On Friday evening 20 October, the beautiful baroque chapel in Bom Sucesso was filled to capacity with teachers, sisters, members of Fundação, parents, staff and guests, all having some connection with the Dominican community resident there until last year. Flowers adorned the altar and a new stand with the Portuguese and Irish flags completed the setting.
João Sales Luis, President of the Fundação opened the evening by welcoming everyone to the launch. He then went on to give a synopsis of the history of Bom Sucesso over the centuries and the development of the ministry as it is today. He did this through constant references to Sister Honor’s book. Ana Cristina Fernandes followed by giving memories of the sisters as individuals. She also referred to the book, but told the story as a personal one of the sisters and mentioned many of them by name.
A video interview in English between Sister Liz Smyth and Sister Honor McCabe was then shown on a screen. We listened to Honor’s description of the years of research for the work and how she enjoyed going to the National Archives in Lisbon to study documents pertaining to the convent. Her main source of information was however from the archives within the convent itself. Not alone the convent, but indeed the Congregation owes a tremendous debt to Mother Cecilia Murray who rewrote the annals as they had been destroyed during the Revolution of 1910. The foundation which goes back to 1639, needed a licence from the King of Spain (as Portugal and Spain at that time were united). The licence was twice refused, but was finally grantedto Father Dominic O’ Daly on his third request. Before the final signing, Dominic O’Daly had to recruit Irishmen for the King of Spain’s army which he did. The convent opened with four Portuguese women and one Irish woman, the widow of the last King of Leinster, Dónal Spáinneach McMurrough Kavanagh.
Honor explained that the education of girls very often took the form of preparing women for marriage. The women lived in the convent as parlour boarders. That there were such in Bom Sucesso is possible, but there is no proof. The school grew from small beginnings in the nineteenth century and was reinforced by the arrival of the sisters from Cabra in 1860. Honor also described her excitement when she heard that Bom Sucesso was being amalgamated with the Congregation in Ireland in 1955 as she had read some time previously the story of Bom Sucesso in Helen Concannon’s book Irish Nuns in Penal Days. Honor also emphasised that Ireland needs to be grateful to Portugal who supported us through the centuries when times were difficult.
Sister Elisabeth Healy speaking in Portuguese pointed out the pleasure it was to be present at the launch of the Portuguese version of A Light Undimmed. The story reads as a prayer and a narrative of faith in the Providence of God. She expressed the hope that this continue through the Fundação. She thanked both the founders and present day sisters and trusts that the spirituality in this place will endure into the future.
This was also the occasion for the launching of the long-awaited new gate which will be a great blessing to staff responsible for reception and security. At a given moment, people began leaving the church, and most were milling round the patio admiring the new electronic entrance, not of course omitting to partake of the refreshments which were being served in the main hall. The Irish Ambassador to Portugal was present as were many friends of the community who were delighted to have the chance to greet sisters Aedris and Alicia. Friends who had not seen one another for a long time enjoyed each other’s company as they partook of the food and drink and bought books from the two hardworking booksellers. So much seemed to be going on at the same time. Then quite quickly, the celebrations came to a natural end with friends and families slipping quietly away in their own time, through the gathering darkness.
Mary O’Byrne OP