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Ballina Chronicle; 14 Aug 1850; M'Donnell v White - Galway

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  • Cathy Joynt Labath
    BALLINA CHRONICLE Ballina, Co. Mayo Wednesday, August 14, 1850 GALWAY ASSIZES - RECORD COURT Action Against the Sisters of Mercy M Donnell v. White. Such was
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 9, 2006
      Ballina, Co. Mayo
      Wednesday, August 14, 1850

      Action Against the Sisters of Mercy
      M'Donnell v. White.

      Such was the public anxiety to hear this very public trial, that at an
      early hour the court was densely crowded, and the side box filled with
      fashionably dressed ladies. There was also a great number of Roman Catholic
      clergymen present, and a good sprinkling of our dissenting brethren, both
      lay and clerical.
      Mr. E. M'Donnell, opened the pleadings. This was an action on the case
      on promises. The declaration contained three counts, each varying the cause
      of action; together with the money counts; the defendant pleaded the general
      Mr. Fitzgibbon, Q.C., stated the case. This was an action brought by
      the administrator of Mrs. Eliza M'Donnell, to recover the sum of 500l. given
      by her to the Sisters of Mercy, in the town of Galway. The circumstances
      were these: - In March, 1846, Miss Harriett M'Donnell, the daughter of Mrs.
      M'Donnell, being desirous of becoming a Nun of the Order of the Sisters of
      Mercy, her sister, Mrs. Ireland, at the request of Mrs. M'Donnell, called at
      the Convent of Mercy, to inquire as to the terms of the Convent, and to
      settle with the nuns. Mrs. White, the mother abbess, stated that it was
      absolutely necessary that Miss M'Donnell should spend six months as a
      postulant in the convent previous to her reception as a novice, and that
      after the ceremony of her reception had taken place, she should pas two
      years as a novice in the convent before she could be professed; she added
      taht they could not, on any account, shorten the time of her profession, and
      that it could not be done without a dispensation from the Pope; they agreed
      to take the sum of 500l. from Mrs. M'Donnell for the daughter, and that it
      should be left in the hands of her brother-in-law, Mr. Ireland, until after
      her profession, and that in the meanwhile they should require the interest
      for her support. In the month of May, 1846, the Rev. Peter Daly called on
      Mr. Ireland, and told him that it would be of great service to the nuns if
      the family would give the money at once, as they were going to invest some
      money on very favourable terms. Mrs. M'Donnell agreed to give them the
      money, on their undertaking to return it in case either her daughter should
      wish to leave the convent before the regular time of her profession, as
      stated by themselves, or in case of her death, before then; they agreed to
      give the strongest guarantee to that effect; and Mrs. White entered into the
      following agreement.-
      "Mrs. Eliza M'Donnell, - Madame, you have handed the Rev. Peter Daly,
      on behalf of the Sisters of Mercy, 500l. sterling, the sum agreed to be
      received from your daughter, Harriet M'Donnell on her being professed a nun
      in this community, which sum we engaged to return you free of interest,
      should either the nuns or your daughter change their minds before the period
      of her said profession arrives, or in the event of her decease before then.
      In the month of August, 1847, Miss M'Donnell took a malignant fever,
      after all hopes of recovery were over, the nuns had her professed a nun;
      they gave no notice to her family of her illness until she was past
      recovery. They now contend that as she was professed on her dying bed they
      have complied with the terms of the agreement- they rely on the ambiguity of
      the word profession, although it was clearly provided in the agreement that
      in case of her death the money should be returned. Counsel for the case
      contended that it would be absurd to put any other construction upon the
      words "period of profession, and in the event of her decease before then,"
      as it always in the power of the nuns, by that construction, to make the
      money their own, and to render their guarantee a mere mockery by professing
      her dying. They were permitted by the bishop to have her professed dying,
      merely as a consolation, and if she survived she should be professed again.
      The Bishop of Galway directed them to return the money, but they preferred
      taking their chance in a court of law, thinking to evade the agreement by
      some ambiguity on the face of it. it is quite clear to the most humble
      comprehension that Mrs. M'Donnell intended by this agreement to give 500l.
      in consideration of the profession of a living woman and not for the purpose
      of interring her daughter, as she clearly meant by the words "in the event
      of her decease before then," that the money should be returned to her in
      case of the death of her daughter before the ordinary period.
      Among the witnesses called was the Right Rev. Dr. O'Donnell, whose
      evidence was as follows: - Is the Bishop of Galway; knows Mrs. Amalia White,
      and knew the late Miss M'Donnell; after Miss M'Donnell's death called on
      Mrs. White, and said that in consequence of the profession being on her
      death bed, he did not consider the convent entitled to the money; the rules
      of the convent respecting the profession of a nun are, that the lady must
      first spend six months in the convent, she is then received as a novice, and
      after the expiration of two complete years, she can be professed; since he
      became bishop never knew of any admission in any other way.
      Cross-examined by Mr. Blake- Witness was not aware of a profession
      during his time in a shorter period, except in a case like Miss M'Donnell's;
      he would not consider himself authorised to dispense with the usual time;
      after two years' noviceship he allows young ladies to be professed; the
      Council of Trent does not require more than one year between the admission
      and profession, but the rules of the Convent of Mercy require two; in some
      instances the church dispenses with the usual time; it is only in cases
      where life is in danger that he allows a lady to be professed before the
      usual time. When Miss M'Donnell was very ill, witness was called on and gave
      permission to have her professed that she might have the consolation of
      dying a nun; if Miss M'Donnell recovered she should complete her term and
      again be professed. The dying profession is only a conditional one, and the
      best authorities say that on such a profession the order is not entitled to
      the fortune; if the young lady lived for two years the convent would be
      entitled to her fortune, if she was professed. Some of Miss M'Donnell's
      family called on him to prevent the profession, but he declined to do so
      although he knew their motive, but at the same time he knew the covenant was
      not entitled to the money.
      The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff, with 500l. damages and
      6d. costs.-- Galway Mercury.

      Cathy Joynt Labath
      Ireland Old News
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