Here is a link to the 5th Edition of the Newsletter of the Social Work Foundation of Irish Dominican Religious (FOSRDI).
On the 360th anniversary of the death of Irish Dominican Friar Daniel O’Daly, the Embassy of Ireland in Lisbon are hosting a celebration and reflections on the Irish Dominicans in Portugal and Sister Extraordinaire: the work and legacy of Margaret MacCurtain. This took place on 7th July 2022 in Colégio de Bom Sucesso, Portugal.
Dominican convent of Nossa Senhora do Bom Sucesso located in the parish of Belém on the outskirts of Lisbon city, holds an important place in the history of Irish emigration to Europe.
It was the first continental convent founded explicitly for Irish women religious at a time when Catholic practice was proscribed in Ireland.
Since its foundation in the seventeenth century, a steady flow of new postulants joined the convent so that by 1900 almost 200 women had been professed there, the vast majority of them Irish (although there were a small number of Portuguese, Brazilian and Italian members).
The Bom Sucesso community has played a pivotal and longstanding role in sustaining an Irish presence in Lisbon and today their legacy continues through educational and outreach initiatives established by the sisters, including the Colégio do Bom Sucesso, the Casinha de Nossa Senhora and the Centro Sagrada Família in Algés. The church
adjoining the Bom Sucesso convent, construction of which commenced in the mid-seventeenth century, continues to serve the pastoral and spiritual needs of both the local and the Irish diaspora communities living in Lisbon.
The closure of the Bom Sucesso convent in August 2016 and the return to Ireland of its last remaining members, heralded the end of a significant phase in the history of Irish women religious and Irish emigration to Europe and thus prompted the oral history project of which the below recollections are the result.
The aim of the project was to record and document the experiences of those sisters who had spent either part or all of their professed lives at Bom Sucesso. Unfortunately, due to time and funding constraints, it was not possible to carry out interviews with every sister who had spent time at Bom Sucesso, while others elected not to participate. The interviews were conducted between December 2016 and October 2017 and subsequently transcribed. The below recollections are derived from these transcripts which were edited and amended by the interviewees.
The original transcripts and recordings are held by the Congregation of Dominican Sisters of Our Lady of the Rosary and Saint Catherine of Siena, Cabra, who also hold the copyright.
The interviews with Sister Teresa Wade and Sister Alicia Mooney were conducted by the author and Dr Caroline Bowden (Queen Mary, University of London) in September 2015, prior to the closure of Bom Sucesso. I wish to acknowledge my thanks to Dr Bowden for kindly granting permission to include these interviews here and for her encouragement and mentorship. Thanks are also due to Dr Carmen Mangion (Birkbeck, University of London) for support and advice.
I am grateful to William Cunningham (Fundação de Obra Social das Religiosas Dominicanas Irlandesas [FOSDRI]), Sister Elizabeth Smyth and Sister Mary O’Byrne for their help, encouragement and input.
Sincere thanks are also due to the Irish Ambassador, Orla Tunney and the Emigrant Support Programme, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for financial support.
Finally, my thanks to the participants, without whom there would be no interviews and no story to tell.
Bronagh McShane, National University of Ireland, Galway, May 2018
The oral history by some of our Sisters who lived and ministered in our convento de Nossa Senhora do Bom Sucesso in Lisbon (1944 – 2016) can now be accessed by clicking this link: http://www.fosrdi.pt/news/bom-sucesso-oral-history/
This year we commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the Foundation, in Lisbon. As part of the commemoration former and present staff, friends and colleagues joined together for a celebration of the Eucharist in the former Convent Chapel. Following the mass there was an the exhibition “Ala Moderna del Colégio” was inaugurated.
More information re these future plans can be accessed by clicking here:https://www.fosrdi.pt/news/comemoracao-do-25%C2%BA-aniversario-da-fosrdi/
My Vocation Story
“Each one is different but each one has received an invitation from Jesus.”
When I was 12 years of age, I was travelling with my mother and my two sisters and two brothers in a train from Durban to Pietermaritzburg (Natal, South Africa). A thought or voice came to me “When I pass here again I will be a nun.” I was quiet for a time and then I forgot about it.
In Maritzburg, I attended a Convent school of the Sisters of the Holy Family, first as a day pupil and then as a boarder. The teachers were excellent and so was our religious formation. We attended daily Mass in the Parish Church, which was opposite the school, and could pray in the Sisters’ Chapel in the afternoons. A Praesidium of the Legion of Mary was begun by Ruby Roberts, who had travelled from Kenya, where she was working with Edel Quinn. The meetings each week and the work we were given deepened my prayer life, but I had no thoughts of “being a nun.”
My family returned to Ireland in mid-year 1944 and it was decided that I would go to the Dominican School in Wicklow. It was like entering another world and I was the ‘alien.’ I spoke with a South African accent, my hair was bleached from the sun and the girls in my class knew very little about the war raging in Europe and parts of Africa and Asia from where I had come. The Sisters were more understanding and they were my teachers. One Sister in particular, who was in charge of the boarders, was deeply understanding of how I was feeling and the difficulties I had in adjusting to school life. She was Sister Marcoline Lawler and she became my lifelong friend.
My three years in Wicklow was my real ‘novitiate’ where I came to know and love Jesus Christ. The religious formation was an integral part of our education and quite intensive: daily Mass, rosary and Benediction, retreats, study of the gospels and the Church and spiritual reading. By the time it came for me to leave school, my secret wish was to give my life to God. Would it be possible for me to enter religious life with the Dominicans? My family was returning to Singapore, I had no family in Ireland and I still felt a stranger in an unknown land. The Dominicans were willing to receive me, and my parents reluctantly allowed me to go my way (I had just turned eighteen years of age). It was the first and only time I saw my Father cry when he said goodbye to me. The years in the novitiate were not happy ones. Life was austere, restrictive and sometimes bewildering. I was very lonely for my family who were so far away. There were many things I would have liked to share with them.
All was not darkness! Sister Mary John of Gorcom was one of our ‘teachers’ and introduced us to the Divine Office, the Prayer of the Church, and my love for the Psalms began then. She also led us through Scripture, Church History, the great artists and their paintings, the constellations and, later on, Latin. From time to time, she would give us news of the outside world: we had no access to newspapers or radio. There were nine of us and she contrived to make our lives as normal as possible.
I made First Profession and, after one more year in the novitiate house, we were assigned out to a community. It was like being released from prison and joy of joys, I was sent to my beloved Wicklow! Once again, I had access to books, newspapers and radio, and to very enjoyable conversations at ‘recreation’ time. We lived a very full and ‘rich’ religious life. As well as the daily hours of community prayer, there were times for private prayer and spiritual reading. We had wonderful ten-day retreats from very good Dominican preachers and, during the year, we had local confessors who gave excellent spiritual direction.
After studying for a degree and diploma in education, I returned once more to the community in Wicklow and to the work of teaching. This was the late 1950’s. I began to feel a sense of uneasiness about the religious life and I expressed it to a Sister as stagnation. Something had to change and it did! A newly-elected Prioress General asked for volunteers to go to Alabama in the USA. I, and several other Sisters, volunteered. In fact, none of us were sent to Alabama, but to other communities in Ireland and South Africa and I was sent to Portugal. This was in 1962, when the Vatican Council II began in Rome and the Spirit of change was everywhere.
I have been in Portugal for 45 years and it is now my religious home and country. Our community life is prayerful, joyful and lively. We take an active part in the life of the people, the Church, and the Dominican Family, and have opportunities for being truly a Community of Holy Preaching.
By the way, I did pass through the Valley of a Thousand Hills again! I was attending a Leadership Conference in South Africa and travelled from Durban to Maritzburg, but this time, by coach along a wide motorway with the hills in the distance.
Sr Aedris Coates OP