Nano Nagle was born into a wealthy, Catholic family and had the advantage of an education in France, at a time when unjust laws deprived the less advantaged of schooling and education in Ireland. On her return from Paris, she was faced with the social ills which these laws created – poverty, misery and deprivation. Nano, true to her family’s coat of arms, “NOT WORDS, BUT DEEDS”, began her mission among the poor in the “Little School” in Cove Lane, Cork 1754-55. Her concern for her people, her courage and her perseverance inspired her to establish other schools in different parts of the city and to support charitable works for those who were poor and oppressed by unjust social systems. At a time in the history of Ireland when it was illegal to set up a catholic school or to teach the catholic faith, Nano braved the possible consequences of her actions and, despite personal and family risks, she did not hesitate in her response to the call of the Spirit to be with, and for the poor.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Although Nano Nagle’s immediate mission was confined to her native city, her understanding of mission was universal: “My views are not for one object alone. If I could be of any service in saving souls in any part of the globe, I would willingly do all in my power .”
In order to give stability and permanence to her care of the poor, Nano sought the service of a religious community. She arranged for an Ursuline foundation in Cork in 1771. When she realized that the rule of enclosure did not allow the Ursulines to leave the cloister and to seek out in their own environment those who were impoverished, she established a Religious Congregation, which she named Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
She and her three companions Sr. Mary Angela Collins, Sr. Mary Augustine Bourke and Sr. Mary Joseph Fouhy made their vows in Cork on Christmas Eve 1775. It was the fruit of more than twenty years of loving service to the poor of that city. Nano’s desire was to ensure the continuation and extension of her mission for the education of the poor, and the relief of those exploited by the Penal Laws. She lived this mission until her death on 26th April 1784.