Offaly community to mark bicentenary of Presentation Sisters

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Justin Kelly

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Justin Kelly

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justin.kelly@iconicnews.ie

The Offaly community of Killina, near Tullamore, is organising a series of events to mark the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the Presentation Sisters in the area.

In July 1817, two Presentation Sisters travelled on the Grand Canal from Dublin to Killina, near Tullamore, Co. Offaly. Their arrival heralded the beginning of a story of involvement with the community of Rahan and the wider area, which has spanned the two centuries to the present day.

It was not by accident that the Presentation Sisters founded their convent in Killina, a rural parish west of Tullamore. Miss Maria O’Brien, daughter of a wealthy merchant family in Dublin, was the owner of Rahan Lodge and its adjoining estate.

Recognising the need to improve the plight of the local children, Maria responded with generosity by establishing her own school in 1812. She used her contact with the Archbishop of Dublin to extend an invitation to the Presentation Sisters in George’s Hill, Dublin, to come to Killina to provide for the continuity of education for the children of the parish.

The Presentation Order had been founded by Nano Nagle in 1775, with the aim of looking after the educational needs of the poor. Maria also provided some funds and land for the convent and gained permission and support from the Bishop of
Meath, Bishop Plunkett.

On the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, July 16, 1817, Sisters Mary Angela and Sister Mary Teresa Biggar, who were siblings, arrived in Killina. Within weeks, on September 1, they opened their school to over 100 pupils.

The small school house that was already there, thanks to Maria O’Brien, was extended to provide living accommodation for the Sisters. Maria O’Brien, herself, joined the Presentation Order and spent the last five years of her life, until her death in 1827, in the convent she had been so instrumental in founding.

Life cannot have been easy for the first Sisters in Killina Convent. They had to work hard teaching and running the school for the large number of pupils, whilst at the same time balancing their spiritual and household duties. Other Sisters joined, including a mother and daughter –the St. Ledgers- but the numbers remained small.

Indeed, when Mother Francis Xavier Curran left Killina in 1841 to found the first Presentation Convent in India, at Madras, accompanied by Sisters from Maynooth, there were only seven Sisters in Killina.

The Sisters were pioneering women who showed a great generosity of spirit in devoting their lives to improving the circumstances of the parish community. Apart from the three Rs, the Sisters prepared the children for the Sacraments and looked after their spiritual formation through Sunday School and Sodalities.

It is said that during the Famine, the Sisters taught lace-making to the women of the parish, in an effort to provide them with an extra source of income. Over the years, they carried out other charitable works, quietly extending help to those in need. Their generosity also involved investing their private salary from teaching back into the school.

In more recent years, when a brand new primary school, incorporating a secondary top, was built in the 1960s, it was a joyful
time. However, in the following decade, the Sisters, supported by the local community, struggled to retain the senior cycle, in opposition to Government policy of the 1970s.

In 1977, their persistence was rewarded and the school was granted full secondary status. The numbers attending the secondary school have grown steadily and include a Resource Centre for students with a Moderate General Learning Disability.

The Presentation Girls National School and the local Boys National School amalgamated in 2009. This was a poignant event for the Sisters.

The continuing presence of the Sisters in Killina today is a testament to their dedication and commitment to the Presentation ethos and to the people of Rahan. In return, they are much appreciated and valued as friends by the local community.

Sr. Oliver Wrafter is the only current Sister who has spent her entire religious life in Killina since she joined the Presentation Order in February 1941.

July 16, 2017, was the actual date of the bicentenary and appropriately, is the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The Presentation Sisters marked the day in typically quiet manner. A number of visiting Sisters, former members of the Killina Community, joined them and the local community for a Mass of celebration in the parish church in Killina, celebrated by Fr. Martin Carley, PP.

Later, there was time for hospitality, reminiscence, prayer and reflection in the company of their colleagues.

Now, in September and October, the locality is organising a number of events to commemorate the anniversary. On Friday 29 September at 7:30 pm – there will be an opening address by Sr. Bernadette Flanagan and a Book Launch followed by a concert involving Rahan branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and students from Killina Presentation Secondary School.

On Saturday, September 30, the action begins at 2pm with a re-enactment of the arrival of the first Sisters. There will also be guided walks around the area, an exhibition of material and photos related to the convent and school and a classroom of old.

Later, at 7:30 pm, there will be a drama mounted by teachers and students from the secondary school.

On Sunday, October 1, a special Mass of celebration will be held at 3pm. Bishop Michael Smith will attend. Mass will be followed by a tree-planting ceremony and the afternoon will conclude with a buffet.

The committee has worked hard to organise the celebrations and extends a warm invitation to everyone associated with Killina Presentation Sisters, whether currently or in the past, to join with the Sisters and the local community in marking this hugely significant anniversary.

A large team of volunteers will be working behind the scenes to ensure the smooth running of the events and to provide the hospitality for which Killina is well known. Many people have indicated that they will travel long distances in order to be part of the celebrations. You too can help make this a weekend to remember by contacting former classmates and by making it an occasion to renew old friendships.

Finally, if you would like to be an ‘extra’ in the re-enactment of the arrival of the first Sisters in 1817, you are invited to participate but only if dressed in the costume of the early 1800s!

Full details of the schedule of events are available on: Killinaschool.ie (latest news), Facebook: Bicentenary Celebration Killina, Rahan.

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