'Ours is not to reap the harvest, Ours is just to sow the seed'
Blessed Anne-Marie Javouhey

Mount Sackville remembers 160 years of Cluny Education in Ireland

Mount Sackville remembers 160 years of Cluny Education in Ireland

Mount Sackville remembers 160 years of Cluny Education in Ireland

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Saturday the 12th of December, 2020 marks the 160th anniversary of the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny in Ireland. We wish to acknowledge the contribution and achievements of the Sisters who have been synonymous with the education of young women in Ireland for many generations. The order, founded in France in 1807 by Blessed Anne Marie Javouhey, has been instrumental in the education of thousands of young women as well as providing a novitiate for those who received God’s calling. In recent years they have also been involved in providing nursing care for the elderly.

“ We have been asked to go to Ireland to teach the poor and the well -to- do. I have been assured that we could do much good there. If such be the will of God, I agree to this foundation with all my heart”.

Blessed Anne Marie wrote the above in 1850. However, it was to be ten years before the congregation would set foot on Irish soil.

From the time the penal laws ended many bishops encouraged religious orders to come to Ireland. The Ireland of 1860 was very different from today. Irish land was owned by landlords who played a pivotal role in shaping the rural fabric of the country and landlord–tenant relationships came to dominate the mid-Victorian period.

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The 1851 Census revealed that the majority of Irish people still lived in the countryside. In fact 83 per cent of Irish dwellers were rural and were dependent on the land. For the majority of people the Ireland of the 1860s was characterised by poverty, disease, emigration and disillusionment. University education was the prerogative of the non-Catholic middle class. Many children finished school at the age of ten or eleven to work on the farm or to get a job in industries such as milling, brewing, baking or distilling. Most secondary schools were for boys. Very few girls were educated as the general attitude was that a woman’s place was in the home. Those who were educated came from a middle class background. Upon leaving school most females worked in secretarial positions or devoted their lives to God by joining a religious order. It was against this background that the story of the Cluny order in Ireland began. An involvement that has left a lasting legacy that continues to thrive in the Ireland of 2020.

On the 12th of December, 1860 three French nuns of whom Mother Callixte Pichet was leader arrived in Dublin. This resulted from an invitation issued by Dr Cullen, the Archbishop of Dublin, to the Cluny Mother House in Paris. It seems that Archbishop Cullen was encouraged or perhaps persuaded to issue this invitation by a Fr Pére Jules Leman, who founded Blackrock College (formerly Castledawson House)the same year.

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Mother Callixte Pichet was born in Cluny in 1823 and was professed at a very young age. She began her missionary vocation at the age of eighteen, when she was sent to island of Martinique in the Caribbean where she worked until 1852. On her return to France she worked in many prestigious educational establishments. A few years later she was posted to Reunion in the Indian Ocean. From here she was sent to Dublin via Paris where she would collect two other sisters. Sister Bernadine Dumont and Sister Lazare Lefrancois.

Their journey to Ireland was not a pleasant one, given the time of year and the unfavorable weather conditions; they travelled the turbulent waters of the English Channel and the Irish Sea. It is fair to assume, that these three gallant women were relieved to arrive safely on Irish soil. They arrived in Dun Laoghaire Port at 8am on the 12th of December 1860 where they were met by a Fr Holley, who took them to the newly founded Blackrock college for tea and refreshments hosted by Fr Leman.

Fr Holley later accompanied the sisters to their new home in Blanchardstown. The house had previously been occupied by Fr Leman and the Holy Ghost fathers who had set up a seminary there with view to finding vocations for the missions. Prior to this, the house was a Carmelite convent.

Mother Pichet described their arrival in Blanchardstown, “when we arrived a considerable crowd of little boys followed our carriage, but they looked more happy than curious. We wanted to make a visit to the church, even before entering the house, but the parish priest who had been notified of our arrival, came to meet us and took us to the Parochial House so as to avoid the crowd. On either side women and children were running about the village”.

While Mother Pichet seemed in awe of the reception they received in Blanchardstown she was less impressed with the condition of her new residence. The house was very bare of furniture and fittings. The furniture consisted of four beds, one deal table and some chairs.

The chapel had an old wooden altar but nothing else. She wrote the following to her superior in Paris. “ With the exception of a wooden altar, no statues nor tabernacle here, no altar stone, nothing”.

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With help from Fr Leman and the Holy Ghost fathers as well as support from the Mother House, Mother Pichet, being the formidable woman she was, acting as manager, architect, accountant and educator, she soon had the convent up and running. Given the extreme, poverty that reigned in Blanchardstown at the time and although the sisters spoke no English, twenty three Irish girls joined their community within the first year. The community continued to flourish with requests for admissions arriving daily. The premises in Blanchardstown was unsuitable for a larger congregation. With view to opening a girls’ secondary school, Mother Pichet began looking for a more suitable premises. Having first considered a site in Monkstown, the more suitable and attractive demesne of Mount Sackville came up for sale.

After much persuasive letter writing to her superiors to extract both permission and the money to buy it, Mount Sackville became the property of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Cluny in January 1864 for a sum of 70,000 francs, €10,000 in today’s money. Mother Pichet was more than happy with her new premises and by June of that year she describes Mount Sackville as “Heaven on earth- in this world’s language it does express the beauty of the place.”

She was a remarkable woman with unbounded organisational skills, and straight away set about reshaping and extending Mount Sackville. Under her energetic supervision, cloisters, dormitories and an infirmary were built. A shed was converted into a recreational hall for boarders. A large and beautiful chapel was built in 1877. She soon employed, teachers of French, English, German, Music and Art as well as employing a teacher of what she called “fancy needlework”. Both the school and convent continued to expand under her leadership. She continued as Mother Superior until 1888 when she was recalled to the mother house in Paris.

The community of the sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny continued to expand both nationally, establishing a congregation in Ferbane, Co. Offaly in 1896 and in Killiney in 1956 and internationally with sisters travelling from Mount Sackville to set up communities worldwide.

The legacy of the sisters of St Joseph of Cluny continues to thrive in the Mount Sackville of today. I wish to acknowledge their contribution and achievement to education in Ireland over the last sixteen decades. Their spirit is alive and well in the Ireland of 2020 and is reflected in the words of our foundress, Blessed Anne Marie Javouhey.

“Ours is not to reap the harvest, ours is just to sow the seed”.

Mary Delaney

Our Prayer Service for 10th December, 2020

Video of the Celebrations of 160 Years of Cluny in Ireland

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Past Pupil-Stella O’Malley
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Past Pupil-Stella O’Malley Talk for Junior Years
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Mount Sackville Secondary School,
Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny,
Chapelizod,
Dublin 20,
D20 WP68

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