The Congregation of the Little Company of Mary was founded in 1877 by Mary Potter. About this time she wrote: “Let us have a group of women who will not only nurse people back to health, but will, as their principal object, comfort and encourage those whose life is ending.” The story of the foundation of the Little Company of Mary in Southern Africa cannot be told without giving some idea of the Foundress – Mother Mary Potter, an Englishwoman, born in 1847, who died in Rome in 1913. She had a great love for Our Lady, and this developed as she strove to identify herself with Mary at the foot of the Cross on Calvary. This is where the ideals of the Sisters of the Little Company of Mary and the devotions they practice have their origins. The Sisters’ mission to the world is primarily special assistance to the sick and dying, and also to the marginalized through the healing ministry. Man, in spite of the advances of modern technology, is still afraid to die, and it is in that last moment before he goes to stand before his Creator and his God that ne needs the strength of prayer and compassionate help to assist him on his last journey. In 1904 four intrepid Sisters of the Little Company of Mary arrived in Port Elizabeth from Australia after a five weeks’ voyage – a trip which cost £80. Two were Irish, one Australian and one Cornish-Irish- Australian. They had been invited by Bishop McSherry to found a house in the Port Elizabeth vicariate. They had many difficulties to contend with and many obstacles to overcome and they had to live through great poverty and privation. During the first two years the Sisters nursed in the town of Uitenhage. In their second year in the country one of the Sisters died. She was attended by Canon Thomas Mac Alinney from Spiddal, Co. Galway. He also gave the Sisters £20 to buy a plot in the cemetery. In 1910 they moved to a house “Avoca” in Walmer, and in 1916 acquired the property on which St. Joseph’s Hospital was built. Sadly, this hospital had to be sold in 1987, due to the decreasing numbers and advancing age of the Sisters. In 1925 the Sisters in Southern Africa were formally annexed to the Irish Province. The Australian Sisters were given the option of returning to Australia or remaining here. One of them chose to remain. In 1934 a small clinic to serve the needs of the poor was opened in Korsten (later known as Schauder Township). As well as attending to the people who came to the clinic the Sisters visited and ministered to the sick and dying in their homes. The Sisters were greatly appreciated by the people but regretfully it became necessary to withdraw from this ministry in 1992. From 1974 to 1979 Schauderville was served by a community established as an experiment in LCM small group living, the Sisters residing initially at Parson’s Hill. From 1979 Schauderville was again served from the community at St. Joseph’s Hospital until it was closed.
In 1988 our ministry was extended to the poor people in Missionvale, an informal shack land area outside Port Elizabeth, where the people live in dire poverty and appalling conditions. Sister Ethel continues to minister to the people there with great dedication. In 1988 when St. Joseph’s Hospital was sold the Sisters moved to Newton Park, a residential suburb of Port Elizabeth. Our retired Sisters have made this a “powerhouse of prayer.” In the mid 1930’s Archbishop Chichester invited the Sisters of the LCM to establish a hospital in what was then known as Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia. Two pioneer Sisters left by train from Port Elizabeth to start their work in this ‘new’ country. By 1937 the hospital – St. Anne’s Hospital – was ready for official opening and the admission of the first patients. This hospital is still being run by the Sisters although their numbers have greatly diminished. A section of the hospital has now been put aside for the terminally ill, most of whom are suffering from HIV/AIDS. The next enterprise undertaken by the Sisters was the opening of a rural clinic in Mount St. Mary’s, Wedza in 1954. This little hospital eventually became a training centre for student nurses. The Sisters withdrew from Wedza in 1992 and the hospital and clinics were taken over by the Church. In 1967 a new Mission hospital was opened
and blessed in Murambinda, a much neglected area east of Salisbury/Harare. The hospital was completed in 1969 and is now a training school for midwives. In 1973 the Sisters were invited by Bishop D. Lament to take over St. Peter’s hospital in Chisumbanje in the Sabi Valley, where they greatly helped the progress of the Church by their ministry to the sick and dying. The Sisters had to leave this mission in 1977 because of the bush war in the area. In 1984 the Sisters, who had been invited to Mutare, started work in Florida, a suburb of Mutare. They work amongst the poor and needy and are actively involved in caring for the terminally ill, especially those suffering from HIV/AIDS. In 1989 Mashambanzou Centre was established in Waterfalls, a high density suburb of Harare, to provide care and counseling for poor people infected with HIV/AIDS, as well as to provide support for their families.
In 1957 the Little Company of Mary Hospital was blessed and opened in Pretoria at the invitation of Archbishop J. Garner. This hospital run by the Sisters played its own part in the breaking down of prejudices and the establishing of ecumenical relations. Little Company of Mary relinquished ownership of the hospital in 2002. A clinic to serve the needs of the coloured people in Eersterust was opened in 1974. The Sisters moved into an already existing convent there, and served the Church and the community in many different ways until they withdrew from this ministry in 2006. In 1983 an Oncology unit, St. Mary’s, was opened at the LCM Hospital where the dying, particularly those suffering from cancer, are admitted and cared for. “So that our love may be in deed and in truth and not only in word, we devote ourselves in a special way to the principal work of our ministry – the care of the sick and dying. We desire to help the dying as Mary helped her Son on Calvary. We strive to be the means by which the power of the Precious Blood of Jesus may reach souls in the final stage of their time on earth and help them to eternal life. The whole purpose of our lives is to be for the members of the Body of Christ today what Mary was for her Son on Calvary.”
(Mother Mary Potter)