A Dream Unfolds is a new book that recounts the true story of Nano Nagle, the founder of the Presentation Sisters. Her fascinating life and legacy saw her voted Irish Woman of the Millennium in recognition of her importance as a pioneer of female education in Ireland.
This new book was written by Noela Fox who was born in a small country town in New South Wales, Australia. After completing school she entered the Presentation Convent at Mt Erin which was founded in Kildare Town in 1874. She taught in Presentation schools around New South Wales then lectured for 10 years in Religious Education and History at the Ballarat Campus (Victoria) of the Australian Catholic University. After retiring, she taught inmates in a men’s prison near Wagga Wagga for many years. As well as working with refugees, for Aboriginal Reconciliation, she is a member of a Retreat Group called the Breath of Life Ministry.
Nano Nagle, who was also known as ‘The Lady with the Lantern’, was declared venerable in 2013 by Pope Francis. She acted as inspiration to Edmund Ignatius Rice who later founded the Christian Brothers.
The story of A Dream Unfolds begins during Nano’s childhood in the early eighteenth century, a time when the rights of Irish Catholics were severely curtailed by the Penal Laws. We see the covert and sometimes dangerous lengths to which Nano’s parents go so that their children can receive an education. We also meet the young Nano, who is not overly studious but whose spirit, courage and interest in the world around her already shine through. Nano journeys to France in order to attend school, and upon the completion of her studies she is temporarily bewitched by the glamour and material pleasures of life in Paris. However, coming home from a ball one night a chance glimpse of the poor and destitute on the city streets has a profound effect on the young girl, and alters her life forever.
Following her return to Cork, Nano’s awareness of the spiritual and material poverty of her people deepens. After some internal struggle Nano decides to enter a French convent, only to realise that her true calling is to help the disadvantaged in her native city. Here, Nano defied the social, economic and religious sanctions of the time by educating poor Catholic children, teaching them trades and improving their living conditions. Later she extended the scope of her help to include other marginalised groups such as prostitutes, prisoners and the elderly. A desire that her work be continued after her death prompted Nano to bring the Ursuline Sisters to Cork. Eventually, though, Nano decided that her legacy could only be preserved by establishing her own religious order, and she set about doing so with the help and support of her friends and family, members of the clergy and local tradespeople. Throughout her life, Nano’s goals were hindered by numerous setbacks and personal tragedies, yet her determination to help the most vulnerable people in her society never wavered.
Combining accurate historical detail with fiction, A Dream Unfolds is a moving testimony to Nano Nagle’s life’s work. Not only does it pay tribute to her many achievements, it also creates a portrait of her that is immensely relatable. Nano is depicted as warm and loving, someone with great wit and a wry sense of humour who is capable of being obstinate and forceful when the occasion calls for it. Alongside this humanity, however, are the qualities that make her such a remarkable and trailblazing figure in Irish history: her strength, audaciousness, prudence, compassion, persistence and, above all, her unshakeable conviction that God would bring her dream to fruition.
A Dream Unfolds – The Story of Nano Nagle is published by Columba Press, priced €9.99 and available from www.columba.ie as well as all good bookshops. All royalties will be donated to charity.