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A light undimmed: the story of the Convent of Our Lady of Bom Sucesso Lisbon 1639 to 2000

30 November, 1999

Honor McCabe OP has written an excellent and comprehensive history of work of the Irish Dominican Sisters in Portugal. The chapter presented here tells how Fr Dominic O’Daly OP, after setting up a college in Lisbon for the education of young Irish men for the priesthood, successfully negotiated founding this convent for the education of young Irish women in the religious life. It chronicles the opening of the convent in 1639 as well as the subsequent career and death of Fr O’Daly. 

278pp. Dominican Publications. To purchase this book online, go to www.dominicanpublications.com



Chapter 1: The Setting for our Story 
Belem’s Monuments; Convento do Bom Sucesso; A Sixteenth Century Wedding of a Noble Couple; Tragedy for Family and Country; Heiress and Bride at fourteen; Bride again at Nineteen: The Gift of a Miraculous Statue; An Unusual Title in the Seventeenth Century; Portugal ruled by Spain: The Countess’s noble Lineage; The Countess’s Wealth; The Slave Trade; The Countess decides to found a Convent.

Chapter 2: Dominic O’ Daly and the Foundation of Bom Sucesso 
The Irish in Lisbon; Daniel O’Daly’s early life; The Suffering of the Irish People in the Seventeenth Century; Dominic O’Daly’s Project in Lisbon; The Countess of Atalaya learns of this Project: Dominic O’ Daly sets out for the Royal Court in Madrid; Young Women’s Determination; A Mysterious Visitor; Irish Recruits for the Spanish Army: Licences for the Foundation; The Countess’s Will; The Countess as Foundress; The Countess’s Dream; Two Religious from Sao Joao Convent in Setubal; The Name of Nossa Senhora do Bom Sucesso; Legends concerning the Title; Miracles attributed to Nossa Senhora do Bom Sucesso; Foundation Day; Frei Domingos do Rosario, Diplomat.

Chapter 3: The Early Years 
The First Year of the new Foundation; The Restoration of Portuguese Independence; Bom Sucesso recognised by the Dominican Order; Terence Albert O’Brien, Martyr: The Possibility of moving from the Hermitage offset: Magdalena de Silva Menezes, Prioress; The Church and Sanctuary; The Painter, Bento Coelho da Silveira: The Resurrection depicted on the Tabernacle Door: The Cloister; The Upper Choir; Magdalena de Cristo and Queen Dona Luisa de Gusmao.

Chapter 4: The Spirituality of the Community 
Twelve Scenes from the Canticle of Canticles; The Early Members of Boni Sucesso; Leonor do Calvário; Jacinta de Jesus Maria; Leonor de Santa Margarida; Catharine do Rosario; Milagrismo.

Chapter 5: Other Ministries 
Pupils in the early Years: John Baptist Sleyne: An Enthusiast for Gaelic Culture; Reorganisation of Church in Ireland; The Bishops’ Banishment Act; Dr. Sleyne’s Appeal against Deportation; Deportation to Lisbon: An Irish Bishop in Exile; Resignation and Death: The Confraternity of the Holy Rosary; The Confraternity of Saint Anne.

Chapter 6: Portugal in the Eighteenth Century 
Portugal in the Eighteenth Century; The Irish Community in Lisbon: The Irish Masonic Lodge; The Bom Sucesso Community and the Order of Preachers: The Bom Sucesso Community’s Links with Royalty: The Earthquake of 1755; Bom Sucesso. a Flourishing Community; The French Revolution’s Effect on Portugal; The Marques de Pombal.

Chapter 7: Presence 
The Peninsular War; Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen; Napoleon’s Rise to Power; The Arrival of Arthur Wellesley; Wellesley and the English Brigittine Sisters; The War in Portugal: The Third French Invasion; Political Crises of the 1820s: Threat of Expulsion from Boni Sucesso 1823: Bom Sucesso’s Appeal to the King; Appeal to the British Ambassador; Expulsion from Boni Sucesso, 20th May, 1823; Return to Bom Sucesso: The King D. Joao VI’s visit to Bom Sucesso.

Chapter 8: The Foundation of the School 
The Story of Mariana Russell Kennedy; The Admission of Child Companions for Mariana; A Young Visitor from Brazil; The Family settles in Lisbon; The Visit of Mariana’s Daughter, Laura; Most Difficult years for Religious in Portugal; A difficult situation for Women Religious; The Government demands Boni Sucesso’s Archives; Helpfrom British Embassy–Mr. Meagher’s Negotiations; Queen Dona Maria II; Constant Government Interference; A Most Difficult Time for Bom Sucesso, 1835-1860; Tragic Events in the 1850s: Appeals for Sisters from Ireland; Appeal to Cardinal Cullen, Archbishop of Dublin; Cabra’s first Mission Abroad: Replies to Questions put by Cabra’s Prioress; Further requests to Dr. Cullen: Warning from Dr. Cullen.

Chapter 9: A New Venture 
Reasons for Dr. Cullen’s Warning; The first Sisters from Cabra: Their Account of the Journey; MotherTeresa’s Letter of Gratitude; Re-organisation of School and Founding of School for the Poor: Teresa Staunton’s other Projects: Death of Mother Teresa Staunton; Government Interference and Help from British Embassy; Visit of the Prince of Wales; Liturgical Renewal: The Question of Return to the Jurisdiction of the Dominican Order; Restoration of the Divine Office; Another Crisis for Bom Sucesso; Fr. Patrick Russell, O.P.

Chapter 10: The Third Centenary 
Anti-clericalism in Twentieth Century Portugal; Visit of King Edward VII of England; Bom Sucesso returns to Jurisdiction of the Dominican Order; King D. Carlos of Portugal; Political Unrest: Assassination of King and his Son; Reaction in Bom Sucesso: A further Wave of anti-clericalism; Consequences of the Regicide; Revolution; Bom Sucesso’s last Public Rosary Procession: Crisis in Bom Sucesso: Reassurance from British Embassy: Fr. Paul O’Sullivan’s role in the Crisis; Rejoicing in Bom Sucesso; Pere Cormier’s Support; Thanksgiving for Preservation: Another Crisis resolved; Difficult Years for Portugal; Bom Sucesso during those Years; The First Centenary of the Sisters’ Return to Born Sucesso; Fr. Finbar Ryan’s first Visitation of Bom Sucesso; Public Agitation in Portugal; Bom Sucesso 1924-1939: The Tercentenary of Bom Sucesso.

Chapter 11: The 1940s 
Bom Sucesso in Time of War; Visit of the Duke of Kent; 1940: Tercentenary of Portuguese Independence; Fr. Louis Nolan, Vicar of Bom Sucesso; Bom Sucesso’s Mina de Agua; The Daring Journey of Two Irish Girls; Establishmentof Irish Legation in Lisbon: Historical Events in Portugal; Difficulties in Bom Sucesso: Opening of the Day School; Important Visitors to Bom Sucesso; Changes for Boarders; The Marian Year; A new Member for the Community: Dr. Finbar Ryan intervenes in Bom Sucesso’s Difficulties; Dominican Sisters from Ireland; Election of Fr. Michael Browne as Master of Dominican Order; Rescript from Rome: Solemn Inauguration; Letters of Support; Various Changes; The Church and O Estado Novo in the 1950s.

Chapter 12: Vatican II and Later 
Election of Pope John XXIII: Fr. Paul O’Sullivan; The Church and the Estado Novo; Bom Sucesso and Portuguese Missions: The Dominican Family in Portugal; Years of Vitality and Growth; The Flower Revolution of 1974; The Threat of Communism; Independence for Portugal’s Colonies; Bom Sucesso’s Schools during the Revolution; Progress in Political Turmoil; Financial Help from Irish Communities.

The Founding of Saint Anne’s; The Founding of the Region of Portugal; Invitation to make Foundations; The Celebration of 350 Years of Bom Sucesso 1639-1989: The Social Centre in Alger – Centro da Sagrada Familia; Ministry in Zambujal; Casinha de Nossa SenhoraO Colegio do Bom Sucesso; St Dominic’s International School: Conclusion.




Frei Domingos O’Daly was not the first, though perhaps one of the most illustrious of Irish people to settle in Portugal because their presence in Lisbon already had a long history. It dated back to the commercial status of this city resulting from Vasco da Gama’s discovery of the sea route to India. In a short while, Lisbon became the emporium of Europe where the much-coveted spices and other exotic goods from the Orient were distributed to various European countries. Irish merchants, especially from the southern counties of Limerick, Cork and Waterford, took advantage of this trading opportunity and some settled in Lisbon from where they traded these oriental products to central and northern Europe. As early as 1462, it is recorded that permission to reside in Portugal’s capital was given to four Irishmen, Richard May, Geoffrey Galway and two members of the Lynch family – John and his brother Dominic (1).

When the Protestant Reformation took place during the sixteenth century, Irish merchants living in Portugal became important for the economy of their adopted country. Being nominally English subjects they could trade with England and other Protestant countries and Irish ships could dock at the ports of these countries when they were closed to the ships of Catholic Portugal. Besides, the Irish living in Portugal did not remain isolated from the people but integrated and even intermarried with the Portuguese. Some Irish families such as Browne and O’Neill are listed in the Genealogy and Heraldry of Portugal while Anderson is described as an Irish family from Dublin a member of whom came to Portugal in the seventeenth century. His son married into a Portuguese family through his wife Dona Ana Bercia da Silveira (2).

Though Portugal did not have, as France and Italy, the tradition of receiving Irish monks during the early ages of Irish missionary expansion, it became, like these countries, yet another refuge for young Irishmen wishing to study for the priesthood. As early as 1590, the Irish College of Saint Patrick was founded as a seminary for the training of Irish students for the secular priesthood. Its founder and protector is named as Garcia de Melho da Sylva and it was first located in the Jesuit foundation of Saint Roque (3). Two Jesuits, one Irish, Father John Howling and one Portuguese, Father Pedro Fonseca directed the institution in its early years. It continued its work of training for the priesthood until it closed in 1834.

In 1624, the year of the Count of Atalaya’s death, a young Irish priest from Kilsarkan, Co. Kerry, took up residence in the university city of Louvain in Belgium, first, as lector in theology and later as Regent of the small Dominican stadium or house of studies on that city’s Mount Cesar. His name was Daniel O’Daly – in the Order of Preachers, Dominic of the Rosary (4).

Dominic of the Rosary was the son of Conchubhar Ó Dálaigh, ‘rimor and soldier of the Desmonds’ (5). The O’Dalys in the Gaelic tradition were the bards or official poets of the Desmond clan. When, in 1583, the 16th Earl of Desmond was killed, his lands and those of his loyal followers were confiscated by Elizabeth I of England. ‘Most of the professional classes – bards, historians and gallowglasses – were dispossessed and the “literati” in particular suffered because they were, in general, ranged on the side of their country, or supported a rebellious chieftain’ (6). Consequently, when Daniel O’Daly was born in 1595, he was born into a dispossessed but by no means crushed family.

Hopes of foreign aid were still high and even the defeat of the Spanish armada in 1588 had not lessened the Irish people’s optimism. The victory for the Ulster chieftains at the Battle of the Yellow Ford in 1598 further encouraged this optimism. However, over the O’Daly’s of Kilsarkan the shadow of the fall of the Earl of Desmond must have hung heavily. In spite of this and the loss of their ancestral lands, the O’Daly children grew up in a comparatively untroubled atmosphere (7).

At the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, all the monasteries had been suppressed in Ireland but the Friars and Jesuits were able to help people preserve the Catholic Faith and they in turn were protected by the people, even by lords conforming to Protestantism (8). When James VI of Scotland, son of the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, ascended the throne of England as James I of England, there was hope again in Ireland of greater freedom for the Catholic Faith. However, this was not to be and young men wishing to become priests had to set off to study in one of the Catholic countries of Europe.

Consequently, as Daniel O’Daly decided to enter the Order of Preachers, he was obliged to pursue his studies away from his native country. He was sent first to Lugo in the province of Galicia in Spain where he was received and professed as a Dominican, receiving the religious name Dominic of the Rosary. From there he went to Burgos not far from Calaruega, the birthplace of Saint Dominic, founder of the Order of Preachers. It was a period of intense intellectual activity in the Spanish province of the Order. Secchi, Master of the Order at the time, having made visitation there from 1617 to 1619, declared that the Spanish province was in the foremost rank of the Order (9).

There in Burgos, Daniel O’Daly was ordained. The date is uncertain, either 1616 when he was twenty-one or 1619 when he was twenty-four. Whatever the date of his ordination and subsequent studies, he was in Ireland by 1623, working in the diocese of Emly (10). Subsequently, he spent some years, as already stated, in Louvain and when he returned to the Iberian peninsula, he came entrusted with two missions – to ask Philip IV of Spain for financial help for the Friars Preachers of Ireland in Louvain and to obtain authorisation to found in Lisbon a studium or house of studies which would serve as a base for Dominican students from Ireland (11). For this project, he would later receive considerable financial help from Dona Catarina Teller de Menezes, Lady Barbacena. However, Daniel had another project in mind – that of founding a convent for Irish noblewomen deprived of the opportunity of embracing religious life because of the persecution of the Catholic faith in Ireland (12).

Through Irish émigrés, the peoples of southern Europe were well informed of the harshness of the persecutions and the dire suffering of the Irish people especially under Cromwellian rule (1649-1658). The seventeenth century Portuguese historian, Frei Luis de Sousa, 0.P., in his literary work, História de Sao Domingos, (quarta parte), gives a graphic description of the reasons for O’Daly’s efforts on behalf, not only of young Irishmen wishing to be priests, but also of young Irishwomen wishing to lead a religious life. ‘There came continually to the ears of Master Frei Domingos … the cries of Christian Ireland
helplessly groaning beneath the scourge of heresy. lt dominated and afflicted the five broad provinces that were formerly kingdoms where the Faith flourished and now saw themselves trampled on by sacrilegious apostates who tyrannically tore from their midst their unfortunate children’ (11).

Having founded a College for young Irishmen in Lisbon, Dominic O’Daly turned his attention to the project of founding a convent for Irish girls: ‘There now remained for him the greater care of the helpless and afflicted young women of that kingdom (the noblest of its aristocracy) orphaned through the loss of parents that the heretics in cunning and depravity named traitors and whose lives they destroyed, enjoying the aim of extinguishing the Faith with that of robbing their estates. Not being satisfied with lives and property, they exercised on the bodies of those unfortunate people torture inspired by rancour and hatred’ (14).

He gives a detailed account of the forms of martyrdom – public hanging, and the torture of drawing and quartering – current in Ireland at the time; and lists the dangers to young women – the possibility of embracing heresy in order to avoid persecution, the difficulty, almost impossibility, of access to ministers of the faith and the problem of being in the power of heretical relatives.

On a later visit to Lisbon, Dominic O’Daly told Lady Barbacena of his second project – to found a convent for Irish women who wished to become religious but could not do so on account of religious persecution in Ireland. She was convinced of the value of this second project and promised him four thousand cruzados (15) to buy a site for the future convent. With the promise of such a donation the priest was encouraged to press ahead and began to search for future members of the community among the young noblewomen in Lisbon.

One of his Portuguese friends, D. Ruy de Mello de Sampayo, introduced Fr O’Daly to his three daughters. On hearing of the Dominican’s hope of founding a convent for the persecuted Irish, D. Ruy De Mello’s eldest daughter, Dona Marianna, was fired with enthusiasm for this ideal and promised to be the first to enter the proposed foundation. Her younger sister who had intended becoming a Franciscan, was invited by Marianna to join the new convent. Being in doubt as to what she should do she was advised by Fr O’ Daly to place her confidence in God and allow herself be guided by God’s Spirit because ‘only in God would be found the true light and the way.’ (16) While at prayer one night, she saw herself dressed in the Dominican habit but Frei Luis tells us that she did not trust the clear judgment with which she had been endowed. She again consulted not only Fr O’Daly but other Dominican and Jesuit theologians who all agreed that she could accept this vision as advice from heaven (17).

On the death of their father, the three daughters retired temporarily to the convent of the Order of Saint James in Santos and there they encouraged another young woman to join the future foundation. Magdalena de Silva Menezes was, at first, reluctant to do so but, once convinced she was to be the ‘most important collaborator in this undertaking’ (18), as the subsequent history shows. Ruy de Mello’s youngest daughter, Angelica, was also most enthusiastic for the new foundation. Thus, Dominic O’Daly already had four willing members of the new community but, as yet, there was no site or building for this foundation.

The historian does not relate how the Countess of Atalaya learned about the Irish Dominican’s project or how they were introduced. We can only surmise that, as Iria was well known in this convent of Santos, she told the community about her efforts to found a convent on her estate and they in turn told her about the projected convent for the Irish women. Frei Luis de Sousa simply states, ‘Dona Magdalena having heard, by chance, that the Countess of Atalaya wished to consecrate to God an estate with considerable property entered into negotiations with her, having as intermediary the Countess of Sabugal, Dona Luiza Coutinho, wife of the Count of Sabugal, D. Francisco de Castello Branco, Meirinho (Bailiff) mor’ (19). These negotiations were rather difficult because of the Countess’s previous efforts at other foundations that had already failed. However, within a short while, these difficulties were resolved and Frei Domingos do Rosario found himself in possession of the site of the future Convento de Nossa Senhora do Bom Sucesso. There still remained the very important issue of obtaining permission from the king of Spain, Philip IV, and this had already proved insurmountable when the Countess had tried on two other occasions to make a foundation for religious communities.

It was the early 1630s when Dominic O’Daly, accompanied by Fr Pedro Yannes, a Spanish Dominican and president of the new college in Lisbon, set out from Lisbon for the Court in Madrid where his companion was acquainted with many of the influential ministers there. Fr O’Daly also carried a number of letters of recommendation to the king (20). Before his departure some people had tried to dissuade him from undertaking this journey as they considered it fruitless to seek the king’s permission when the Countess had already met with refusal on two previous occasions. However, the young, enthusiastic women urged Fr O’Daly to make an attempt because it had been mysteriously revealed to two of them ‘that the new foundation would be established and that many religious would enter there; that Master Domingos would see the foundation flourish in perfect observance; that the glorious crowns which the Queen of Heaven and her Divine Son would bestow had been shown to them and that, when five members of the Community had died, he too would pass away’. All this later occurred according to the historian’ (21). Encouraged by this prophecy the two Dominicans set off for Madrid.

On their arrival at the Spanish Court, Frei Domingos presented his petition to King Philip IV of Spain and III of Portugal. He received it graciously but passed it on to his Council of State where to O’Daly’s great disappointment, it was rejected. Fr Dominic, disheartened by so decisive a refusal, wrote immediately to Dona Magdalena in Lisbon to tell her of the failure of his mission releasing her and her companions from any obligation they had to the foundation. The young enthusiasts replied that they would not be released from their commitment to this project and that they would do nothing until Fr O’Daly returned to Lisbon. Meanwhile, they urged him to continue his efforts to obtain the permission, reminding him of the prophecy which two of their number had received. They placed their hope in heaven because it seemed that it was heaven itself had given this hope (22).

Encouraged by the constancy of these young women Frei Domingos made another attempt to obtain the licence, much to the displeasure of the ministers of State. Furthermore, Fr Pedro Yannes, his spiritual guide, advised him to give up this undertaking and return to Lisbon as vicar of the college he had established there. O’Daly made preparations to return to Portugal when, on the eve of his departure, while he was praying in the Church of Saint Thomas in Madrid, a woman of venerable appearance approached him and asked if there was in the community an Irish religious by the name of Frei Domingos do Rosario. On his introducing himself and asking her reason for the question, she replied, ‘Padre, remember, as you already know, that obedience to spiritual directors must not be observed to the detriment of the common good and the welfare of others. Deal with the business you have undertaken which will contribute greatly to the service of God’ (21). She then went away without disclosing her identity. Comforted by what seemed to him an intervention from heaven O’Daly turned again to prayer and postponed his departure for Lisbon.

Meanwhile, the king had important affairs of State to deal with, among them the crisis in his possessions in the Netherlands. He needed reinforcements there to quell a rebellion against Spain and he wished to obtain Irish recruits for this purpose. The tradition of Irish soldiers fighting in the Spanish army in Flanders went back formally to 1587 when the Leicester Regiment of Irish soldiers under the command of the English general, Sir William Stanley, a convert to Catholicism, defected from the English to the Spanish cause. As a sign of their loyalty to Spain, they surrendered the city of Deventer to the Spaniards (24). Following the defeat of the Ulster rebellion in 1607 and the subsequent flight of the Earls, O’Neill and O’Donnell (25), to Europe many Irish soldiers left their country in order to seek asylum in Europe. They became known as the Wild Geese. Many of those who went to Spanish territories were drafted into the Leicester Regiment in the Netherlands which was renamed The First Regiment of Tyrone and commanded by Henry O’Neill, a younger son of The O’Neill. For about a century, this regiment was under the command of a direct descendant of Hugh O’Neill and ‘its valour was legendary’ (26).

Philip IV of Spain needed someone who knew Ireland well and was gifted with the power to persuade young Irishmen to risk their lives in the service of Catholic Spain. The king summoned O’Daly to a number of private meetings and judged that no more suitable person could be found for the purpose of obtaining Irish recruits for the Spanish army. Fr Dominic O’Daly agreed to undertake this difficult mission on condition that, if he succeeded, the king would grant the royal licence for the foundation of the Irish Dominican convent in Lisbon. The king consented and O’Daly set off for Biscay where he embarked for Ireland and after a short sea voyage arrived in Limerick city (27). According to Frei Luis, Dominic O’Daly completed within a few months his work of recruitment in Ireland while he also tried to interest Irish women in the future Lisbon convent specifically for Irish girls. It is conjectured that at this time Fr O’Daly made the acquaintance of Leonor de Burgo, daughter of the martyr Sir John de Burgo and his wife Grace Thornton. Leonor was living as a recluse in Limerick city.

How successful O’Daly was in recruiting Irishmen for the Spanish army can be surmised from the honours and gifts offered to him by the king on his return to Madrid – a bishopric, dowries for his four nieces are mentioned. However, O’Daly persevered in his one request – the licence for the foundation of the convent in Lisbon. Finally, the king consented and the royal licence was granted. It is dated 21st March, 1639, almost nine years after the Dominican’s departure from Lisbon for Madrid.

Frei Domingos did not return immediately to Lisbon. In June he was still in Madrid where he met the provincial of the Dominican Order in Portugal and he availed of this opportunity to obtain the provincial’s permission for the foundation. This is dated Madrid, 15th June, 1639.

This second document gives us important information concerning the kind of foundation this new convent would be. It would be one of strict observance according to the rule and constitutions of the Dominican Order; its members would be cloistered, would not eat meat or wear linen except in the case of serious illness; they would observe the choral recitation of the Divine Office and of the Rosary; they would not have open grilles or parlours where they could receive and converse with visitors unless relatives within the third degree of relationship and these only for reasons of charity or the service of God.

On returning to Lisbon after some years’ absence, Fr Dominic was warmly welcomed by the Countess and the four potential postulants who had waited in hope all these years. On the 15th August Dona Iria made her will in favour of the future community – her summer residence with its adjoining land in Belem, all the silver and vestments for the chapel, property situated in Lisbon and Golega and a sum of money. She declared that ‘the patroness of the said monastery and Church is the most holy Virgin, Our Blessed Lady herself under the Most Holy Trinity.’ The only title the Countess wished to have and which was preserved in her heart was ‘slave of Our Lady’ (28). She decreed that the high altar would be reserved for the tombs of her husbands and children and that two Masses would be said daily at the high altar for the deceased members of her family. This was rescinded by the Holy See only in the early 1930s (29). The Office of the Dead which was requested for the same purpose is still said monthly by the present community.

The Countess endowed four places in perpetuity for two Portuguese and two Irish girls. Dona Iria herself would choose the Portuguese subjects and at her death the choice would be made by the archbishop of Lisbon in consultation with the vicar and the prioress. The two Irish girls would be chosen by the vicar and the prioress. These religious would wear round their necks some emblem indicating that they were ‘slaves of our Lady.’ They would be obliged to offer their spiritual exercises for the Countess after her death (30).

Dona Iria wished to live in part of the building given as the convent but her rooms would be outside the enclosure. However, she would take advantage of the privilege accorded by the Holy See to foundresses and would enter the enclosure whenever she wished. Having dealt with all the formalities necessary for a new foundation, the Countess could, it would seem, calmly await the formal opening of her foundation. However, it is at this point that the annals record the number of petitions from religious orders which were made to her for the convent she now intended should be devoted to Fr Dominic’s project (31).

It was very difficult for religious to obtain the royal licence necessary for a foundation and, once it was known that the Countess had received authorisation for her summer residence to be converted into a convent, requests from various orders began to be made. The Jeronimite monks whose land adjoined that of the Countess’s estate believed they had prior right, as the nuns of their order were the first to be invited there by the Countess. However, when they were informed of the Dominican mission there they renounced whatever right they felt they had. The nuns of Calvario then made their request followed by Francisco de Gouveia, provincial of the Order of the Most Holy Trinity, who wanted the property for the nuns of that order known as Trinas. The next applicants were Padres Terceiros de Nossa Senhora de Jesus for the nuns of their order and the Hermits of Saint Augustine used all their influence to obtain it for the nuns of Saint Monica. Finally, the last applicant was Mother Michaella Margarida of Austria, daughter of the Emperor Mathias, archduke of Austria, king of Bohemia and Hungary. On the death of his brother Rodolph, he was elected Emperor and crowned in Frankfurt on 12th June, 1612. Michaella Margarida later built her convent in Carnide and became a Carmelite. She died in September 1663, aged eighty-two (32).

Throughout this period of preparation, the Countess remained constant in her preference for Fr O’Daly’s project. Was it the fact that the royal licence had been given directly to him or was it her conviction that his ideal of establishing a convent for the Irish under persecution was the most worthy of all the petitions presented to her? Was she influenced by the four potential postulants who had shown such great enthusiasm for the Irish cause? As the licence had been given to Fr O’Daly we can only conclude that this was sufficient to assure Dona Iria of the validity of her choice. Subconsciously, she may have been influenced by the dream she had had long before the question arose of giving her property to Dominicans. This dream is already described in the preface but may be worth repeating here.

One night, Iria dreamt she saw five women dressed in white enter her chapel and having lit the candles they went out again. The fear of a fire being caused by the lighted candles being left unattended woke her up and once she realised it was only a dream, she forgot the incident until she saw the first five postulants receive the Dominican habit. The day of their reception into the Dominican Order was also the day of the formal opening of the convent (33).

Before the opening day, however, it was necessary to obtain for the new foundation two religious from an established Dominican convent to train the novices in religious observance. Again, there were difficulties. The first community to be approached was that of the Mosteiro do Sacramento but they felt unable to allow two of their members transfer to the new convent. The Dominican Convent of Sao Joao in Setubal, by order of the Provincial, Mestre Joao de Vasconcellos, gave two of their nuns – Madre Anna da Conceicao as prioress and Madre Antonia Teresa, as mistress of novices (34). Since it was the wish of the Countess that Our Lady would be considered the prioress, Madre Anna da Conceicao was given the title of vicar in capite.

The name of the new convent had to be decided. Our Lady of Good Success was not one of the most popular titles for the Mother of God in Portugal and Dona Iria had given the name of Our Lady of the Conception to her miraculous statue. It would seem that the choice of Our Lady of Good Success was Fr Dominic’s inspiration since the obtaining of the king’s licence was considered a miraculous success. In his work entitled, Nossa Senhora na Historia e Devocao do Povo Portugues, Padre Jose do Vale Carvalheira states that this title was made popular in Portugal during the frontier conflicts with Spain after the Restoration of Independence in 1640. He mentions one of the earliest shrines dedicated to Our Lady of Good Success near Ribeira da Baságueda close to the Spanish frontier as having been built by the commander of Portuguese forces in the 1640s. Seeing his soldiers outnumbered by the superior Spanish army he promised to build a shrine to Our Lady of Bom Sucesso and the result was victory.

Of the seven Bom Sucesso shrines in the diocese of Guarda the oldest is probably that of Sao Pedro do Rio Seco again very near the Spanish frontier. This shrine is connected with success at the threshing of corn. Nearer to Lisbon, in the diocese of Setubal, is the parish church of Cacilhas whose patron is Nossa Senhora do Bom Sucesso. Here, in 1755, the inhabitants terrorised by the tidal wave occurring at the time of the earthquake carried the statue to the water’s edge and immediately the cause of their fear ceased (35).

Was our convent the first shrine in Portugal dedicated to Our Lady of Good Success? We cannot be sure of this but what can be presumed is that it inspired the title for shrines built during the Restoration as Frei Domingos do Rosario played an important role in the court of D. Joao IV. What may have inspired him was certainly the almost miraculous granting of the king of Spain’s licence to found the convent. Or did he remember his time in Louvain when the statue of Our Lady of Pity was secretly brought from Aberdeen and offered to the Archduchess Isabel, Spanish governor of the Low Countries’? When she successfully captured the port of Ostende from the Dutch, the statue was renamed Our Lady of Good Success (36).

It was customary in the seventeenth century to have major decisions confirmed by a vision, a divine intuition or a prophetic dream. The choice of the title, Good Success, is no exception to this. Preserved in the convent archives is a letter written by a religious of another convent, Sor Francisca da Cruz whom Fr Dominic had requested to transfer to the new foundation. She was the sister of the Marques de Montalvao and a religious renowned for holiness in the Convent of the Annunciada in Lisbon. She was refused permission to transfer but, while still hoping that the refusal would he reversed she wrote, at Fr Dominic’s request, an account of a dream confirming the validity of the title Bom Sucesso: ‘One night when I was in choir, I saw two people going from the grille of the lower choir to the high altar and from there turning to the grille; both were dressed alike and held in their hands beautiful sceptres of silver which I thought were swords because they had beautiful handles; I could not see the face of one of them but of the other I could see all the features and she had a white headdress drawn back from her face and a crown on her head…; this was at night and the Church was as bright as if it were day; it seems to me that this was a dream because I was at a distance from the grille and saw what happened in the Church very clearly and distinctly as if I were awake…; a few days later, Father, you came to ask me if I wished to go to that monastery.’

However, her relatives, the prioress and confessor opposed it and she continues: ‘At this I was very upset and one Sister knew of this; one day when I was in choir and crying, she brought me a picture and said: “Don’t be upset because I bring you Our Lady of Good Success. Entrust yourself to her; and I turning to look at it saw that it was that person I had seen in the Church. I was amazed and confused but very confident in this Lady that she will bring me to that monastery and still today I do not lose hope that she will give me this grace… several days later I heard that the monastery was called Our Lady of Good Success at which I was still more anxious to go and serve in this holy place’ (37).

There is no record that this sister later obtained permission to come to Bom Sucesso. In the list of the members of the early communities the name Francisca occurs only once but her life-story is well documented from her early years so that she could not have been the sister who experienced the above dream. The letter serves only to give testimony that the title chosen was divinely approved even if not divinely inspired.

Another legend exists to prove that it was divinely inspired. The sisters assembled in order to decide by lot the title of the convent. They put all the titles of Our Lady from the litany of Loreto in a box and a little child was asked to draw out the title inspired by God. Three times the name Good Success was drawn though not a title contained in the litany. This confirmed for the nuns the divine choice of Nossa Senhora do Bom Sucesso.

The statue of the infant also has its seemingly miraculous story. One day, the chaplain of the convent was walking on the beach nearby and he found the little statue. When he brought it to the community, it was discovered that it fitted between the hands of the statue of Our Lady of Good Success. Subsequently, Our Lady under this title was invoked for the safe birth of children and even today, it is customary in the convent to make miniature cloaks, replicas of the statue’s cloak, for mothers to have during pregnancy.

Many miracles are attributed to Our Lady of Good Success and they often refer to provisions at a time of scarcity. Once, when a plague of weevils attacked the wheat in the granary the sisters offered the wheat to Our Lady and reserved a large quantity for the poor. The plague immediately ceased. On another occasion, as there was insufficient wheat, the prioress told the cellarer to give some to the poor. The latter hesitated and when the prioress discovered this she reprimanded her saying, ‘those alms were in the name of Our Lady and she will not forget her family.’ As the sister was going to distribute the alms, she received a message that a ship had docked with a large quantity of grain for the monastery.

The most picturesque of these miracles occurred in 1662, on the eve of the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. Again, the community had neither money nor provisions with which to celebrate this special feast-day. The prioress turned to Our Lady of Good Success, reminding her that she was the lady of the house. While still at prayer she was called to the parlour where, on the other side of the grille, was the captain of a sailing ship. He related that when his vessel was becalmed on the high seas, a pirate ship appeared. Unable to escape, the crew called on Mary and immediately another powerful ship arrived on the scene and put the pirate ship to flight. The sailors realised that it was Our Lady ‘the sovereign vessel in whom heaven has traded with earth’ (38) who had saved them and they gave the captain alms. It now had to be decided to which shrine the alms should be given. Consequently, lots were drawn between Our Lady of Help and Our Lady of Good Success. The lot fell to the latter and thus the captain’s gift was the answer to the prioress’s appeal. Probably, the greatest miracle is the continued existence for nearly four hundred years of the convent itself in spite of varied hardships – earthquakes, revolutions, plagues and even warfare.

The king’s licence to found the convent had been given in March 1639, the permission from the Dominican provincial in Portugal was obtained in June of the same year and finally, the permission from the archbishop of Lisbon, D. Rodrigo da Cunha was given the 29″‘ August, 1639. There remained only final preparations before the formal opening of the Convento do Born Sucesso the 12″‘ November of that year.

After many years of waiting in hope on the part of Iria de Brito and her friends, Foundation Day finally dawned on 12th November, 1639. History does not tell us what the weather was like but we can presume that a bright sun of Saint Martin’s summer shone with hope on the assembled participants of the opening ceremony. The two foundresses, Mother Ana of the Conception and Mother Antonia Theresa of Jesus, accompanied by the Duchess of Mantua, governor of Portugal for the Crown of Castile, entered the cloister. They were followed by a group of distinguished ladies which must have included Dona Iria de Brito, Countess of Atalaya.

Mass was celebrated ‘with all solemnity and pomp’, (39) and the sermon was given by one of the outstanding preachers of the time, Master Fr Domingos de Santo Thomaz, Dominican and preacher at the Royal Court. Present also were the community of Sao Domingos, Lisbon, nobles of the Court and a large gathering of the people.

Fr Joao de Vasconcellos. Dominican provincial of Portugal, gave the habit to the first five novices – Dona Magdalena da Silva, daughter of D. Manuel de Menezes, in religion, Sister Magdalena of Christ, Dona Luiza de Mello, daughter of D. Ruy de Mello de Sampaio, in religion, Sister Luiza Maria of the Sacrament. The third novice was Dona Leonor Kavanagh, an Irishwoman, daughter of the Lord of Pelmonty and Borese, ‘an illustrious House of Leinster.’ (40) in religion, Sister Leonor of Saint Margaret.

The remaining two novices were both of Portuguese nobility, Sister Leonor of Calvary and Sister Jacinta of Jesus and Mary.

Fr Dominic O’Daly publicly appointed Mother Ana of the Conception, vicar in capite and Mother Antonia Theresa mistress of novices and he gave a new statute over and above the Rule and Constitutions. Frei Luis de Sousa summarises this new statute: ‘That the Religious would have three hours of prayer divided into Matins, Prime and Compline; after Prime, five mysteries of the Rosary and the Litany of Our Lady in choir, Holy Communion twice a week; that in Advent and Lent, they would take the discipline twice a day, once a day during the period from Holy Cross in September until Rosary Day, except on Holy Days; that throughout Lent, silence would be observed except if attending or visiting the sick; that all would serve in the kitchen; that after dinner grace the community would work there, chorally reciting the psalms while working; that in the cells they would have no more than a board of pine, on it a straw mattress two blankets and a coarse quilt; a cross and a holy water font; that the religious would not ask their parents or relatives for anything of the least value; and if something were sent, it had to be given to the prioress to use it for the community’ (41).

The writer concludes this summary by saying that these and the other statutes laid down by Fr Vasconcellos in his licence were the inspiration for religious observance in Bom Sucesso and continued to be faithfully observed. Thus, we are given an accurate idea of what daily life for the individual sister in the new convent of Bom Sucesso was in the seventeenth century.

The emphasis on some practices of asceticism may seem excessive to us today but it is important to recall that the Iberian peninsula had undergone, in the sixteenth century, an extensive reform of religious life of which the reform of Teresa of Avila was but a part, albeit a very important part. Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D., in his introduction to selected writings of John of the Cross states: ‘Certain common characteristics marked the spirit of the Spanish reform: the return to one’s origins, to primitive rules and the founders; a strict life lived in community with practices of poverty, fasting, silence and enclosure; and, as the most important element, the life of prayer.”‘ All these elements are contwined in the statutes laid down at the foundation of Bom Sucesso and borne out in the account of the lives of the early members.

When, in 1640, the Portuguese people regained their independence from Spain and established the Duke of Bragança on the throne, Frei Domingos do Rosario gave his allegiance to the new king D. Joao IV of Portugal. This king entrusted the Dominican with various diplomatic missions. It was customary in the seventeenth century for rulers to make use of clerics and religious as ambassadors. This custom had its advantages in that it was less expensive as a religious in particular would not need a costly retinue, would have easy access to royal courts and would be able to stay in one of the houses of his Order, thus further reducing the expense.

In Portugal, in the seventeenth century Joao IV appointed four such envoys – two Portuguese, Frei Denis de Lencastre and Padre Antonio Vieira and two foreigners, the Englishman Dr. Ricardo Russell and the Irishman Frei Domingos do Rosario. According to Edgar Prestage, Dr. Russell played an important role in the marriage arrangement of the Infanta Dona Catarina de Bragança and Charles II of England. In 1662, she left her beloved Portugal for England and only returned, a widow, in 1699.

O’Daly was entrusted with a number of difficult missions on behalf of the king of Portugal. He was in negotiations with Charles I of England and in 1649 with his son, the future Charles II at this time in exile in Jersey (43). In 1655, D. Joao IV of Portugal sent Frei Domingos do Rosario to the French court to obtain France’s recognition of the independent state of Portugal. He also had to ask for financial and military aid for the new State. A year later, he was appointed accredited Portuguese ambassador at the French court.

Probably the most difficult of all legations which the King of Portugal entrusted to the Irishman was a secret mission in 1650 to Pope Innocent X in order to obtain the nomination of bishops to vacant dioceses in Portugal. The Spanish ambassador in Rome was trying to impede this process and the Pope unwilling to offend Spain hesitated to accede to the Portuguese king’s request. However, ‘O’Daly continued to play an active part in the protracted dispute between the Vatican reluctant to offend Spain and the independent kingdom of Portugal left without bishops’ (43).

On the death of D. Joao IV in 1656, Frei Domingos was recalled to Portugal by the Queen Dona Luisa de Gusmao, now Regent, to be her principal councillor. She offered him various rewards for his loyal service – the archbishopric of Portugal’s primatial See of Braga or the archbishopric of Goa. He declined all honours but in 1662, in order to obtain financial help for the College he had founded in Lisbon, he accepted the Queen’s nomination to the See of Coimbra. However, before his consecration as bishop, he died on 30th June, 1662, and was buried in the Church of Corpo Santo. During the earthquake of 1755, the Church of Corpo Santo was destroyed and the tomb of its founder was buried beneath its ruins. However, the epitaph on the tombstone read: Hic jacet venerabilis Pater Magister Dominicus de Rosario, Hvbernus huius et conventus monialium Boni Successes fundator. In variis legationibus felix, episcopus Conimbricencis electus, vir prudentia, literis et religione conspicuus. Obiit trigesimo Junii, anno Domini 1662 aetatis suae sexagesimo septimo. ‘Here lies venerable Father Master Frei Domingos do Rosario, Irish, founder of this and the convent of nuns of Bom Sucesso. Successful in various royal legations, bishop elect of Coimbra. A man outstanding in prudence, letters and religion. He died 30th June in the year of Our Lord 1662 at the age of sixty-seven.’

Edgar Prestage sums up his achievements. ‘Of his religious zeal there cannot be two opinions since his foundations testify to this; of his political talent, the diplomatic missions entrusted to him by various sovereigns (are proof) (44). To the question whether Frei Domingos was ambitious this writer answers in the affirmative but adds that one must believe that ‘his worldly affairs were inspired by the desire to be useful to his Order, to his native country and to the Portuguese royal family, his three loves (45).


1. M.J. Culligan & P. Cherici, 2000, The Wandering Irish in Europe, Constable. London, p.178
2. Armorial Lusitano, op.cit., p.54
3. The Book of Foundation, cited in P. O’Connell, The Irish College at Lisbon, 1590-1834, Four Courts Press, Dublin, p.24
4. Margaret MacCurtain, Daniel O’DaIy, 1595-1662, A Study of Irish European Relationships in the Seventeenth Century. Thesis presented to the National University of Ireland, 1958, for degree of M.A., p.50
5. ibid., p.4
6. ibid., p.10
7. ibid., p. I0-p.1 1
8. ibid., p.21-p.22
9. ibid., p. 41.
10. ibid., p.43
11. Frei Luis de Sousa, 1678, Historia de Sao Domingos, revised by M. Lopes de Almeida, 1977, Lello & Irm5o ed. Porto, vol. II, cap.XVIII. p.1183
12. ibid., cap. XVIII, p.1182
13. ibid., p. 1182
14. ibid., p. 1183 (a cruzado was a gold coin of considerable value)
15. ibid., p.1183
16. ibid., p. 1183
17. ibid., p. 1184
18. ibid., p.1 184
19. ibid. , p.1 184
20. ibid.. p. 1185
21. ibid., p. 1185 and M.C.A. p.72
22. M. Culligan & P. Cherici, The Wandering Irish in Europe, p.127-p.128
23. O’Neill and O’Donnell were earls in Ulster, in the north who resisted the English invasion of Ireland for nine years
24. Culligan & Cherici, op. cit., p.128-p.129
25. Frei Luis de Sousa, op. cit., cap. XIX, p.1 186
26. M.C.A. p.20
27. Stone tablet in sacristy of Born Sucesso
28. M.C.A. p.21
29. M.C.A. p.22
30. M.C.A. p.23
31. M.C.A. p. 24
32. Frei Luis de Sousa, op. cit., cap. XIX, p. 1189
33. Padre Jose de Vale Carvalheira, Nossa Senhora na Historia e Devoçao do Pogo Portugues, 1988, edicoes salesianas, p.147
34. I am indebted to Sister Bernadette Pakenham, O.P. for information on Our Lady of Aberdeen
35. This letter is also printed in Frei Luis de Sousa, vol. II, cap. XIX, p.1 189-1 190
36. Frei Luis de Sousa.op. cit. p.1 197
37. Frei Luis de Sousa, op. cit., cap. XX, p.1190
38. ibid., p. 1191
39. ibid., 1193
40. Margaret Mac Curtain, op. cit., p.2
41. ibid., p.2
42. Kieran Kavanagh, O.C.D., ed. , 1987, John of the Cross, Selected Writings, Paulist Press, NY. p. 10
43. E. Prestage, 1926, Frei Domingos do Rosario, Diplomata e Politico, Imprensa da Universidade, Coimbra p.52
44. ibid.. p. 52
45. ibid.. p. 52

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