Little Company of Mary
History of the Sisters of the Little Company of Mary
Mary Potter, the foundress of the Little Company of Mary, was born on 22 November 1847 in London. At that time England was in the wake of major changes: The Industrial Revolution and its impact on the social and economic environment of the time; the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829; the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in 1850 and the Oxford Movement of the 1830’s.
The youngest of five children, Mary Potter had four brothers and was raised largely by her strict but loving mother. Mary Potter’s father left the family home when Mary was very young and he went to Australia, never to see his family again.
As an adult Mary set about her life’s work of serving God. After experiencing many difficulties, ill-health and opposition from her family and the Clergy, Mary eventually established a Congregation of Religious Sisters called the Little Company of Mary, whose lives are centred on prayer and caring for those who were sick, dying and in need. Mary Potter modelled the Congregation on the spirit of Calvary, calling her Sisters to be part of the “little company” of faithful companions who remained with Mary, the mother of Jesus, standing in spirit with her on Calvary, as she watched over her dying son. Mary Potter’s primary vision was for the Sisters to constantly pray for the dying, then all else would follow.
The Bishop of Nottingham, Bishop Bagshawe said he would accept Mary Potter into the Diocese, and assisted her financially in the beginning. Eventually Mary Potter established the Congregation – the Sisters of the Little Company of Mary – in an old stocking factory at Hyson Green in Nottingham, England in 1877. This area was particularly disadvantaged and the building itself was very run down. The stocking factory was offered to Mary Potter by Bishop Bagshawe to use as a convent to live among the poor, sick and dying. From this old building, the Sisters went out into homes to provide whatever care was needed.
When she went to Rome in 1882 to gain approval for the Constitutions of her new Congregation, and also to seek Papal Approbation (meaning that the status of the Community would change and instead of being ruled by the Local Bishop, they would be under the Vatican). They met Pope Leo XIII, and he then asked Mary Potter to stay in Rome and set up a community. So they did this and the Sisters worked among the poor all around Rome and parts of Italy. They eventually established a hospital – called Calvary, as well as the Chapel of the Maternal Heart. This hospital was the first Catholic hospital to be set up in Rome in 1909.
In 1913 after suffering from ill-health for many years, Mary Potter died in Rome, where her body lay until 1997 when it was translated to the Cathedral of Saint Barnabas in Nottingham.
In 1885 at the invitation of Cardinal Moran, six Sisters of the Little Company of Mary sailed from Naples on the SS Liguria headed for Australia. This was a long and arduous journey, eventually arriving in Sydney on 4 November 1885. The harsh conditions they encountered upon their arrival did not deter the Sisters and they immediately became involved in caring for the sick, poor and the dying again, undertaking home nursing and opening a soup kitchen in inner Sydney.
The Australian Foundation Sisters were very young to undertake their first international mission. However, by 1886 the foundation stone for the first Australian convent, known as the Convent of the Maternal Heart was laid at Lewisham. This was remarkable progress within only two years of their arrival in Australia.
In 1888, the foundation stone was laid for what was to become known as Lewisham Hospital. Operating as both a public and private hospital in Sydney’s inner west for more than 100 years, Lewisham was also the site of the religious formation house for Little Company of Mary Sisters, both in New Zealand and Australia.
Over more than a century, the Sisters and those working with them, have built up a respected reputation in Australia for the provision of high quality, values-based health, community and aged care.
Women of Spirit: The Australian Sisters of the Little Company of Mary
Venerable Mary Potter inspires others to act to make a difference. She drew her inspiration from her desire to live in spirit with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who stood by her dying son on Calvary. In that moment, Mary Potter saw a woman being with and for her Son, even when all seems hopeless. She believed in the value of individual human life and the importance of hope to sustain the human spirit. She inspires the Sisters to pray and act so that “all might have life and have it to the full”.
Soon after the founding of the Sisters of the Little Company of Mary, in 1877, the Sisters spread their care across the seas, and in 1885, six courageous Sisters left England to come to Sydney on the SS Liguria.
Once in Australia, the Sisters immediately set to work nursing the sick in their homes, conducting a soup kitchen and a night refuge, a school for the blind and a parish school and providing social services to those in need.
The Sisters’ reputation for compassion and care lead to invitations to serve communities across Australia. From these humble beginnings, these courageous, pioneering Sisters did all they could to “make a difference”. In a time when it was unusual for women to work outside the home, the Sisters, with support and advice, built hospitals, developed community services, negotiated agreements with governments, completed business training, and accomplished many other community projects. Caring for people in their home, teaching religious instruction, serving meals to the poor, providing health education were ministries they undertook, alongside their large institutions. They met with many obstacles but these resourceful women did what they could to overcome these challenges. Why? Simply because others believed, as Mary Potter did, that each person is unique and that they and those who came to work with them were called to meet the particular needs of each person as best they could.
Having established services of excellence in health care alongside their other ministries, the Sisters were committed to ensuring that their mission of compassionate care be continued into the future. The Sisters developed a Governance Model which ensures the sustainability of the health care services they founded. Calvary Ministries is the formal body established by the Sisters in Australia, and approved by the Vatican for the purpose of taking the Sisters place, which will ensure the ministry in the tradition of the Little Company of Mary and the spirit of Venerable Mary Potter continues.
Today, throughout Australia, LCM women and their associates and partners in mission are working for the betterment of humanity. Responding to mission calls in East Timor and within our own nation, we
- Offer our prayer at all times that all might know the fullness of life and we have a special concern for the sick and the dying
- Work with refugees, and those alienated from their human rights
- Provide support to men and women through spiritual direction and retreats
- Work in parish support and pastoral ministries.
- Work with youth
- Share time energy and resources to care for the aged in our society
- Support in prayer and presence the health care ministries founded by the Sisters and now governed by Calvary Ministries.
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