Located on the west coast of Portugal about ten kilometres north of Lisbon city in the parish of Belém, is the Irish Dominican convent of Nossa Senhora do Bom Sucesso (Our Lady of Good Success). Founded in 1639 by the Irish Dominican Fr Dominic O’Daly (1595-1662), the convent holds an important position in the history of Irish religious foundations on the Continent, being the first continental convent founded expressly for Irish women religious. Established on land owned by the wealthy Portuguese noblewoman, Dona Iria de Brito, Countess of Atalaya (d. 1640), who in her will dated 15 August 1639, endowed the fledgling community with property, land, silver and vestments, today the convent remains on its original site, incorporating an expansive cloister complex.
The Bom Sucesso cloister complex including the cloister garth, dormitories and bell tower. Photograph courtesy of Dr Caroline Bowden, Queen Mary University of London
Among Bom Sucesso’s earliest postulants included Leonor Kavanagh, daughter of the Lord of Pelmonty and Borese, ‘an illustrious House of Leinster’ (in religion, Sister Leonor of Saint Margaret) and Leonor Burke (d. 1648), daughter of the martyred Sir John Burke of Brittas, County Limerick (d. 1607) and his wife, Grace Thornton. Thereafter, a steady flow of new postulants were admitted so that by 1800 over ninety women had been professed there, the vast majority of them Irish or members of the Irish émigré community active in Lisbon throughout much of the early modern period.
Statue of Nossa Senhora do Bom Sucesso (Our Lady of Good Success), originally donated by the convent patroness, Dona Iria de Brito, Countess of Atalaya
Today the convent, which holds acclaim as the oldest surviving Irish Dominican convent in the world, is home to four sisters; Sister Aedris Coates (prioress), Sister Alicia Mooney (sub-prioress), Sister Teresa Wade and Sister Agnes Talty who, at 92, recently celebrated 70 years as a professed nun.
All of Irish origin these women have spent most (or in some cases all) of their professed lives in Bom Sucesso where, reflecting the duality of female Dominican spirituality of contemplation and pastoral activity, they have played an important role as educators within the local Belém community. Indeed the legacy of the Irish convent is the Colégio do Bom Sucesso, founded within the cloister complex by the Irish sisters almost 200 years ago. Today the Colégio caters for over 700 students between the ages of three and fourteen years old.
Bom Sucesso cloister garth incorporating part of the Colégio do Bom Sucesso school complex
In recognition of the important role played by the Irish Dominican convent and adjoining school within the local Belém community, the Bom Sucesso sisters recently led the St Patrick’s Day Parade, the first one to ever take place in Lisbon.
Irish Dominican Sisters Alicia Mooney (sub-prioress) and Teresa Wade pictured with the Irish ambassador to Lisbon, Orla Tuney and students from the Colégio do Bom Sucesso at the St Patrick’s Day Festival, Lisbon, March 2016. Photograph courtesy of William Cunningham, Vice-Chairman of the Irish Dominican Order’s Portuguese Foundation
This year, with funding from the Royal Irish Academy Charlemont Grant, I plan to travel to the convent to uncover more about this fascinating community and their #nuntastic history! Stay tuned!
Except for two photographs otherwise credited, all photographs by Bronagh McShane courtesy of Sister Aedris Coates, prioress of the Bom Sucesso Convent.
McCabe, Honor, A light undimmed: the story of the convent of Our Lady of Bom Sucesso Lisbon, 1639-2000 (Dublin, 2007).