Funding Foundations

An invitation to establish a convent was one thing, but funds had to be forthcoming too. According to the rules of the Presentation Order the sisters couldn’t earn salaries for teaching so other ways had to be found to fund their convents and schools. 

Convents were financed through bequests, dowries, investments, donations and charity sermons. Dowries, a sum of money settled on a woman that would be paid upon her marriage, were vital to the survival of fledgling convents. Almost every woman who wanted to join the convent had to have a dowry. This money was invested and the convent operated off the interest generated. The minimum amount for a dowry was different in each convent but in the late eighteenth century, women joining George’s Hill convent in Dublin required a dowry of £500.

Some convents had a wealthy benefactor who gifted them money or property. About half of the convents established by the Presentation Order between 1775 and 1828 were funded by women. In some instances widows used their inheritance to establish a convent and then live alongside the nuns, sometimes choosing to become a nun themselves. This was the case in Doneraile, Co. Cork where Mary Ann Flynn (later Sr Joseph) was one of the founders of the convent.

Above: A Directory for the Religious of the Presentation Order of the Parent House, late-nineteenth century.

‘In order to merit the appellation of Foundress of a Monastery, it is necessary at least that she give a house suited to the establishment, or wherewith to purchase one…’

‘A Directory for the Religious of the Presentation Order’, 269

Above: Detail from a stained glass window in the chapel of North Presentation Convent

[The Foundress or Benefactress] may…reside in the Monastery and have apartments therein, separated as much as possible from those allotted to the Religious. In one of these she shall take her repasts and it shall not be permitted to her to spend the recreations with the Religious except on certain festivals when specially invited; she may here Mass in the Chapel, and every facility should be afforded her to repair there as frequently as she chooses’.

‘A Directory for the Religious of the Presentation Order’, 270