26

Presentation Sisters mark 125 years in New England

Posted By August 26, 2011 | 2:35 pm | Lead Story #2, Local

By Patricia O’Connell
CFP Correspondent

LEOMINSTER – Several times, while offering Mass last Saturday at Presentation Convent, Bishop George Rueger mentioned St. Bernard of Clairvaux.
“St. Bernard was filled with zeal for God’s house,” Bishop Rueger said on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary coming to Fitchburg.
Last Saturday was also the feast day of St. Bernard, a fearless reformer who lived 1,000 years ago, when heresy was rife in his native France.
And it was on his feast – Aug. 20, 1886 – that a group of Presentation Sisters arrived at St. Bernard Parish in Fitchburg to teach the children. From there, they established a total of eight schools in the diocese.
The feast of St. Bernard is also highly significant for the sisters, according to Sister Pauline LeBlanc, who still works at St. Bernard Elementary School in Fitchburg.
That is the day some of these women were received into the order. It is also the date some of the sisters made their first and final professions.
The Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary order was founded in Ireland by a woman named Nano Nagle, who, like St. Bernard, was also fearless.
She was born in 1718 in County Cork, and started the order in 1755.
Nano defied the Penal Laws enacted in Ireland during the 1700s, which prohibited religious education. She taught children herself in the so-called “hedge schools.”
These underground institutions sprang up in unlikely places, such as in barns and along garden hedges.
Bishop Rueger talked about how, in the week preceding the sisters’ anniversary celebration, he had a chance to read about Nano Nagle.
He described her as an “extraordinary woman.”
During her younger years, said Bishop Rueger, Nano and her sisters moved to France, where they enjoyed high society life.
“She was no square,” he said of Nano. “She was the belle of the ball.”
Yet, eventually, she gave up worldly attractions and began serving others.
“She was an evangelist to the poor,” added Bishop Rueger. “She was an evangelist to the sick.”
He told the 80 or so sisters, who had come from all over the Northeast, and the dozen or so lay associates in attendance at the private Mass, that they were still doing Nano’s work, and this can even be seen in the care given to the elderly sisters who now live at the Leominster Presentation Convent.
The order was founded in Ireland, and many of its local members, even today, are of Irish descent.
Bishop Rueger talked about the role Irish Catholics played in spreading the faith across the United States.
Today, you and I gather to honor our God and to “thank them,” he said.
“You are daughters of Nano,” he told the sisters. “May she give you the strength she had.”
Lastly, he thanked the sisters for dedicating their lives to God.
“To us, from the Diocese of Worcester, may this humble voice say ‘thank you.’”