In her life of service Sr Claude carried the lantern of Presentation Order founder Nano Nagle, espousing the values associated with charity, compassion, equality and education for all
Sr Claude was a woman of vision who, like Nano Nagle, was motivated by her belief in the power of education to build up human dignity and empower young and old to find fulfilment in life.
“Who will light the lantern and go one step beyond?”
The words penned by Fr Liam Lawton to help convey, in song, the story of Nano Nagle, the founder of the Presentation Sisters, never seemed more appropriate than when recalling the late Sr Claude Meagher, formerly Glassdrum, Cappawhite, who was laid to rest this week.
For, if ever anyone followed in the foosteps of the Venerable Nano Nagle, it was Sister Claude. An educator; an innovator with a keen social conscience; a facilitator; a listener; advisor; and friend to many; Sr Claude throughout her life, did indeed go one step beyond. In fact, it always seemed as though she was determined to go the extra step in the service of others, thereby promoting, enunciating and enhancing the Christian values as laid out in the gospel she followed so faithfully.
Born Mary Teresa Meagher on May 30 1931 to Willie and Mary Meagher, Sr Claude would go on to travel far beyond the parish boundary and her influence was immense.
No doubt there was great excitement as the Meaghers welcomed a little girl after a run of five boys - Gerard was yet to be added to the family a couple of years later, leaving Mary Teresa as the second youngest.
Sr. Claude is the last of her immediate family and over the course of her funeral, her parents Willie and Mary and all of her seven siblings who have pre-deceased her: Sr. Loreto, Tim, Joe, Willie, Michael, James and Fr. Gerard, were rememebred fondly.
Mary Teresa attended primary school at the local National School in Cappawhite, where her mother was a teacher. And there can be no doubt but her great love of history was nurtured both at home and in school from an early age.
Her father, Willie, was what Sr. Claude described as ‘a historian in his own right,’ while her mother, Mary, was known for the way she imbued her students with a love of history while ensuring that the Meagher home always had a wide range of history books to hand.
For her Secondary School education, Mary Teresa moved to the Convent of Mercy in Doon. Then, on September 8, 1950, at the age of 19, she entered religious life in Presentation Convent, Thurles, where her only sister, Sr. Loreto, was already a Presentation Sister.
She made the First Profession of her vows in August '53 and in September she was assigned to Presentation Convent Hospital where she was destined to spend many years of her religious life. She taught in what was then the Presentation Secondary School prior to being trained as a teacher, and it soon became clear that she had an exceptional aptitude and skill as a teacher.
Sr. Claude made her final Profession in August 1956 and three years later while still based in Hospital, she began her academic career at University College Cork and graduated with a degree in English and History and a Higher Diploma in Education in 1962. She completed her M.A. in History in 1967 and her PhD in History (with distinction) in 1969 she had also won the Healy Hutchinson Award for best student in English at the end of her First Arts. She remained on as a lecturer in UCC for a further five years while studying for her MA and PhD in History.
Sr. Claude was acclaimed for her clear, student-friendly style of teaching and lecturing and will be fondly remembered for the support she gave to many a student over the years.
As an academic, she was recognised in historical circles for her contribution to the study of ecclesiastical and educational history, especially in the Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly. She wrote two comprehensive volumes on the history of Catholic education in the diocese, as well as researching and writing a biography of Dr. Bray, one of the more noteworthy bishops of the nineteenth century.
On completion of her studies she was assigned to the role of Principal at Presentation Secondary School, Hospital and remained in that position for a decade from 1970. During this time, she played a key role in the amalgamation of the Presentation and De La Salle Secondary Schools into what became known as Presentation de La Salle Secondary School, a very successful amalgamation that was completed in 1972.
In 1980: she was transferred to Presentation Convent, Cashel where she took up the role of Principal in Cashel Secondary School.
During her 14 years in Cashel, she had an extraordinary impact on the locality, so much so that she was honoured as Cashel Person of the Year in 1992.
Some of the landmarks of her idealism that led to the conferring of this honour were: the vision and moral courage she showed in promoting the integration of the travelling community into the local community; her support for the setting up of the Nagle Training Centre for Mentally Challenged Adults, and her extraordinary commitment and leadership that led to the setting up of the new Community School in Cashel.
On the occasion of conferring her with the Person of the Year Award, a local Councillor said of Sr. Claude: “She has always been there to help the poor of the town and the needy in any way she could, and most of what she does is completely unknown.”
In September 1994, Sr. Claude returned as Principal to Hospital to steer negotiations for the amalgamation of Presentation De La Salle Secondary School with the Vocational School and the establishment of the new St. John the Baptist Community School. Sr. Claude continued to give support to the new Community school and remained a member of the Board of Management from 1997 -2001.
At the same time, she travelled to Castlecomer to act as a Board member there. She also became actively involved in the establishment of the Social Housing Scheme in Hospital, a scheme that has resulted in the building of 20 new homes for people on what were the grounds of the Convent.
Then, in 2001 Sr. Claude was called in a new direction when she was appointed to a leadership role in the Congregation and served firstly as a team member, and then as Provincial Leader of the South East Province, taking her up to 2008.
At the end of her term of office as Provincial Leader, she returned to Hospital, this time as Leader in the local community of Sisters. Simultaneous with holding this position she acted as Archivist in the South East Province, and, to make sure that no time was wasted in the service of the Lord, she began travelling to Limerick to follow a weekly course in Scripture at the Dominican Institute by day and, at night offered her services as a volunteer with the Samaritans.
The late Sr Claude Meagher
Ten years ago, UCD hosted a three day conference on “The Future of Education in Ireland.” One of the presenters was Niamh Breathanach, former Minister for Education. In the course of her address, she introduced the name of Sr Claude Meagher and spoke of her as “epitomising all that is best in the contribution of the Religious to education in Ireland,” and instanced, among many things, her indomitable passion for providing the best education for all children, the weak as well as the strong. Ms Breathanach concluded by saying “Sr Claude is one of the great educationalists of her era.” High praise indeed and appropriate recognition of her lifetime at the coalface.
After a life lived to the full, and having given her all, Sr. Claude’s failing health led to her retirement from official appointments.
How appropriate it was that a lighted candle be one of the symbols presented during the celebration of Sr Claude's life at her Requiem Mass - the energy and light generated by the candle, a reflection of her own energy and the light she brought to so many others lives.
Similarly, Our Way of Life - the Presentation Constitution, the vision of which Sr Claude remained faithful for 70 years was presented as was a photo of Nano Nagle. Sr Claude was an excellent teacher, a capable organiser and administrator, an able negotiator and a courageous innovator. But, above all, she was a woman of vision who, like Nano Nagle, was motivated by her belief in the power of education to build up human dignity and empower young and old to find fulfilment in life.
Without a doubt, like many Presentation Sisters before her, Sr Claude Meagher carried the lantern lighted many generations ago by Nano Nagle.
She was one of a kind and is remembered with great, respect, appreciation and fondness for her lifetime of service to all those with whom she came in contact. Like a gentle breeze blowing in the summer sun, Sr Claude impacted all lives and did not discriminate.
May God's Heaven be her blanket now as she rests peacefully in His presence.