The Slovakian Mission officially came to an end on 15 December 2023. As the last Presentation Sister in Slovakia, Sr Anne McNamara shared the following account of the work carried out there since the early 1990’s.

The 2 May 2024 was a very special and poignant day for me. As the last Presentation Sister in Slovakia, I finally closed the door on our years in mission there. The mission in Slovakia officially came to and end on 15 December 2023. It is, however, with joy that we welcome another expression of life and ministry in Spišské Podhradie. The Convent there has been gifted to the Diocese which, under the direction of Caritas, has already launched a refuge for women and children experiencing abuse. It is intended that the program will provide them with accommodation, skills and support as they rebuild their lives. 

The Irish Provincials with responsibility for the mission, Srs Grace McKernan (South West) and Mary Hanrahan (North East) visited Slovakia for the first time in October 2023. On 24 October they met the local Bishops, Auxillary Bishop Ján Kuboš and newly appointed Bishop František Trstenský, who accepted the building on behalf of the Diocese. The entire process of transferring ownership and making the building ready for its new purpose took 10 months. The house was painted, all utilities were transferred to the Diocese and physical changes were made in the use of some of the areas. 

The Convent was legally gifted to the Diocese of Spiš on 11 July 2023.

Significantly on 17 March 2024, the first residents – a mother and son – Martina and Philip came to live in the newly transformed building. There are currently five women and seven children in the newly named ‘House of St Patrick’. 

During the past year too, two other properties owned by the Presentation Sisters in Bratislava – Devínska Nová Ves and Budatínska were sold. These flats had for many years been home for Rita Carberry (Ireland North East), Louise Eustace (Ireland North East), Rosaria King (Ireland North East), Elizabeth Starken (Ireland North East) RIP, Eileen Tobin (Ireland North East) and more recently Immaculate Power (Ireland North East). A previously owned flat – Hálova – was gifted to a Foundation which helps rehouse Ukranian refugees in 2022. There are currently two families in Hálova and five children, both mothers have found work and the children attend school daily. 

Looking Back

It was in the early 1990’s that the Presentation Sisters first came from Ireland to Slovakia. They began, even while studying the Slovak language and becoming generally acclimatized to this very different context, by teaching English in Primary and Secondary Catholic schools in Bratislava and later in Košice, Levoca, Poprad, Spišské Nová Ves, Stará Lubovna and Spišské Podhradie. The Sisters always worked with local people and schools offering educational opportunities, family support and faith community development. In the beginning, Rira Carberry, Immaculate Power, Yvonne Jennings, Louise Eustace, Máiréad Moran and Anne McNamara taught English in the Catholic schools in Bratislava. Rosaria King, RIP also taught English to many people on a one to one basis in Budatínska and Devínska Nová Ves and did much pastoral work. Eileen Tobin came to Slovakia the day after 9/11. She worked tirelessly for many years in a Social Housing Scheme for homeless parents and children called Fortuna. She also taught English and prepared children for the Sacraments at the English-speaking Catholic Church of St Ladislav in Bratislava.

Many of these Catholic schools were founded by Catholic parents. This is a time in the 1990’s when the Catholic Church was emerging from being an underground church and also citizens were for the first time in fifty years allowed limited travel. Máiréad Moran writes that The presence of Immaculate Power and myself while supporting the very committed faith-enriched local community added to the Christian ethos while academically enabling the less well-off children to communicate efficiently and effectively in English, this opening doors to their future. Today these schools are thriving spiritually and academically. Examples of the contribution made by the Presentation Sisters are the Erasmus funded school exchanges organised by Louise Eustace and Máiréad Moran between schools in Bratislava and Carlow and Clondalkin respectively. Students from each school tool part staying two weeks each way in one another’s homes.

Catholic communities and organizations, as well as faith development groups have been central to Presentation ministry in Slovakia, as they are all over the world. Eileen Tobin, the late Rosaria King and Elizabeth Starken were very much involved in this ministry in Bratislava. On retiring from school, Rita Carberry went on to work for many years on a resocialization project called Resoty which is a shelter for homeless men, founded by SDB priest, Fr Anton Srholec (RIP).

After the year 2000, Presentation Sisters began moving from Bratislava to the east of Slovakia. Máiréad Moran went to Košice to work in a Catholic Secondary school and Marie Behan and Eileen Nash later came to Slovakia and joined Máiréad in community in Košice where they worked in a Roma settlement called Luník IX and also among the people of Košice. This new mission developed following reflection and discernment on the greater needs in eastern Slovakia, notaby lack of educational opportunities, poverty and high unemployment. The Sisters there experienced typical Slovak generosity, bags of potatoes, vegetables, apples, would be left at the door of the flat. When thanking them the reply was always Thank God we have it to give. 

The great need in Košice at that time was education and English language classes. Employment was nil in the area and with globalization adults needed to be able to communicate in English to get work (even if they didn’t use it at work). Thus, as in Bratislava, having adults coming to the apartment after work for one-to-one English was common, with the bedroom often converting to classroom! This was the experience of all the Sisters as they taught families, children and young adults English in the flats as well as in school.

In 2003 Louise Eustace, Immaculate Power, Madeline Houlihan, RIP, and Elizabeth Starken, RIP went to work in Spišské Podhradie, a small town in the East of Slovakia, with the support and encouragement of the then Bishop of Spiš, František Tondra, RIP. They bought and renovated a building which officially opened on 21 November, 2004 called the Nano Nagle Centre.

Among other activities it housed a Pre-school for Roma in Spišské Podhradie, supported by the Presentation Sisters. The Pre-school has been run from the beginning by the Municipal authority. The Pre-school was and continues to be vital for children aged 3 to 7 Roma, who do not have the opportunity otherwise to avail of Pre-school education. As Nano Nagle always believed, education is the key to any person’s development, and without access to education, communities will never thrive or integrate into the society around them. This was our ministry. Louise Eustace was the Founder and first Director of the project. Throughout the years many of the Sisters mentioned in this article have worked on this project, helping to educate children and parents, encourage regular school attendance and provide basic health education. Each September the Pre-school opens as usual with 24 children enrolled. Sincere thanks to all those who supported the Nano Nagle Centre ministry down through the years.

The Presentation Convent in Spišské Podhradie was built and opened in 2006.

Mary Lenehan came to Slovakia in 2006 and helped with the teaching of English. That year also, Anne McNamara moved to Spišské Podhradie and worked in the Nano Nagle Centre. She became Director in 2013 following the retirement of Louise Eustace.

Rupa Lourdhusamy and Rosamma Arukonmala (India South) came to Slovakia in 2015, both spending some time on the mission. After sorting out initial difficulties with Residency permits, they studied Slovak in Bratislava in 2016 – 2017 and Rosamma joined the staff in Nano Nagle Centre in September 2017. As an international Congregation, we were proud to form an international community in Slovakia. Our missionary projects mostly involved English language teaching, family support and faith community development.

Our on-going service as Presentation Sisters through the years continued to develop and widen as new needs developed. Family support was offered to help the children attend Pre-school and most vital to this was transport. Documentation, medical support, food, clothes and other needs all enable the children’s participation in Pre-schoolo. Rupa began to work on the project in 2018, developing social and health services. A major highlight for the Nano Nagle Centre was the visit of the then President of Slovakia, Mr Andrej Kiska on 22 May 2017. He praised the work of the Presentation Sisters and affirmed in the media afterwards the need to support and develop Roma educational opportunities.

In July 2020, the Nano Nagle Centre which was owned and run by the Sisters was sold to the Municipal authority as a Community Centre for the town. The Pre-school had by then moved to another larger Municipal building in the town where it continues to flourish.

On 24 April 2024, a delegation from the Bishop’s office came to say goodbye to Louise Eustace and myself. The Bishop presented us with a Certificate of Thanks from the Diocese, which Louise received on behalf of the Irish Provinces of Presentation Sisters.

As we leave, it is true to say that the Presentation Congregation, Sisters along with staff and volunteers may be justifiably proud of the work that has been done.

The Sisters wish all those they worked with continued success and hope that new ways of meeting current needs among the poor in Slovakia will develop. They sincerely desire that all children will be provided with the educational, social, cultural and spiritual support that they require and that this will lead to their growth and development.

As they leave, they express the hope that new opportunities for learning, practising social justice and innovation in Slovakia will grow and remain. Sincere thanks are due for all that people in Ireland, Slovakia and elsewhere have done to support their work and ministry. They wish to acknowledge that, throughout their time in Slovakia, they have experienced help, friendship, laughter, concern and care from all the Slovak people that they have encountered during their years here.

Much thanks to the Irish Provincials who since the beginning supported us and guided us to the living of the Presentation charism in Slovakia. These sisters were: Imelda Wickham, Bride Given, Pius McHugh, RIP, Frances Crowe, Mary Dinneen, Claude Meagher RIP, Mary Hoare, Elizabeth Maxwell, Sheila Kelleher, Margarita Ryan, Frances Murphy, Grace McKernan and Mary Hanrahan.

It is not always easy to be a missionary in another country. May the presence and palpable warmth we have experienced in Slovakia help us to continue our pilgrim journey rooted in the mystery of God.