Foundation Story of the Presentation Sisters, Athenry


It was the “dream” of Canon Canton, Parish Priest of Athenry to have a community of Sisters in Athenry to assist in the work of education.  The opening occurred when Mrs Dolan and her daughter retired from teaching in December 1907.  He wrote earnestly requesting a few sisters.

“I don’t know whether you can spare any sisters, but I heard sometime ago you have some novices and postulants. If, fortunately, you cannot entertain the prospect, I shall seek elsewhere.. my most earnest desire after my salvation is that you may be able to commence work here, in Athenry, in the new year of 1908”.    (Letter June 18th 1907)

From letters of this period it is evident that there were four sisters being sent to Athenry in the New Year.  Negotiations were afoot to house the sisters. It is a lasting tribute to Canon Canton that he offered his own house to the sisters and took apartments “in an unfinished building down town until a New Parochial House is built. The estimated cost of this new house is £700”  (Letter Dec. 1907)  Some work had to be done in the new Convent and at this stage prices of sand and stone were submitted to the sisters in Tuam.

“Stones are 2/10 per cart if left on the site,
 Sand is 1/6 or 1/8  if left on the site 
 Labour is dear: 2/6 per day,  3/6 in the spring, but  - Things may calm down”.
    

Thus began the mission of the Presentation Sisters in Athenry. With sand and stone and prices very much in the air, we certainly can say we have continued the Tradition in the area.


Arrival in Athenry January 2nd. 1908


The sisters who were appointed to Athenry were:-  Sr. Gertrude O’Sullivan, a native of Castleisland, Co. Kerry,  Sr. Catherine Storey, a sea captain’s daughter from Wexford.  Sr. Magdalen Costello of Dunmore and sister Mary Ann 0’Keefe from Arles, Co. Carlow.
We have a very graphic account of the sisters’ departure from Tuam for Athenry. It must be remembered that at this time the sisters were bound by the laws of ‘enclosure’ and were unaccustomed to being outside their convent.  This was a new venture and though Athenry was but a short distance away, the whole event had the air of great sacrifice and of moving out into the unknown.  They set out, and were met at the station in Athenry by Canon Canton who now had his dream come true.  After some prayers in the local Church, he handed over his house to the sisters.  This was the First Friday in the New Year.  (Letter 1908)

“I did draw a long breath of relief when after Mass today, Sunday I realised Athenry had a Convent…That the nuns were actually installed.  I have no doubt that in the summer time and when the schools are built it will be a very enjoyable and healthy place.”


Progress through the Years

A year or so after the arrival of the Sisters in Athenry, plans were afoot for a new Primary school to be built close to the Convent. This was built in 1910 costing (estimate) £690. The parishioners helped the Sisters in every way and shortly they had a new wing added to the Convent as well as a new Oratory in 1913. Additional Sisters came in the years following as the numbers in the school increased. Further expansion was added to the Primary School, which in time had to be replaced by the modern building we see today.

In the 20s the Sisters began to provide some intermediate Education for the senior classes in the Primary School. In the early 1950s this secondary top became the Secondary School proper for about 100 girls. In 1963 the Secondary School became co-educational at the request of the people of Athenry. Further expansions occurred during 1963-68 when other Post Primary schools in the area closed.

1980-81 saw the erection of new Primary and Post-Primary schools.

To-day most of our Community has retired. A few Sisters still teach in the schools, and others work in the Parish. Both schools are in the hands of Lay Principals, and staff, many of whom are past pupils. We have come a long way since 1908 when four pioneering sisters came to Athenry to fulfil a dream of the Parish Priest, Canon Canton. 
 

 for "The Athenry Journal", December 1999

   

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