The beginnings of the Dominican Sisters in Ireland can be traced back to 1644 to Galway. Here, the first women gathered to live the Dominican way of life. Their story is one of persecution and exile and for some years the group had to leave Galway and go into exile to safety in convents on mainland Europe. Eventually, in 1686, two sisters, Juliana Nolan and Mary Lynch returned and others soon joined them.
In 1718, a small group were sent to Dublin. A century later their followers leased a house in Cabra, on the outskirts of Dublin, a convent that was to become the mother-house to many groups of Dominican women around the world.
By the 1860′s the community in Cabra was strong enough to send members to other areas in Ireland and as missionaries abroad.
Sisters went to South Africa, Louisiana and Australia. More recently, new missions have opened in Argentina (1978), Brazil (1991) and Bolivia (1999).
History of the Dominican Sisters and Education
When St Dominic established a convent of women in Prouille in 1206, he recognised then, the importance of education for women. Across the centuries, Dominic’s heritage of faith and truth are reflected through the lives and mission of the Dominican Sisters, their lay colleagues and leaders and students of their schools.
The role of the Dominican Sisters in education in Ireland can be traced back as far as the end of the 18th century when the Sisters were running girls’ boarding schools in Galway, Drogheda, Waterford and Dublin.
In Ireland, the Dominican Sisters have always responded to the needs of the time and a primary school was founded for the poor in 1819 and again in 1846, when they responded to a definite need by founding a school for deaf girls. Work with deaf girls was to be a distinctive contribution of Dominican women to education in the 19th century.
The history of Dominican education is one of a strong focus on the education of women, enabling women to take their role with confidence in society and in the Church.
In the South of Ireland, convents and schools flourished with the founding of Sion Hill (1840), Dun Laoghaire (1847), Wicklow (1870), Muckross Park, Donnybrook (1900) and Sutton (1912). Ballyfermot was one of the last schools to be opened in 1955.
In 1882, Dominican College Eccles St had been established. Eccles St was to become an educational hub for young women, with the Sisters opening a centre for university studies, St Mary’s in 1884 and in 1928, Scoil Chaitriona was to open at the same location. This followed shortly afterwards in 1930 with the establishment of commercial colleges for girls who wished to have careers in the public service or in the business world.
In 1870, the Dominican Sisters looked Northwards, when five nuns arrived in Belfast from Cabra. Shortly, after their arrival, they established St Dominic’s High School on the Falls Road (1870) and St Catherine’s National School to cater for the children of the poor.
The Dominican Sisters continued to extend their influence in the North with the opening of Portstewart (1917) and Fortwilliam Park (1933). Following the 1947 Education Act, the Sisters founded two new post primary intermediate schools, Little Flower in North Belfast and St Rose’s in the west of the city. The Sisters also took responsibility for St Francis de Sales School for hearing impaired children.
The Dominican Sisters had become renowned for their enlightened approach to education and their innovative mission was also brought to the establishment of schools outside of Ireland in South Africa, Portugal and Louisiana.
Responsibilities passing to the Laity
With the introduction of free education into Ireland in 1967 and the subsequent increase in pupil numbers, the Dominican Sisters began to pass much of their teaching responsibilities to the laity. During that time, however, they continued to open schools for children with special needs with the establishment of Benincasa in Sion Hill in 1963 and Casa Caterina in Cabra ten years later.
In 2009, the Le Chéile Schools Trust, which now comprises 14 religious congregations, was formally established which passed the management and ownership of Dominican Post Primary schools into a lay trust.