Ursulines Thurles

In the late 1700’s when Dr James Butler was Archbishop of Cashel and Emly (1774-1791) he wanted a Catholic school for the Archdiocese. Though Penal Laws were still in force the Relief Act of 1782 stated that Catholics could conduct schools under certain conditions. One such condition was that they procured a licence from the local Protestant Bishop. Immediately Dr Butler set about availing of this concession to bring teaching nuns to the Archdiocese, and so Ursulines, or rather one Ursuline came to Thurles in 1787.

This one intrepid nun was Anastasia Tobin who, at Dr Butler’s request, had gone to Cork to train as a religious. On September 27, 1787, she was professed in the Ursuline Convent there, and she then returned to her native Thurles – alone. She lived in a cottage to the right of the present Cathedral which was then the site of the Mathew Chapel. Alone she remained for nine years helped by her sister, Mary, a lay person. Together they were engaged in teaching, though not yet officially authorised to do so! In 1796 two young women from Clerihan, Joanna and Mary Luby, who were also trained in the Ursuline Convent, Cork, came to join her and thus a small community was established in Thurles.

The official licence to teach which came eventually in 1799 from Very Rev. Patrick Hare, Protestant Vicar General of the Archdiocese is referred to in state papers as a ‘Licence given to a Papist Schoolmistress at Thurles, Co. Tipperary, A.D. 1799’. Thus this ‘papist schoolmistress’, now Sister Clare Ursula Tobin, established the first Catholic school in the Archdiocese where teaching has gone on for over two centuries and which today caters for over a thousand pupils in primary and secondary schools.

There have been many ups and downs throughout these years – near starvation in Famine times, and near obliteration in the decade that followed. However survival led to revival, growth in numbers and extension, and the First Centenary in 1887 was a joyous occasion.

From Thurles a foundation was made in Waterford in1816. Later a school was established in Brecon, Wales, and many nuns from Thurles have worked there and in Kenya over the years. A unique work was undertaken in 1932 with the opening of Providence School to cater for the needs of the travelling community and to prepare the children and often adult members for the Sacraments. Its name was fitting, depending as it did more on Divine Providence than on human planning for support and attendance!

Bicentenary Year in 1987, another joyous occasion, was marked by the establishment of a group of Ursuline Associates. These share in our charism, our prayer and help the Kenyan mission.

The work of Catholic education continues and other works include sharing in parish, social and prayer ministries. ‘The Past is Prologue’ we are told. So we of this present time look back on our past as prologue to a future which is in the hands of God.