Nano Nagle founded the Presentation Sisters in Ireland in 1775. She began her ministry by teaching children, which was against the law at that time. Her belief in the power and importance of education has spanned the centuries and continues to shape the ministry of the Presentation Sisters around the world. Education is the underlying fabric that weaves itself into all of the Presentation ministries.
Mother John Hughes, Mother Agnes Hughes and Sister Teresa Challoner, Presentation Sisters from Ireland, arrived in Dakota Territory on March 19, 1880. They came at the request of Bishop Martin Marty, to teach children of the Lakota Sioux and of the European settlers.
In 1886, Fr. Robert Haire invited the Presentation Sisters to open the first school in Aberdeen. An education ministry that has spanned more than 125 years began when Mother John Hughes, Mother Aloysius Chriswell and Sister Joseph Butler responded to this invitation. Presentation Academy opened on October 15, 1888. The Academy offered education for children in kindergarten through grade eight, fine arts including music, piano, organ, needlework, as well as typing, shorthand and bookkeeping. In a foreshadowing of Presentation College, the academy also offered teacher training.
Two hundred and thirty two Presentation Sister teachers have touched the lives of over 300,000 students over the years.
Today, the Presentation Sisters can be found ministering to the needs of those in all walks of life, yet they remain grounded in their first ministry: education. The Presentation Sisters of Aberdeen are the only Presentation Sisters to sponsor a college.
Msgr. John Brady established Notre Dame Junior College in 1922, in Mitchell SD. Presentation Sisters staffed the Junior College as well as Notre Dame Academy, which educated students in grades 1-12. The Presentation Sisters relied on the Junior College to provide an education for their young members.
Due to financial difficulties and concerns about accreditation, the ownership of the College was given to the Sisters in August, 1951, and the College moved to Aberdeen. The name was changed to Presentation Junior College. In 1965, the College was officially incorporated as Presentation College, an entity separate from the Presentation Sisters, although the Sisters continued their sponsorship.
The mission of the Sisters is to go where there is the greatest need. In the early 1900’s, the Aberdeen area experienced diphtheria and typhoid epidemics. The Sisters began providing health care for those afflicted. In 1901, the Sisters opened St. Luke’s Hospital in Aberdeen. This health care ministry continued to grow.
St. Luke’s School of Nursing was soon established. Sisters Mary Margaret Grainger, Peter Buckley and Vincent Hennessy were members of the first graduating class in 1904.
In 1942, the four Presentation Schools of Nursing combined to form one Central School of Nursing at St. Luke’s Hospital in Aberdeen. In 1962, the School of Nursing affiliated with Presentation Junior College. This affiliation led to the eventual designation of Presentation College as a specialty Health Science Baccalaureate Institution.
Offering degrees primarily in health related fields, Presentation College thus represents the convergence of the two ministries which have been the focus of the Presentation Sisters since the early years of their ministry in South Dakota—education and health care.
In 1988, the Presentation Sisters adopted a new mission statement, which was faithful to the Gospel values of their Foundress, Nano Nagle, and of their authentic spiritual and service tradition. This mission is to do works of justice, alleviating oppression and promoting human dignity especially among the poor; and to offer Good News proclaimed in a spirit of love, zeal and joy. The Sisters specifically noted that this mission was to be applied to each of their ministries.
Soon after this mission statement was adopted, the Leadership of the Presentation Sisters affirmed that the mission was present in the mission and philosophy of Presentation College.
As sponsors, the Sisters promote their mission and values within the College. Many sisters are active as members of the Board of Trustees as well as in supporting campus activities and providing educational support services such as tutoring and prayer ministries.