In October 1992, Sr Angela Bugler, then President of Mary Immaculate College, spoke at the conferring ceremony of more than 100 newly graduated teachers. She gave a speech full of hope and conviction and urged the graduates to "make a contribution to the shape of the education system" that was, she said, theirs to implement. Sr Angela could afford to be upbeat. Employment prospects for primary teachers looked bright for the first time in years.
A short four years previously, when Sr Angela Bugler became president of the college, Mary Immaculate was facing "a critical challenge for survival". A sharp decline in the Irish birth rate in the 1980s had resulted in a huge drop in demand for primary teachers. Thus, in the first year of her presidency, Sr Angela was dismayed, but not surprised, to hear from the Department of Education that the college's intake for 1988 was to be limited to 94 students, a far cry from the 224 students enrolled the previous year. Student numbers and staff morale were extremely low, and the scale of the challenge she faced was clear. This was not about the college's evolution; this was about survival. However, if the task was daunting, Sr Angela was nothing if not equal to it.
Faced with such a grim prospect, Sr Angela led the charge as she and her staff embarked on an ambitious diversification programme. Plans included proposals for introducing a Bachelor of Arts degree, postgraduate degrees in education and the arts, curriculum development, second-chance education and research. A broad internationalisation programme was initiated by establishing networks with colleges in Europe through the EU and Council of Europe. Links were also forged with universities in the United States and Wales.
As the student population of MIC declined in the late 1980s, the biggest educational institution in the city was granted university status. Following the inauguration of the University of Limerick in 1989, the secretary of the Department of Education instructed MIC to open discussions with UL with a view to establishing a more formal relationship between the two institutions. To that end, negotiators from both institutions entered into talks which, though challenging, led to the formation of a mutually beneficial partnership. Sr Angela played a pivotal role in initiating and progressing the process. This is her legacy, and it is still significant today.
On November 1st 1991, the Minister for Education announced that "agreement has been reached between the authorities of Mary Immaculate, Limerick, and the University of Limerick on new and dynamic linkages between the institutions". Thenceforth, degrees in MIC would be conferred by UL. The benefits of such an arrangement were immediately obvious. MIC could now implement its plans for admitting liberal arts students, and in 1992, 150 students registered for a Bachelor of Arts. Over the course of the next 25 years, 3,500 MIC students have been conferred with arts degrees.
Furthermore, the link with UL afforded MIC the opportunity to raise the scale of its ambition by offering postgraduate degree programmes for the first time. Consequently, mid-way through her presidency, Sr Angela oversaw the delivery of the first taught master's programme in education, which was launched ceremonially by Dr Ed Walsh, President of UL. Since then, the breadth and trajectory of postgraduate study at MIC has accelerated - the first PhD scholar was conferred in 2003 and the 100th in 2015.
Born in Mountshannon, Co. Clare, Angela Bugler began her career in education as a national teacher in the 1950s. A proud graduate of Mary Immaculate College, she taught for five years before entering religious life at the Convent of Mercy in Westbourne, Limerick. She obtained her BA in Irish and French, Higher Diploma in Education and Graduate Diploma in Librarianship from UCD. Her MA in Education was conferred by NUI, Maynooth.
Appointed to MIC in 1966, Sr Angela lectured in Irish language and French as well as managing the library. She was the college's first professional librarian and was respected by students for the crystal clarity of her library tours and lectures. Ever resourceful, she trained volunteer students to assist in the library as she secured the new education resources that were required to support the emerging ideas of discovery learning, group teaching and project work. In 1984, she was appointed Rúnaí Acadiúil, serving as academic secretary to the president of the college from 1984 until her own term of presidency began in 1988.
Throughout her long career, Sr Angela made an enormous contribution to the development of MIC; through her willingness to take a risk 25 years ago, she played a central role in securing for Limerick the wide-ranging continuum of educational provision that is on offer in the city today. Fittingly, in the year of the 25th anniversary of the first Memorandum of Understanding between the two institutions, a UL-MIC Joint BA degree will be launched. Delivered across both campuses, the programme will commence in September 2017 and will boast the broadest range of humanities subjects ever offered to students at either institution.
At that joyful conferring ceremony in October 1992, Sr Angela proudly recalled for her audience how, when faced with the grim prospect of closure, Mary Immaculate had "surged forward with the dynamic energy necessary to meet such a challenge". History has proved her correct. In making a significant contribution to the shape of the education system in MIC, Sr Angela Bugler lived by her own advice. She laid the foundation for the thriving situation that is now evident in MIC, and the new and exciting Joint BA degree has been made possible because of the resourcefulness and spirit of cooperation that defines Sr Angela's legacy as President of MIC from 1988 to 1999. Today at the University of Limerick, it is with immense gratitude and pride that we honour Sr Angela for all that she has achieved for the betterment of both institutions.