By Natashya Fernandez
It was a fitting tribute for the Presentation Sisters at the commemorative ceremony last week on Friday 23 June, to thank them for their 110 years of service at Iona Presentation College.
The occasion was marked with a special blessing by Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB and attended by Executive Director for Catholic Education Western Australia (CEWA), Dr Tim McDonald, CEWA Directors, Congregation Leader of the Presentation Sisters in Western Australia, Sr Kathleen Laffan as well as the most honoured guests, the Presentation Sisters and many other distinguished guests.
Marking the auspicious occasion, Archbishop Costelloe thanked the sisters once again, acknowledging and expressing his gratitude for their commitment, vibrant and faithful expression of the spirit and spirituality of their foundress, Nano Nagle.
“For a long time the sisters have been engaged in a process of discernment about the future of Iona College and the vital part the Lord is calling the sisters to play in that future,” Archbishop Costelloe said.
“I am sure that this discernment has at times been very difficult. Iona College has I would imagine, always been seen as the jewel in the crown of the sisters’ presence and ministry within the Archdiocese of Perth and indeed in Western Australia generally.
“Through long years of faithful and at times heroic commitment, the sisters have built a College, or perhaps it is better to say a community of educational excellence, of apostolic initiative and courage, and of fidelity to the charism of Nano Nagle,” the Archbishop said.
The Archbishop reiterated that even though the sisters are leaving Iona College, their residence remains on the premises and will still be very much in the midst of the College community.
“I know the College will always see itself as a school in the tradition and spirit of the sisters. Both the school community and the sisters will know that Iona is the sisters’ home. They will not be welcome here as honoured guests; they will simply be here as members of the family,” he added.
The formalities continued with Principal of Term Two, Mrs Debra Powell giving the welcome address to thank the Presentation Sisters for their contribution to Iona and the community.
“There could not be a more appropriate day for this tribute. Today is the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and this particular focus of Jesus Christ was deeply imbedded in the life and prayer of the foundress, venerable Nano Nagle.
“It is special in the lives of all the presentation people here today. The contribution of our Presentation Sisters to Iona is enormous. You, sisters have provided the spirit and scaffolding which brings us to today. So this day is for you, a token of our appreciation and tribute to the wonderful legacy you have left for all of us that will continue to flourish,” Mrs Powell said.
The highlight of the event was the Presentation Story – excerpts from Cork to Capricorn, of the history of Presentation Sisters in WA from 1891 to 1991 which was read out by various staff members. In addition to this and to commemorate the occasion, Principal Anne Pitos presented Sr Kathleen Laffan a pictorial memento as a token of the school’s profound gratitude to the sisters’ 110 years at Iona.
In presenting the memento, Mrs Pitos said that it was time to rejoice and thank God for the 110 years of the remarkable women of the Presentation Sisters.
“Venerable Nano Nagle was a reformist educator and was voted the most influential woman in Irish history in her ground-breaking work of faith and education to empower Irish poor. The power fuelling her compassionate heart was the love of Christ.
Since their arrival in in 1907 and establishing Iona in 1908, Mrs Pitos said that these pioneering sisters commenced the legacy that the school now inherits.
“They and their successors, the Presentation Sisters instilled Christian values in our students and certainly established Iona’s foundation as a Catholic learning community.
“In the transfer of governance to Archbishop Costelloe, our continued task will be to have Nano’s lantern to burn ever brightly,” she said.
Immensely touched by this gesture, Congregation Leader Sr Kathleen Laffan said that today’s celebration is a journey that the sisters and the presentation people have taken together in the footsteps of the foundress, Nano Nagle.
“It was Nano’s desire in the 18th century to see that the poor youth of Ireland would be educated so that they would become active citizens. Nano wanted them to grow and make a difference and her legacy continues today here at Iona.
“Nano always saw the good in others and was a constant inspiration to them. Her commitment to her faith and to follow Jesus in her mission inspired thousands of young women to take up the challenge as Presentation Sisters across the world.
“We the Presentation Sisters give thanks to God for the past 110 years. While there is sadness at this time, there is deep appreciation for the work of God through us, the constant support of parents and friends. We ourselves hope to continue bringing the message of Jesus to those we meet in various ways.
While the sisters will continue to reside at the premises of Iona, Sr Lucy Van Kessel who has been with the sisters since 1962 said that they will still keep in contact with the school while working in other areas of need.
“Right now we have 50 Presentation Sisters left in WA and only 16-18 of us at Iona. While many have retired from education, a number of us have moved into areas of special challenges and needs.
“For example a number of us work with people with serious mental illness, we visit elderly people in their homes and we work within some of the parishes. So we are trying to go as Nano would have gone. We are discerning that now and looking at how we can support people who are marginalised. That’s going into the future,” she concluded.