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Giving women a voice

The Story of Nano Nagle: A Life Lived on the Razor’s Edge, by Anne Lyons documents the life story of the woman who founded the Presentation Sisters. According to the author, it is the biography of a “remarkable woman, a pioneer of her time… who abandoned a life of privilege and position, choosing instead to live and work in solidarity with those made destitute in her beloved city of Cork.”

In this book, published by Messenger Publications, the author, herself a Presentation sister, offers not just a biography but an account of the economic and political conditions of the time in which Nano Nagle lived.

Nano Nagle, whom former President of Ireland Mary McAleese described as “an extraordinary woman” is one of the most widely-recognised names in the history of religion and education in Ireland. She was born into a wealthy family in 1718 and died in 1784, aged 66.

According to Anne Lyons, she faced persecution and hardship both as a woman and a Catholic. But she was driven by a burning passion to help Christ’s marginalised:

Nano dared not only to dream a better life for them but to make this seemingly impossible dream a lived reality. This was the great miracle of her life. Her legacy is particularly remarkable given the context of the times she lived in, where women did not have a voice in any public domain,” she says, adding, that Nano Nagle abandoned the salons and ballroom of Paris in the era of Madame de Pompadour to work tirelessly in the poorest parts of  Cork. “Armed only with her faith and her vision of education for all, she persevered.

Nano transcended boundaries and overcame many obstacles in the pursuit of her vision, says the author, namely the feeding and education of the poor and destitute children of Cork.

She also notes that the impact of Nano Nagle’s work stretched far beyond the seven schools around the city which she established. The religious order which she founded, the Presentation Sisters, had at its height over 500 schools around the world. “In the centuries since her death in 1784 her message of courage and hope has travelled around the world, changing the lives of the poor and forgotten”.

Nano Nagle was declared Venerable by Pope Francis in 2013.

About the author: Anne Lyons PBVM has served in the ministries of education and spirituality with the Presentation Sisters in Ireland and the US. She has also worked in Pakistan and Cambodia, where she learned to communicate in the local languages. She has recently been delegated by her Congregation as Postulator to promote the Cause for the beatification of Nano Nagle.

The Story of Nano Nagle: A Life Lived on the Razor’s Edge by Anne Lyons is published in Ireland and the UK by Messenger Publication. Price €4.95/£4.50