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/