Nagle, Nano (DNB00)

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NAGLE, NANO or HONORA (1728–1784), foundress of the Presentation order of nuns, born in 1728, was daughter of Garrett Nagle of Ballygriffin near Mallow, co. Cork. The Nagles were of Anglo-Norman origin: a kinswoman (Miss Nagle of Shanballyduff, co. Cork) was mother of Burke. Nano's mother belonged to the Mathew family of Thomastown, co. Tipperary, and was connected with Father Mathew [q. v.], the apostle of temperance. Nano was educated at home, and afterwards at Paris, where a glimpse, early one morning on her return from a ball, of some poor people waiting outside a church door in order to attend mass is said to have given a serious turn to her thoughts.

She returned to Ireland about 1750, determined to devote herself to the poor of her own country; but, deterred by the penal laws, she went back to France with the intention of entering a convent. But again she was driven home by a sense of her vocation. Her father was dead, but she remained in Dublin with her mother and sister until their death forced her to take up her residence with her brother in Cork. There the poor Catholic population was destitute of all means of education. With her own fortune, and afterwards with the support of some members of her family, she secretly started a poor school for catholic girls. She also visited the sick, and at her own expense established an asylum for aged females, which still exists. The narrowness of her own resources subsequently led her to charge fees at her school, and she herself collected them. But her health was bad, and, finding that her own energies were unequal to the task of carrying on the school, she determined to put it under the care of a religious community—a dangerous expedient in face of the stringency of the penal laws, which proscribed all religious communities. Four young ladies entered a convent of the Ursuline nuns in Paris to prepare themselves to undertake Miss Nagle's work, and after a period of training they reached Cork in 1771 in the charge of Dr. Francis Moylan [q. v.], subsequently bishop of the diocese, and occupied the convent founded by Miss Nagle. She did not become one of their number.

The order of Ursuline nuns is mainly occupied in the education of girls of the well-to-do classes, but Miss Nagle interested herself mainly in the poor. The corporation refrained from enforcing the laws against the new community in consideration of its beneficent objects. In further pursuit of her high aims Miss Nagle in 1775 laid the foundation of a new order, which was to devote itself exclusively (unlike the Ursulines) to the education of the female children of the poor. To this congregation she gave the name of the Order of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. A convent and schools, specially erected by Miss Nagle, at her own expense, for the new order, were opened on Christmas day 1777, and the occasion was celebrated by a dinner to fifty beggars, on whom the foundress waited herself. The rules of the community were approved of by Pope Pius VI in 1791, and confirmed on 9 April 1805 by Pius VII who constituted the congregation an order of the catholic church. It was thus that systematic education was, since the days of the Reformation, first brought within reach of the poor in Ireland.

Worn out by her hard work and by austerities, Miss Nagle died at her convent in Cork on 20 April 1784, at the age of fifty-six.

There is an oil-painting of her in the Ursuline convent, Blackrock, co. Cork.

The Ursuline order, which Miss Nagle introduced into Ireland, has numerous convents in that country, offshoots of her foundation; and in 1874 her own order (the Presentation) has had fifty-two houses in Ireland, one in England, twelve in British North America, four in Australia, three in the United States, and one in India.

[Hutch's Life of Nano Nagle; Coppinger's Life of Nano Nagle; Webb's Compendium of Irish Biography; the Catholic Dictionary.]

P. L. N.