Mary Potter

Mother Mary Potter (22 November 1847 – 9 April 1913) founded the sisters of the Little Company of Mary in 1877. On 8 February 1988, Pope John Paul II proclaimed her Venerable.

Venerable Mary Potter
Venerable Mary Potter.png
Venerable Mary Potter
Mary Potter

(1847-11-22)22 November 1847
Bermondsey, London, England
Died9 April 1913(1913-04-09) (aged 65)
Rome, Italy
OccupationFounder Little Company of Mary Sisters
Parent(s)William and Mary Anne (Martin) Potter

Early lifeEdit

Mary Potter and her sister-in-law Marguerite.
Mary Potter's engagement photo

Mary Potter was born in a rented house at 23 Old Jamaica Road in Bermondsey, South London. Mary was the fifth child and the only girl born to William and Mary Anne (Martin) Potter. One of her brothers was the chess master William Norwood Potter.[1] Mary had a congenital heart and lung disease which left her with frail health and a permanent cough for the rest of her life. Her father left the family home in 1848, went to Australia, and never returned, leaving Mrs. Potter to raise the children by herself.[2]

When Mary was 19, she was introduced to her brother's friend, Godfrey King and became engaged. Godfrey, who had tried a vocation as a Trappist monk, would give Mary pious books. After about four months, Mary wrote to Godfrey to terminate the engagement. Bishop Grant, suggested she seek her calling as a religious sister. As she was of delicate health, her mother suggested that Brighton would be a healthy place for her to go, and so they went to seek advice about her vocation at the Sisters of Mercy Convent.[3]


Mary resolved to go to Brighton by train and investigate life as a religious, with her mother and her brother. They arrived on 7 December 1868 and met the sisters. After some discussion the sisters suggested to Mary that the next day, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, would be a good day to receive her as a postulant. This was a hasty decision and Mary was ill-prepared to enter into religious life so suddenly. However, she decided to stay, receiving the name Sister Mary Angela.[4] But it became evident that life was too demanding physically for Mary and she was advised to leave the convent after eighteen months.[2] Her spiritual director, Fr. Lambert, S.J., was convinced that she should go into a contemplative order that combined Eucharistic adoration and apostolic activity, rather than a strictly contemplative order such as the Carmelites. She left the Sisters of Mercy on 23 June 1870.

As she became stronger, Mary's prayer life became more intense. After a period of prayer and reflection, she started to think of the possibility of founding a group of religious Sisters dedicated to the spiritual, and where possible, the physical assistance of those who were sick and dying. In 1872, she became more and more convinced that this was what she was called to do.

Little Company of MaryEdit

Mary sought spiritual advice from a Monsignor John Virtue, newly arrived in Southsea as a Military Chaplain. Mary asked him to guide her. She wrote many letters to Virtue which are now at the Propaganda Fide Archives in Rome. Mary wrote to Monsignor Virtue, "I cannot but feel I have had a call from God to devote myself to help save souls in their last hour. I have been drawn so strongly to pray for the dying."[2] Mary continued to write to Monsignor Virtue although he was less than encouraging.

In January 1876 Monsignor Virtue was transferred. Mary's youngest brother, George, now a teacher at Ratcliffe College, wrote to Mary suggesting that she apply to Bishop Bagshawe, (Bishop of Nottingham) for permission to work in his diocese. Bishop Bagshawe offered to pay the rent for 12 months and Mary found an old disused stocking factory for the beginnings of her “special work.”[3]

The date of the opening ceremony of her first convent was Easter Monday, 2 April 1877.[3] She was soon joined by other young women in this poor area called Hyson Green. After a lot of discussion with Fr. Selley and others, it was decided to call the group the Little Company of Mary. Eventually they settled on a simple dress of a plain habit of black and a pale blue veil. The Little Company of Mary sisters went out and helped the sick and poor in their homes.

Bishop Bagshawe did not agree with Mary Potter's vision of the Little Company of Mary and could not understand that she wanted the sisters to be both ‘active and contemplative.’ He could also not understand Mary's inspiration for the sisters to be in constant prayer for the dying. After three weeks he deposed Mary as superior and put another sister in charge.[4]

In 1878 Mary underwent two mastectomies within six months. The operation was performed on the kitchen table of the convent on 8 December.[4] She went to Rome in 1882 to gain approval for the Constitutions of her new Congregation, and while there established Calvary Hospital on the Via S Stefano Rotondo not far from St. John Lateran.[5] It was there in 1908 that the first Catholic Training School for nurses commenced in Italy.

Through contacts of many Bishops and laity, the Little Company of Mary was becoming well known. There were invitations to go to other countries as their ministry was appreciated. In 1885 five sisters sailed to Sydney, Australia. The Little Company of Mary then spread to the Southern Hemisphere and flourished, attending the sick, the poor and the dying where they were needed.

Death and funeralEdit

Final resting place of Ven Mary Potter.

Mary Potter died in Rome at 6:15 p.m. on Wednesday 9 April 1913. In 1997 her body was transferred to The Cathedral Church of St. Barnabas in Nottingham.


In 1988 Pope John Paul II declared Mother Mary Potter ‘Venerable’. In 1997 her body was returned to England and she now rests in the Cathedral of St. Barnabas, Nottingham.[5]

She has a Nottingham tram named after her,[6] after she was nominated in a BBC poll. In addition one of the conference rooms in the Newton building of Nottingham Trent University was named in honour of her after its refurbishment in January 2010.


The Brides of Christ (Our Lady's little library series) Hardcover – 1920

Devotion for the Dying and the Holy Souls in Purgatory: Mary's Call to Her Loving Children (TAN Books)


  1. ^ Winter, Edward. "5936. William Norwood Potter". Chess Notes. Retrieved 5 January 2018.
  2. ^ a b c "Mary Potter: Her Story", Little Sisters of the Poor
  3. ^ a b c "Venerable Mary Potter", Little Company of Mary Hospital and Health Care Centers
  4. ^ a b c Dom Antoine Marie osb., "Venerable Potter", Abbey of Saint-Joseph de Clairval
  5. ^ a b "Venerable Mary Potter", Calvary Health Care
  6. ^ Murrin, James. "Nottingham: Procession for a Saint in waiting: Ven Mary Potter", Independent Catholic News, 29 April 2018


  • Elizabeth West, ‘Potter, Mary Cecilia (1847–1913)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  • Patrick Dougherty, Mother Mary Potter: Foundress of the Little Company of Mary (1847-1913), Little Company of Mary Mother House, 1961
  • Sr. Elizabeth Gilroy, LCM, Mary Potter CTS Saints of the Isles,CTS Publishers London, 2010

External linksEdit