A little over 200 years since their arrival in Clonmel to begin a story of education and dedication to the community, it was appropriate that the Presentation Sisters were the last group to be accorded the highest honour the town could give.
The council chamber in Clonmel’s town hall was packed on Friday night as the Borough Council gave the Presentation community its last ever civic reception.
Mayor of Clonmel Cllr Pat English told the gathering the reception was in recognition of the contribution made by the sisters to Clonmel and the surrounding areas over the last two centuries.
“We thank them for providing top-quality education to the many thousands who have benefitted from attending their school during their history.”
Among the attendance were past teachers and pupils of the Presentation schools, among them some of the council members such as Cllr Siobhan Ambrose who formally seconded the motion granting the civic reception; Cllr Gabrielle Egan who said she had “so many happy memories” of her school days; while Cllr Helena Magee said her mother was a past-pupil and passed on the values to her family, including “truth, strength, justice”.
Others to hail what the Presentation sisters have done for the area included Cllrs Darren Ryan, Billy Shoer, Brian O’Donnell, Richie Molloy, Denis Dunne; Vera Hewitt on behalf of the town’s former mayors; TDs Mattie McGrath and Seamus Healy; current school principals Michael O’Loughlin and Mairead Conway; and town clerk Ger Walsh.
In response, on behalf of the Presentation community, Sr Marie Stella said that as part of the bicentennial celebrations, a special Mass was held in St Mary’s Church - close to the house where the sisters founded their first Clonmel school in 1814 - while a commemorative stone was erected in the grounds of the convent.
Other events included a concert in the secondary school, including a performance by the transition year students celebrating the life and work of Presentation founder Nano Nagle, the launch of an historical book, Let the Lantern Shine, by former principal Anne Breen, and an exhibition currently running in the County Museum.
“I’d like to thank all who helped and co-operated with us in our bicentenary year, Sr Marie Stella said.
In her speech, Sr de Sales looked back on her early days in the order, when its enclosed nature meant there were no televisions, no radios, no newspapers, no telephones, no visits outside the convent.
Nevertheless, “we were privileged to help so many beautiful children and guide them on life’s way”.
At the end of the formalities, the mayor presented the sisters with a painting by artist Maureen Purcell of the view from the Convent looking back towards St Mary’s, acknowledging their current place in the heart of the community and remembering where it all began.