Offaly convent to close after 200 years of service

Justin Kelly

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Justin Kelly

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news@offalyexpress.ie

Offaly convent to close after 200 years of service

Pupils, 1912

The Killina Presentation Convent outside Tullamore is to close in August after 202 years of service to the local community.

Sr Laura Boyle puts the closure down to a decline in vocations, telling Midlands 103 this week that "the world is very attractive for young people nowadays."

"They very much can have their own careers and get jobs, get third level education. That was not the case when sisters entered in my time."

The Sisters are synonymous with Rahan and many have taught in the local Killina Presentation Secondary School over the year, including Sister Áine who only retired her post there last year at the age of 95. The bicentenary of the convent was celebrated with a book and series of events in 2017.

In July 1817, two Presentation Sisters travelled on the Grand Canal from Dublin to Killina. Their arrival heralded the beginning of a story of involvement with the community of Rahan and the wider area, which has spanned more 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 schoolhouse 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 longstanding presence of the Sisters in Killina 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.

Indeed, one of the reasons for the closure of the convent is the ageing profile of the nuns and the lack of a younger generation. The Sisters will, however, remain much-loved in Rahan and beyond long after their departure in August.

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She added that most of the sisters in the convent, which is situated near Tullamore, are elderly, ranging in age from 70 to 90. Sister Áine taught Irish in Killina Presentation Secondary School until she retired last Christmas at the age of 95. She is one of seven nuns at the convent. Sr Oliver Wrafter is the longest living resident, having spent her entire religious life in Killina after joining the convent in 1941.

Each of the sisters had discussions with the Presentation Sisters leadership team before the decision to close was made. However, they will miss the local people and each other.

Just two years ago there were celebrations for the bicentenary of the convent, which was established in 1817 by two wealthy siblings, struck by the poverty of the local children. An organising committee helped prepare and edit a book for the celebration, titled 1817–1992 A Celebration of 175 years of Service and written by Sr Oliver Wrafter.