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Benevolent Irish Society

Benevolent Irish Society

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The Benevolent Irish Society (BIS) is a philanthropic organization founded on 17 February 1806, a month before the Feast of St. Patrick, in St. John's, Newfoundland. It is the oldest philanthropic organization in North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

. Membership is open to adult residents of Newfoundland
Newfoundland and Labrador
Newfoundland and Labrador is the easternmost province of Canada. Situated in the country's Atlantic region, it incorporates the island of Newfoundland and mainland Labrador with a combined area of . As of April 2011, the province's estimated population is 508,400...

 who are of Irish
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

 birth or ancestry, regardless of religious persuasion. The BIS is a charitable, fraternal, middle-class social organization founded on the principles of "benevolence and philanthropy", and had as its original objective of helping the growing numbers of poor in St. John's, and providing the necessary skills which would enable people to better themselves. The rules of the BIS prohibited members from formally discussing political or religious questions, but the Society occasionally took a public political stand. In 1829 it participated in a large parade through St. John's to celebrate Roman Catholic Emancipation
Catholic Emancipation
Catholic emancipation or Catholic relief was a process in Great Britain and Ireland in the late 18th century and early 19th century which involved reducing and removing many of the restrictions on Roman Catholics which had been introduced by the Act of Uniformity, the Test Acts and the penal laws...


In the early years of the nineteenth century, St. John's had a large Irish population with some members of affluence. Many of these Irish both saw social needs which were not being met by government, and desired to belong to a fraternal, gentlemanly organization. Under Bishop O'Donel
James Louis O'Donel
James Louis O'Donel was the first Roman Catholic bishop of St. John's, Newfoundland....

's patronage, they founded the BIS under the motto He that gives to the poor lends to the Lord.

By the 1820s, many BIS members were beginning to play prominent roles in the political life of Newfoundland and the Irish
Irish people
The Irish people are an ethnic group who originate in Ireland, an island in northwestern Europe. Ireland has been populated for around 9,000 years , with the Irish people's earliest ancestors recorded having legends of being descended from groups such as the Nemedians, Fomorians, Fir Bolg, Tuatha...

 community in St. John's. By the 1840s the BIS had become so wealthy and influential that, next to the House of Assembly and the governor's council, the BIS was able to marshal considerable resources to address social problems and needs. In 1876 it sponsored the establishment in St. John's of the Irish Christian Brothers
Congregation of Christian Brothers
The Congregation of Christian Brothers is a worldwide religious community within the Catholic Church, founded by Blessed Edmund Rice. The Christian Brothers, as they are commonly known, chiefly work for the evangelisation and education of youth, but are involved in many ministries, especially with...

, and assisted with the maintenance of the Saint Bonaventure's College
Saint Bonaventure's College
St. Bonaventure's College is an independent kindergarten to grade 12 Catholic School in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. It is located in the historic centre of North America's oldest city, adjacent to the Roman Catholic Basilica of St...

 and the opening of St. Patrick's School.

The greatest honour ever bestowed on the Society came in 1996 when the Taoiseach
The Taoiseach is the head of government or prime minister of Ireland. The Taoiseach is appointed by the President upon the nomination of Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas , and must, in order to remain in office, retain the support of a majority in the Dáil.The current Taoiseach is...

 of Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

, John Bruton
John Bruton
John Gerard Bruton is an Irish politician who served as Taoiseach of Ireland from 1994 to 1997. A minister under two taoisigh, Liam Cosgrave and Garret FitzGerald, Bruton held a number of the top posts in Irish government, including Minister for Finance , and Minister for Industry, Trade,...

, visited the BIS in St. Patrick's Hall on St. Patrick's Day.

The headquarters of the BIS, fronting on Queen's Road, backing on Military Road opposite of the Basilicia, with its side on Garrison Hill, was converted into a condominium residence in the late 1990s/early 2000s; the price of a single condo unit can reach over 1 million Canadian dollars. The BIS is now based one or two minutes walk west at 30 Harvey Road.

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