The Meaning Behind the Lantern

As you have probably noticed, the lantern has been a special image for us here at Presentation College.  You will see it on our logo and on signs around the college in various places.  It is also part of the title that I have given my weekly e-mails, “Lighting the Way,” to share about the mission and history of our Presentation Sisters community.  I chose that title as it reminded me of our foundress, Nano Nagle, and her work.  Nano’s chief ministry was teaching.  She spent her days teaching children how to read, write, and how to pray.  But, Nano was also aware of the needs of many other people, some who were sick or home bound.  Nano would go out in the evenings to visit these people, bringing whatever help they needed.  Sometimes, it might only be to stop by and to pray with them.  Since the streets were dark, Nano carried a lantern to help her find her way in the dark.  That is why you often see pictures of Nano carrying a lantern, and the lantern has become a favorite symbol for the Presentation Sisters.

Let me tell you a little more about our foundress, Nano Nagle.  She lived in Ireland in the mid 1700’s during the time when the English imposed strict laws upon the Irish people, whereby they were forbidden to be educated or to practice their Catholic faith.  Nano’s family sent their daughters to live with relatives in France to be educated.  When she returned to Ireland, Nano secretly began her work of educating the poor.  Sometimes, the children would bring their handy-work with them so that they could cover up their books so that it would look like they were learning to embroider in case anyone came to inspect what they were doing.  When Nano’s health began to fail her, she recognized the need to find a group who would be willing to carry on her work of educating the poor.  On Christmas Eve 1775, Nano began her new community which eventually took the name of Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  A little over a hundred years later (1880), a few Presentation Sisters from Ireland landed in Dakota Territory to carry on Nano’s work of education.  In the early 1900’s a severe diphtheria epidemic hit the Aberdeen area, and the Sisters responded to the need at the time, by closing school and setting up cots to care for the sick. That is the beginning of our work in the health care ministry.  We, Aberdeen Presentation Sisters, are now involved in both education and health care.  We try to remember some of Nano Nagle’s parting words to us before she died, “spend yourselves for the poor”, and “If I could be of service in saving souls in any part of the globe, I would gladly do all in my power.”  Today you can find Presentation Sisters ministering in many parts of the world – Africa, South America, Australia, India, England, Ireland, and the United States of America.  As students, alumni, employees, and partners of Presentation College, we hope that you, too, will do all in your power to help those who need assistance – bringing Christ’s Gospel of love to those who need it.  Let the lantern be your symbol.  Whatever you do here at Presentation, you are helping people to find their way in this sometimes darkened world.  If you teach, you are enlightening the minds of the people you teach; or if you serve in nursing or any supportive role, you bring light and courage to those who come to you for assistance.  Or if you are a student, you are enlightening your own mind by studying hard, and will be able to bring light to others later on.  Remember if you do nothing more than speak a kind word to someone, you are bringing light and courage to them.  So let’s continue Lighting the Way for those who need our light.  Let the lantern be your guide as it was for Nano.

By Sr. Marilyn Dunn