Mass for the Presentation Schools Conference

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Mass for the Presentation Schools Conference
2 August 2013

As I am sure many of you know, in the various gospel narratives, there is a distinctive “turning point” when the writer informs us that in the journey of Jesus, there was a clear change in direction. In the gospel of St. Luke, it comes towards the conclusion of the ninth chapter where we are told that Jesus “resolutely” changed his direction and turned on the road to Jerusalem. Maybe the apostles did not understand as clearly as they would later on, just what that change of direction actually entailed.

In the gospel of Matthew, likewise there is a turning point and we have been hearing about it in the passage which has just been read for us. The tensions between Jesus and the leaders of the people had been growing over a period of time and the gap between them was widening. In a subtle kind of way, Jesus was passing the responsibility as teachers from the Pharisees to the Apostles, and hostility was clearly growing. Death was becoming a very likely prospect for Jesus if he continued along this path.

Jesus was actually taking steps at that time to prepare the foundations of the Church, and it would be a Church that had a destiny similar  to Jesus himself, one marked out by the cycle of Death and Resurrection. It is not a surprise that the disciples struggled with this early change in direction and that they, at that time were manifesting signs of little faith.

No doubt in the life of Nano Nagle, there was a “turning point” as well. The biographers may be able to identify it quickly and easily. From what I have read, it would seem that Nano Nagle came from a family that was quite privileged, but she grew up in the environment where great antagonism towards the Catholic Church was clearly evident. It was for this reason apparently that Nano’s family decided that she would have better educational opportunities in France than in Ireland.

The turning point in her life came when she decided against pursuing a religious vocation in France, and in the realisation that her calling was to provide some better educational opportunities for the children of the poorer families back in her homeland. Education, as we know, it the key that opens the door to release the potential of each student, and this is what Nano understood.

Her vision was not just limited to her homeland, and 82 years after her death, the Presentation Sisters were answering the call here in Australia, and more precisely, here in the state of Tasmania. Here, on this very site, they established St. Mary’s College in 1868 which has continued to provide a high class Catholic education for girls in this city from that time until the present day.

This is an occasion when we have a further opportunity to acknowledge the contribution of the Presentation Sisters to Catholic Education since their arrival in Australia. You represent the various places where they have “planted the acorn.”  In the many communities that the Sisters have served, the spirit of the Presentation Sisters, and the charism of Nano Nagle are still evident, even though the Sisters no longer have a physical presence in the places where once they operated a school or lived in a community.

In the many initiatives that we recall, the Sisters needed to show “great faith”  and it is your task now to preserve and to advance that heritage. I was looking at the first reading as well, and noting the encouragement of Moses for the people to remain steadfast in the observance of the various feasts. Observance of the feasts  was a way of living through the yearly cycle as we do by our observation of the  Church’s calendar each year. In that same way the faith and the history of the Jewish people were preserved.

The Feasts of the Passover, that of the Unleavened Bread, of the Atonement and of the Tabernacles, were all remembrances of turning points in the history of the Jewish people and in the lives of the individuals. In some ways we have our own equivalents in the feasts of Christmas, the Passover, the commemoration of the Death of Jesus, and then the celebration of his Resurrection.

Over the centuries, the Presentation Sisters, as teachers of the young, have given the students a greater insight into the significance of these special occasions. They have assisted the students to become people of greater faith, ready to face the challenges of being a disciple of Jesus in the wider world, beyond the walls of the classrooms.

In recent days, you, I am sure,  have been following the events which took place in Rio de Janeiro during World Youth Day, and in particular the impact of the visit of Pope Francis for the first time as Pope to his continent of origin.

On the day of his arrival in Brazil, he used a very beautiful phrase in relation to young people. Pope Francis said that “young people are the window through which the future enters the world.” That is most certainly true. The young people  have to be given a solid basis of faith, their safety and  education are to be guaranteed, and the horizon needs to be transparent to awaken in them the potential to be builders of their own destiny.

Nano Nagle and the Presentation Sisters who have followed her, understood all this over two centuries ago, and they have continued to guide their students to be “builders of their own destiny.” I am sure you are carrying the lantern at the present moment, and for this I thank you. I hope that your time together here again in Hobart, will ensure that the lamp becomes lighter and the light becomes brighter.