Celebrating the Centenary of the death of Venerable Mary Potter
The Congregation of the Little Company of Mary was founded in Hyson Green, Nottingham, England in 1877 by Mary Potter. The story of the foundation of the Little Company of Mary in Southern Africa cannot be told without giving some idea of the Foundress. Venerable Mary Potter was born in London in 1847. She died in Rome in 1913 and it is a great privilege for us as Little Company of Mary to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of her death by unveiling this plaque honouring the pioneer Sisters who brought the Charism and spirituality of Mary Potter to the Continent of Africa.
When Mary Potter began to draw together the inspiration she had been given by God for the foundation of our Little Company of Mary, she expressed clearly the values that the Congregation would hold.
It would be a group of women who would hold dearly the values of MERCY or COMPASSION. This value spoke of the ability to have a compassionate heart, the kind of heart that looked beyond the surface of things, and saw the need of the human person. It was a compassion that expressed itself in practical action — seeking to bind up the hurts, to liberate the unfree, to bring new sight to all who were blind, spiritually, psychologically, emotionally. It was a compassion that, as companions of Mary who stood beside the Cross when her Son was dying, would bring the healing presence of Jesus to a thousand different situations, especially to those whose lives are ending …. The dying.
Bishop McSherry had for many years pleaded with Mary Potter to send Sisters to open a house in Port Elizabeth. Finally, in 1904 she was able to respond to his plea, and four intrepid Sisters of the Little Company of Mary arrived in Port Elizabeth from the Australian Province after an arduous journey of five weeks by sea. They had the princely sum of twenty-four pounds and some Hospital instruments, and the leader of the small group jokingly remarked that she would build a Hospital with these riches!
Bishop McSherry had rented a small house for them at No. 10 Prospect Hill which was near St. Augustine’s Cathedral. Because the Bishop had not consulted the parishioners about the coming of the Sisters the people of Port Elizabeth held a strong antipathy towards the little group, so that they had a very difficult time to establish themselves and win the confidence of the people. They had many obstacles to overcome as they lived through a period of great poverty and privation.
For the first two years or more practically all their nursing was done in the town of Uitenhage. The Sisters ministered to those sick or dying in their homes, and sometimes returned home to Prospect Hill after weeks of strenuous nursing with little recompense for their efforts.
In their second year in the country Sister Gonzaga contracted some kind of internal inflammation (possibly appendicitis not much known about in those days) and she died. This was a great sorrow to her three companions.
“Avoca” – where we moved to in 1910
Gradually, there was acceptance of the Sisters in Port Elizabeth. In 1910 when it became impossible to remain in Prospect Hill owing to an underground tank for waste water overflowing, the Sisters found a suitable house at 16 Villiers Road, Walmer, which they named “Avoca”, where they were able to accommodate ten patients and minor surgery could be done.
As time went on the number of Sisters increased, but the need for a larger and better equipped Hospital became necessary as the number of patients increased. In 1916, with the help of friends they were able to purchase a property in 40, Park Drive which became the site on which St. Joseph’s Hospital was built. This ministry continued to grow and expand until 1988 when Little Company of Mary relinquished ownership of the Hospital and property which were sold to Afrox Healthcare and renamed St. George’s Hospital. When the Hospital was sold ten Sisters moved to the Convent in Newton Park and so joined the parish of Mater Dei.
It was Mary Potter’s strong belief that ‘no one should die alone’. We can also accompany them in spirit through our ministry of prayer. The four Sisters at present in the Newton Park Convent, although retired from active ministry, remain faithful to the Charism of Mary Potter continuing in their dedication of prayer for the sick, especially those who are dying.
With great dedication and love Sister Ethel continues to implement the Vision of Venerable Mary Potter in her ministry to the sick, the dying, the poor and needy in Missionvale. She initiated this mission in 1988, beginning her work under a tree to serve the many needs of the people. These humble beginnings gradually grew and expanded to become the Missionvale Care Centre we know today.
Hyson Green in 1877 was a very poor district of Nottingham. It was here that a dilapidated, disused, stocking factory, which had been repaired to make it habitable, became the first Convent of the Little Company of Mary.
Mary Potter and the Founding Sisters commenced their ministry visiting the people in their homes – the sick, those dying, families living in dire poverty. They also began a small school for the poor and destitute children.
This school has continued to develop and expand over the years, imbibing the spirit of Mary Potter, and remains active to this day with modern up to date facilities.
We believe that Mary Potter will now have a special interest in this School, which was once blessed with the presence of her Sisters.
Our sincere prayer is that all those who come to this school may experience hope and peace.