Homily of Archbishop Eamon on the occasion of the Presentation Sisters’ farewell from Drogheda

15 Jan 2023


Do you remember those days before satnavs when you had to rely on signposts to find your way anywhere? Not always easy in rural Ireland! I remember once getting completely lost on the back roads of County Mayo because some “smart Alec” had turned the signpost in the opposite direction, but thankfully a local farmer with a cloth cap and a stick pointed me back on the right path!

In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist points others to Jesus; he says “look there is the Lamb of Gods that takes away the sins of the worldl… I am the witness is the Chosen One of God”.

In the first reading from the prophet Isaiah, the Lord says You are my servant… I will make you the light of the nations” as if to say, you will be my signpost for others; you will point the way so that “my salvation shall reach to the ends of the earth”.

In the second reading, Paul describes himself as one who is “appointed to be an apostle” – an apostle is someone who is sent out to point others to Christ, the Lord.

Brothers and sisters, every one of us, as a baptised son or daughter of God, is called to be a signpost to the Lord, to point others towards Jesus, who is our friend. We are invited to respond with the words of today’s psalm: “here, I am Lord I come to do your well”. I’m willing to be your pointer; I’m willing to witness in my family, in my school, in my workplace, in my community, in my country and in the world, that you are the chosen one of God.

Let’s think about how we can be signpost to God. We point others to God by the way we live our lives; By the example, we give to others; by our faith, hope and charity. By our readiness to forgive, to show mercy, to reach out in a Christian manner.

In the very early days of the church, people were drawn to Christianity because of the witness and example of the followers of Christ – see how these Christians love another! It’s worth asking ourselves today a challenging question – in my life, do I point others towards Jesus, or do I send them in the opposite direction? Or even cause them to be lost?

Let me tell you a little about Nano Nagle, an extraordinary and inspirational person who was certainly a signpost to God for so many people during her life. In 2013 Pope Francis declared her to be “Venerable Nano Nagle”, recognising her as someone well on the on the road to canonisation. This was because she is such an heroic example to the world of faith, hope and love.

Nano Nagle was born in County Cork just over 300 years ago, and she devoted her life to the education of the poor, pointing them to Christ and the values of the Gospel. Having had the privilege of an education abroad herself, and after spending some time in religious life, Nano returned to her native city where she was moved to help the young girls of Cork who were growing up in great deprivation and with no access to school.

It’s difficult for us in modern Ireland to imagine it must be like for children and young people not to have access to education. But of course it is sadly true that in many countries of the world, millions of young people and especially girls are unable to go to school or are forbidden from doing so.The recent media coverage of protests in Afghanistan are a reminder to us that education, which we often take for granted, is simply not available equally to all.

Nano Nagle was not prepared to sit back and do nothing. Nano’s family motto was “not words, but deeds”. No doubt she was also inspired by those words in today’s psalm: “Here I am Lord, I come to do your will”. She established her first school in Cork, in a mud cabin, but the need was so great, that she gathered a group of friends. Eventually they had seven schools up and running in Cork. Nano herself went out begging to raise the finances needed for her schools which soon began to be opened all over Ireland and beyond. She became known as the ‘lady of the lantern’, wandering around the city at night bringing faith hope and love to the sick, the poor the old and the frail. The group of like-minded women who gathered around Nano would later became known as the Congregation of the Presentation Sisters – committed to providing education opportunities for young people in many parts of Ireland and across five continents of the world.

Again the words of today’s first reading come to mind, where the Lord said through the prophet Isaiah – “you are my servant; I will make you a light to the nations so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth”.

Generations of Presentation Sisters have followed Nano’s example in bringing the Good News of Christ to the poor, and acting as living pointers of faith, hope and love around the globe.

Of course Nano Nagle and the Presentation Sisters are well known here in Drogheda. The sisters came to these parts 210 years ago. Their early presence in Fair Street, Duke Street and eventually at Greenhills has left a real mark. It is sad that the last community of sisters is now moving on, but the Presentation sisters will forever be remembered as amazing pointers to active faith , hope and love at work among us. For some time now the sisters have known that they would be finishing up their mission here, but they have worked to ensure that the example of their presence will remain. It now falls to the lay women and men, girls and boys of Drogheda to keep alive the ethos of compassionate service which Nano Nagle and the Presentation sisters championed – to be signposts, pointers to Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.

The Presentation sisters are a missionary congregation and their priorities have now shifted to other parts of the world where their charism is needed most. Perhaps some young girls here today, inspired by the example of Nano Nagle, would consider following in their footsteps because the world is still crying out for equality, compassion, justice and care – the values which Nano championed. Presentation schools continue to offer these values here in Drogheda and in many parts of Ireland under the patronage of Ceist, the lay organisation established to keep the lantern lit, to keep the light alive!

We ask continued blessings on their work.


Notes for Editors

  • Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland.
  • This Mass was celebrated in Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Drogheda.