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Presentation Sisters

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Ireland to Manhattan to Staten Island

For nearly a century, Saint Clare students were devotedly educated by the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or P.B.V.M. The society was founded by now-Venerable Nano Nagle in 1775 for the "Charitable Instruction" of poor Catholics in oppressed Ireland, at a time when American colonists were also resisting England's domination. A century later in 1874, Father Arthur Donnelly, the Irish-born founder of Saint Michael's Church in Manhattan, invited the Presentation Sisters to come staff his new parochial school. Mother Mary Joseph Hickey and ten other Sisters and Postulants sailed from Ireland at his invitation, with the approval of Pope Pius IX.

Before embarking on their long journey, the missionary band knelt at the tomb of their foundress to seek her blessing. Their steamship, City of Paris, reached New York on September 8, 1874. Soon after their arrival, the Presentation Sisters began teaching in St. Michael's still-unfinished school on West 31st Street, "amid bricks and mortar, dust and workmen." The first enrollment was 600 children, and quickly grew to become the largest parochial school in New York.

The school and the Presentation community flourished, although many local children sadly did not have families who could provide for them. In 1884, Mother Mary Joseph Magdalen, Mother Mary Teresa Reynolds, and four other Sisters established Mount Saint Michael's Home for Children, at the Frost Farm in Greenridge, Staten Island. This group officially branched off from the Manhattan community in 1890 to become the Presentation Sisters of Staten Island. A second group of Sisters, under the leadership of Mother Mary Magdalen Keating, left in 1886 to establish a new Presentation foundation in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. From those early beginnings at St. Michael's Church, and often from difficult childhoods themselves, the Presentation Sisters went on to found schools and initiate new ministries at many locations in the northeastern United States and beyond.

St. Clare's Mission Hall, Parish, and School

By the 1920s, Staten Island was a thriving area, and new parishes were being formed quite rapidly. St. Patrick Church (Richmondtown) became the Mother Church to four Mission Churches, namely St. Margaret Mary (Midland Beach), Our Lady of Lourdes (New Dorp), St. Charles (Oakwood), and St. Clare (Great Kills).

St. Clare Church, even then, had the tremendous cooperation of its congregants, and they were concerned about the education of their children. The founding Rector, Father Charles Parks, approached the community of Presentation Sisters and arranged for the beginning of St. Clare's Religious Education program.

In 1922, the Sisters started the program in a rented hall along Giffords Lane, on Wednesday afternoons and Sunday mornings. This little St. Clare Mission Hall marked the beginning of a most-fruitful educational system for neighborhood Catholics. When Fr. Parks became ill, the program's supervision fell to his assistant, Fr. Thomas McDonnell, who was a childhood member of St. Michael's Church and later became a Bishop. His report back to Fr. Parks was: "It is like Bethlehem, with the Sisters in charge of the Hall and the 200-plus children." The pioneer spirit of the first three Sisters, Mother Vincent, Mother Dominic and Mother Aloysius, is to be applauded. Indeed, it was their groundwork upon which many other Presentation Sisters continued to build successful programs for the children of Great Kills. The Presentation Sisters made similar arrangements with St. Ann Church (Dongan Hills) and Our Lady Help of Christians (Tottenville).

St. Clare Church became an independent parish in 1925, and planning soon began for a full-time parish school. On July 1, 1935, Msgr. Joseph Farrell visited to bless the grounds on Lindenwood Road where construction began, and St. Clare School opened on September 14, 1936, during the Great Depression. Mother Dominic became the first principal, joined by Mother Aloysius and Sisters Mary Clare, Mary Alacoque, and Mary Aquinas, each covering one or two entire grades. The Presentation Sisters would continue to lead the school through the 20th century and into the 21st, establishing a lasting tradition of "Faith, Service, Excellence."

The Sisters commuted daily -- from Mount Saint Michael's Home until 1945, and then from the former Horrmann Castle atop Grymes Hill -- since there was not a convent in the parish. The first graduation ceremony for St. Clare eighth-graders was held in 1938. Kindergarten and the Mothers' Club started in 1945 at the end of World War Two, and the Fathers' Club in 1950. The parish children and parents were actively involved and responsible for the care of the buildings and grounds. They took great pride in their work and it became their special ministry.

St. Clare School was later enlarged twice, with new wings added in 1959 and 1990, in response to population growth from the Baby Boom and the Verrazzano Bridge. By the 1950s, a dozen locations were served by more than 125 Presentation Sisters of Staten Island, larger than any other Presentation community in their first two centuries.

St. Clare's Presentation Convent and Center

In November 1961, St. Clare Parish purchased the 1931 house next to the school, for its faculty of Presentation Sisters. When the alterations were complete, the parish had a sixteen-room Convent with its own chapel. The doors were opened shortly before the start of the school year in September 1963, and St. Clare's Presentation Convent received an architectural award as one of the best building projects completed on Staten Island that year. To the delight of the Sisters, they would no longer need to commute and endure terrible road conditions in inclement weather, and they could be fully accessible to students and parents.

St. Clare parishioners had banded together to save their Plaid Stamps and Green Stamps, the forerunners of today's retail reward cards. They traded-in these valuable stamps for the furnishings of the new Convent and the needs of their beloved Sisters. All the items that were needed in a kitchen or a sitting room were provided. The cabinets were stocked with dishes, pots, utensils, etc. Bed linens were secured, and the closets proudly stored towels and blankets. When the Sisters moved in, the Moms had even made the beds so that each Sister would feel most welcomed. Bishop Joseph Pernicone formally dedicated the new Convent in April 1964.

The Presentation Sisters enjoyed many happy occasions in the Convent and loved being so close to the people. Father Eugene Hicks, St. Clare's longtime Associate Pastor, was a frequent visitor to the Convent chapel when he would bring parishioners to celebrate special liturgies. These were always pleasant and welcomed events. Presentation Sisters worldwide rejoiced when their foundress Nano Nagle officially began her sainthood candidacy in 1984, the bicentennial of her death.

With the arrival of Msgr. Joseph Murphy in 1985, St. Clare's Presentation Convent received some special attention to keep the facilities in good order. He was constantly trying to make things easier for the older Sisters, and he often spoke of the joy it was to have them in the parish family. There was a most open and enjoyable relationship with St. Clare's clergy, who were so appreciative of the Presentation Sisters' long years of ministry.

Just before the new millennium, on December 12, 1999, the Convent was re-dedicated, as more of the Sisters reached retirement and the building was no longer used as their residence. The re-dedication would use the former Convent as St. Clare's Presentation Center, which provides office space for the current generation of faithful lay staff members who carry forth the tremendous legacy of the Presentation Sisters, in their Christian service to St. Clare parishioners. As the Sisters declared at the re-dedication: "Our foundress, Nano Nagle, would be filled with much joy to have her Daughters honored in such a special way. Presentation Center will continue to be a source of energy and love for all who minister here and for all who are ministered to."

67 Presentation Sisters Who Ministered at St. Clare's

-- with our apologies for any errors or omissions --

Mother Mary Aloysius
Mother Mary Dominic Ward (Principal 1936-1943)
Mother Mary Vincent

Sr. M. Alacoque
Sr. M. Andrew
Sr. M. Angela
Sr. M. Anne Dunn
Sr. M. Annunciata
Sr. M. Anthony
Sr. M. Aquinas
Sr. M. Assisium Schaber (Principal 1964-1986)
Sr. M. Benignus
Sr. M. Berchmans
Sr. M. Bernadette Schaber
Sr. M. Borgia
Sr. M. Borromeo
Sr. M. Carmel
Sr. Catherine Quinn
Sr. M. Cecilia
Sr. M. Charles
Sr. M. Christina
Sr. M. Christopher
Sr. M. Clare Dunne
Sr. M. Clare Landgrover
Sr. M. Concepta
Sr. M. Cordis Quinn
Sr. M. David
Sr. M. Dolores
Sr. M. Eileen
Sr. Eileen Boyle
Sr. M. Emmanuel
Sr. M. Evangelist
Sr. M. Francis
Sr. M. Genevieve
Sr. M. Gertrude
Sr. M. Grace
Sr. M. Imelda
Sr. M. Jean Marie
Sr. Jean Wagner
Sr. M. Jeanne
Sr. M. Jerome
Sr. M. Joan
Sr. M. John (Principal 1943-1951)
Sr. Kathleen Monahan
Sr. M. Kathleen Quinn
Sr. Kathryn Anderson
Sr. M. Kevin
Sr. M. Lawrence
Sr. M. Liguori
Sr. M. Loretta
Sr. M. Magdalene
Sr. Marian
Sr. Marie
Sr. M. Mark
Sr. M. Martha
Sr. Mary Patrick O'Keefe
Sr. Maureen
Sr. Miriam Coe
Sr. M. Monica Hussey (Principal 1951-1964)
Sr. M. Paul
Sr. Rosemary H. Ward (Principal 1986-2004)
Sr. M. Scholastica
Sr. M. Stephen
Sr. M. Veronica
Sr. M. Virginia
Sr. Virginia Wilkinson
Sr. M. Xavier

Most of this history of Presentation Sisters came from their informational booklet of December 12, 1999, when Saint Clare's Presentation Convent was re-dedicated as the Presentation Center. Subsequent updates were made by Jo Rossicone and Gregg Patruno, under the supervision of Monsignor Richard Guastella. Additional sources included the centennial book "Parish of Saint Michael, 1857-1957," the commemorative journal "Saint Clare's School: Golden Jubilee 1936-1986," the school yearbook "Saint Clare Clarion: 2004," the program book "Saint Clare's School: 75th Anniversary Gala" (2012), and a two-part feature in the Staten Island Advance newspaper (May 25 and June 1, 1996). Further suggestions are welcome.

See also:
"History of Saint Clare Parish," from the parish website.
"International Presentation Association," official Presentation website.
"Presentation Sisters," from Wikipedia.