|Where We Live & Work|
|Stradbally - The Story of Our Community|
In 1852, the Rev. George Hume P.P and a native of Timahoe, Stradbally wished to have nuns in the Parish. He made known his wishes to the Sisters in Presentation Convent, Carlow. So with the permission of the then Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, Most Rev. Dr. Healy, two sisters moved to Stradbally. One was Sr. Mary Magdalen Joseph Crosslet, a native of Co. Down, having been professed in 1832; the other was Sr. Mary de Sales Joseph Farrell, from the Queen's County, now Co. Laois - she had been professed in 1851 in Carlow.
At first they lived in a rather run down house on the site where the present parochial house stands. The fact of poor accommodation did not dampen their enthusiasm for their mission. They taught religion to the girls of the town. In 1854 Catherine Miller from Vicarstown in the parish, entered at the age of 24 years and was professed on 4th May 1857, taking the name of Sr. Mary Clare. Judith Conlon - a widow - aged 51 years entered in 1855 and was also professed on 4th May 1857, taking the name of Sr. Mary Monica.
The Carlow sisters returned to their former Convent. Some girls entered but did not stay. However Srs. Mary Clare and Monica stayed on amid hardships. With the dowry which Mrs. Conlon brought, they bought a house more suitable to their needs, just across the lane from the run down house.
Later they bought the home of Canon O' Hanlon, who wrote "A History of Laois". In the grounds of this house a school was built. According as two other adjoining houses were vacant, they were acquired – one, being only a two-story building, was raised to match the other ones.
As the foundation was threatened with closure some sisters came from Maryborough (now Portlaoise). One was Hannah Surley, called in Religion Sr. Mary Augustine, who was a grand aunt of the playwright George Bernard Shaw. She had already moved from Carlow to found the Portlaoise convent. The other sister was Lady Maria Elizabeth Stanley from England. She was professed in 1838 and called Sr. Mary Frances. She brought a considerable dowry received from her father. There is a tradition that she was related to the Royal family but a much stronger one of her love of the poor, her interest in education and her always gentle, courteous manner. Her wish was to look after orphans and Stradbally was the only convent where that wish could be fulfilled.
In the early years of the foundation Sr. Mary Augustine Gurley was Superior and under her supervision, the Convent progressed greatly. She expanded the school to meet increasing demands and began an infant school for the younger children. Another school was established to cater for pupils from wealthy backgrounds. They paid a small tuition fee.
It was decided that the sisters needed a chapel for their own needs and so the foundation stone was laid in 1860 by Fr. Hume, P.P. Sadly he died before the project was completed but he left £100 towards its completion. He also left the yearly rent of his house to buy food and clothes for the less privileged children.
Later Fr. John Magee P.P helped in the addition of a technical school. This helped industry in the town and the lace produced competed in the market with Limerick and Carrickmacross lace, bringing in much needed resources.
In 1869, Sr. Mary Frances Stanley was elected Superior. She was responsible for a further enlargement of the Convent. Along with Fr. Ring O.M.I -from Dublin - she founded a Catholic orphanage to care for children, who were in danger of being proselytized. A Dublin Committee helped to raise funds for the Orphanage, because it was from Dublin that the orphans would be taken. They raised £7,000 and with that and £100 raised locally, an orphanage was built on the site, where the present Sacred Heart Church stands. In 1896 the Sisters gave the site for the new church and "The Abbey" was purchased from the Cosby family, to accommodate the orphans. At first 20 orphan girls were cared for by the sisters. Orphan boys were placed with families for a small fee. Tradition has it, that one of the boys was ordained to the priesthood. One of the girls entered the Presentation Order. Girls later came from the surrounding area.
The 15 acres of land attached to "The Abbey" was also leased and with the aid of workmen the sisters farmed the land. They reared sheep. The wool was sent to Foxford Mills and the serge returned to make the nuns' habits. In 1975 the land was rented to a local farmer and when the lease expired in the 1990’s the property reverted to the Cosby family.
Funds were always in short supply, despite the Dublin Committee's efforts, so a local committee was set up to help. Various bequests were received from England and Ireland to support the orphanage. In 1910, a Mr. Duval of New York, a former orphan, sent a beautiful marble statue of Our Lady with pedestal, to the orphanage. It was carved in Italy and was erected in the hall of the Abbey. That statue is now in a lovely grotto in the Church Avenue housing estate - blessed in the Marion year 1986 by Rev. John Sahan. P.P.
The laundry from the Army Barracks, in the Curragh was done in the Orphanage. This work was discontinued in 1911. An Egg Station for the distribution of eggs under the County Council scheme was established in 1911. This operated until the Abbey closed in the 1950' s.
A Bazaar was held in 1913 to provide funds for painting and repairing the Chapel and the lighting of the Convent/Technical school and orphanage. The lights were switched on, after Benediction on 26th April and the people of the area, who helped with the sale of tickets, were very pleased to see the whole institute illuminated. A Belfast firm installed the electricity. Films were shown, to provide funds for the various works carried on by the sisters, while at the same time providing entertainment and education.
In 1914 an instructress for the Technical class was engaged. There were 20 girls in the class then. As it was difficult to get the full pension some girls had to be taken at a reduced fee.
In 1916 there was an outbreak of Enteric Fever in the Convent and Abbey. About 26 girls were stricken. Some who escaped were sent home and others who were able to be moved were sent to Athy Hospital. Some of the Sisters were also victims and while they were lying unconscious, five of the girls died. Their instructress - Sr. Brenda Sheahen also died at the age of 36 years in the 6th year of her Religious life. The loss of her salary from the Technical Department was a serious blow, to add to the loss of her life in the Community. When the other sisters recovered, his Lordship Dr. Foley gave permission for them to go to Greystones, Co. Wicklow for a change of air. The Technical class had to be abandoned that year. There was another outbreak in 1917 and one girl died – the class had to be abandoned again. Some orphans were buried in the local cemetery. Polluted water supply was deemed to be the cause of the disease so water was then brought from the "Connaburra" well, down the fields and the 'Friars Cap" well was no longer used.
In 1917 the services of a Typist and Shorthand teacher was engaged for the National School. This was a great attraction and helped to keep children in school for a longer period. The 7th Class pupils availed of this down the years and became secretaries to various firms. From the Technical class emerged the Domestic Science School, carried on in the Abbey from the 1920' s to 1956 when it was decided to close it down as it was becoming difficult to get sufficient numbers. Many of the girls who trained under Sr. Bernadette Egan joined the Presentation sisters in Mount St. Anne's.
St. Joseph's school was opened in 1885. There was a partitioned room and a small room over which was St. Paul’s. Cookery was taught in a little room off St. Paul's. Later cookery was taught in a room at the side of the Abbey, then rented to families. St. Mary's school, built by the Department was opened in 1906 to cater for classes 3rd to 6th and 7th where commerce was taught.
In 1968 the 2nd Classroom in St. Joseph's was rented to the Department to accommodate a class from the Boys' school, while an extension was being built, to cater for increased numbers, as Vicarstown school was closing. The 2nd class moved to the "Back Parlour" in the Convent, where Sr. Carmel O'Reilly taught until 1969; by then that room was needed as a Dining Room because the former Dining Room was being converted into a chapel. The central heating was being installed and the original chapel was too high and in bad repair to heat. The 2nd class moved to a small narrow room in St. Mary's.
In the early 1970’s Sr. Bernadette started to look after a few old people in the town. There was a blind man to whom she used to sneak dinner out from the Convent. This was the Start of "Meals on Wheels" in Stradbally. Around that time the late President Erskine Childers had the idea of something on the same lines of the present Social Service in local communities. This would reach into the small pockets that the system could not do. Sr. Bernadette was quick to catch onto the idea. In 1974 she brought a small group together to form the Social Service Community. What Nano did for Cork , she did for Stradbally, replacing the lantern with a torch.
Mrs. Ramsbottom came in 1970, as the first lay teacher. In 1975, Scoil Aonghusa was opened with one lay teacher (Mrs Ramsbottom) among an otherwise all religious staff. Now, things have reversed and there is only one sister, with 6 full-time teachers, a shared remedial teacher and a shared Resource teacher to be appointed soon.
In 1991 the older sisters were transferred to "Shalom" Kilcock and other convents. The 4 remaining sisters moved to Court Square, to the one time Priests’ house. Now 2 sisters reside there and one is on a career break, to care for her elderly Mother. Time moves on and changes come but the spirit of Nano prevails and the sisters are revered and appreciated in the area.