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Former School Principal, the late Sr. Kathleen, (formerly Sr. John Bosco), penned an account of her early days in Lucan, on the occasion of the St Mary's Parish Golden Jubilee in 2003.
Sr. John Bosco, with the late Laddie Birnie, at the launch of A History of Lucan, at Lucan House in 1991.
Lucan Parish in the 1950s was very different from the Lucan of today. Life in the Convent was also different. At that time, the Girls' School was very small. There were 200 children on the Roll. Boys were included up to First Standard.
The accommodation consisted of 'The Big Room', which held four classes, a small cookery room, and three Infant School rooms. When the attendance reached 300, it was necessary to extend. The School Inspector, Mr. Downey, and the late Canon Ryan P.P. Clondalkin succeeded in getting this badly needed extension of 5 classrooms, large Cookery Room, staff room and toilets. The new and refurbished rooms were officially blessed and opened in 1953 under the Principalship of the late Sr. Conception. She introduced a navy and blue/white uniform for the pupils and the former mode of address 'Miss' was replaced by 'Sister'. She engaged Miss Baby Medlar of the famous Medlar School of Dancing. The Dancing and Drill Display will be recalled by past pupils as an annual enjoyable event, which continued for many years. Later pupils will thrill to the memory of the annual operetta performed by fifth class, ably produced by Mrs. Colette McGee.
The Secondary Top was opened in 1955. This gave local girls advantage to further education on their doorstep. In 1967, when 'free' education was introduced by the then Minister of Education Mr. O’Malley, the “Top” became a real Secondary School under the Principalship of the late Sr. Joseph, who continued in that role until 1986.
Nano Nagle founded the Presentation Congregation in Cork in 1775 and it was approved by Rome in 1791. Nano's vision was worldwide 'if I could be of any service in saving souls in any part of the globe I would willingly do all in my power'. The Sisters took simple vows and were not bound to enclosure.
But in 1805, the Holy See was solicited to have the Sisters consecrated by Solemn Vows and this entailed strict enclosure. This was not Nano’s vision; she wanted to be free so that she could “take steps to liberate the poor from ignorance and injustice”. She needed to reach out. The need was all too evident to her as a result of the Penal Laws.
Only after the Vatican Council '62 - '65 did the Sisters become liberated to return to the Charism of the Order and its Foundress, to become familiar with the people in the locality where they worked. It was a disadvantage not to be able to visualise where the children lived - Dodsboro, Mill Bank, Weir View, Coldblow etc were all faceless places to the Sisters, even Chapel Hill, Sarsfield Terrace, Main St., near as they were to the Convent, were unknown because unseen territory.
In the 1950s a typical day for the Sisters behind the enclosed walls would be - Morning Call 5.50 am. The following two hours were spent in Meditation, Liturgy of the Hours (Office) and light house-charges. Mass followed at 8 am after which the Sisters had breakfast. School began at 9.15 and continued until 3 pm with a thirty minute break for lunch for the pupils and for the Sisters a snack and prayers. When classes finished the Sisters had dinner. (All meals were eaten in silence except on Feastdays). A period of recreation followed - an hour of varied activities. Apart from the chat and banter, there was the newspaper and crosswords. The knitting and crochet needles clicked busily and often interesting visitors called in. In the Summer months, this hour was spent outdoors and often extended to have an 'al fresco' tea in the garden. The remainder of the normal evening was taken up with various activities in which the Sisters were engaged, and Spiritual Reading and Evening Prayer of the Church was recited. Supper was followed by another short period of recreation after which Night Prayer was recited The Sisters retired at 9.15 and lights were out at 10 pm.
This was all a far cry from the late nights at Courses, Parent-Teacher Meetings etc that were to come after 1965.
Although the Sisters were enclosed they were very involved in the lives of the people of Lucan. The Sodalities for adults and children flourished, they played the organ and trained the Church Choir. They taught the piano and violin to numerous pupils. Many people will remember Sr. Bernadette - she always knew who was in need, especially of a prayer; she was known to have guided people to seek 'the better times' they had once known. This she did while feeding them at the back door and speaking to them in her gentle way.
Because of enclosure, the Sisters didn't go home even for family funerals, nor did they go on holidays. They didn't visit the city except for medical reasons - these trips were taken in the local taxis owned by the late Edmond O'Neill or Joe Dignam. One annual event they enjoyed was the Air Display from Weston Aerodrome which they viewed from the comfort of their stools in the field now occupied by the Girls Secondary School; when they managed to mark out a small lawn as a tennis court they felt young again. During the holiday period, they spent many a pleasurable hour playing in their long skirts and uncomfortable headdresses. Evidently, perspiration was a good hair tonic!
Gardening was a healthy interest entered into with enthusiasm by many of the Sisters, especially at the weekends and in the long Summer evenings. A Sale of Work was initiated in 1953 to raise funds for the extension to the Primary School. This money-raising venture grew over the years and it became a very enjoyable, annual social event - the mention of which will evoke very pleasant memories for many people.