Nano Nagle was born in 1718 into a wealthy, Catholic family in Ballygiffin, County Cork, Ireland.
She had the advantage of an education in France, at a time when unjust laws deprived the less advantaged Catholics in Ireland of any type schooling. She entered a convent in France but, troubled by the social ills and spiritual deprivation in her homeland, she left the convent and returned to Cork where she lived for a time with her brother and his family.
Haunted by the poverty and misery created by the penal laws, she actualized the words of her family’s coat of arms, “NOT WORDS, BUT DEEDS,” and began in 1754 her mission among the poor in the “Little School” in Cove Lane, Cork. Her concern for her people, her courage and her perseverance inspired her to establish other schools in different parts of the city and to support charitable works for those who were poor and oppressed by unjust social systems. At a time in the history of Ireland when it was illegal to teach the Catholic faith or for Catholics to be educated, Nano did not hesitate to respond to the call of the Spirit to be with and for the poor despite possible consequences for herself.