St. Norbert Catholic School unveils commissioned statue memorializing founder of the Presentation Sisters

By Catherine Risling     6/14/2018

Three hundred years after her birth, Nano Nagle is still lighting the way for children. 

Recently, Nano was honored with the unveiling of a 4’6” golden bronze-hued statue on the St. Norbert Catholic School campus. Nagle founded the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in County Cork, Ireland, more than two centuries ago. About six of those sisters, in turn, founded the Orange school in 1965. 

During the ceremony, the nearly 300 school children sang “Venerable Nano” to welcome 16 Presentation Sisters from throughout Southern California in addition to current and alumni families. Paper lanterns hung throughout the courtyard and everyone was in awe as the cotton sheath was slowly removed that morning. 

It is a true honor, says Sr. Breda Christopher, and a fitting tribute to the once-wealthy debutante who broke local law and sacrificed her safety to feed and teach poor children about Jesus at night, traveling by lantern. 

“The statue of our Foundress, Nano Nagle, so prominently displayed on the St. Norbert School campus will keep her charism alive among faculty and staff and serve as a reminder to the students as they study the life of Nano and how strongly she believed in the importance of education for all children,” says Sr. Breda, one of the Presentation Sisters in residence at St. Norbert. 

About a year ago, Sr. Breda approached principal Joe Ciccoianni about a gesture honoring Nano Nagle. Ciccoianni had been thinking the same thing, and the two agreed on a statue.  

But who would design it? Ciccoianni knew just where to go for inspiration: out his office and into the classrooms. 

He asked students to draw a picture of Nano. Eighth grader Faith Hancock’s stood out. Her pencil rendition captured a youthful Nano that speaks to children with a heart-warming facial expression. It was perfect. 

Ciccoianni then contacted Jan Repa, a Chicago-based sculptor referred by a mutual acquaintance. Repa made a few tweaks—turning Nano’s face around as if she were walking forward and opening her hand as if to welcome another—and submitted revisions to Ciccoianni.  

Within three months, the clay mold was made, the cast poured out of polyester resin and Nano was on her way to the West Coast. 

Repa says it’s one of his favorite works out of 200-plus commissions. 

“The movement of her walking is really nice,” says Repa in a strong Polish accent. “Also, I imagined that this woman was nice, smiling around children. I made a little smile in her face. It’s not strong but it’s very warm.” 

Nano stands atop a planter outside the school office, flowers planted at her feet. She welcomes visitors and inspires the school children to emulate Nano’s vision and courage, Ciccoianni says.  

The statue also is a reminder of those dedicated to serving God. 

“It’s incredibly important for the children to know about the sisters,” Ciccoianni says. “Devoting one’s life to God as a religious is an admirable and worthwhile way to serve. I want the children to see it’s a great way to live their life.”