Nano Nagle, the foundress of the Presentation Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary (PBVM), was born into a privileged bckground in 1718, the daughter of a wealthy Irish landowner. As a very young woman she became keenly aware of the widespread poverty in her county and of the effects of the oppressive Penal Laws which were designed to keep the Irish impoverished, without property and without education.
Wanting to be of service to her people, Nano went to Cork, where her brother lived, and set up her first little school for the poor in a rented mud cabin in Cove Lane. She did so in defiance of the law, and in complete secrecy even from her brother. Within a year, the first school grew from 30 students to 200 students who were housed in five schools. By 1775, Nano had established a congregation of nuns with the specific vocation of educating the poor. Nano became known as the Lady with the Lantern because her work did not end with the school day; it continued in her visits to the poor in their homes in the back streets of Cork.
She was described by a biographer as she made these rounds: “How often have we seen her, after a well-spent day, returning through the darkness of the night, dripping with rain, mingled in the busy crowd, moving thoughtfully along by the faint glimmering of a wretched lantern” (Coppinger). That lantern has now become the symbol of the Presentation Sisters all over the world.