Once in Australia, the Sisters immediately set to work nursing the sick in their own homes, as well as running a soup kitchen, a night refuge, a school for the blind, and a parish school; and providing social services to those in need.
The Little Company of Mary pioneers had little knowledge of the healthcare legacy they would create. Theirs is a story of enduring care for the physical and spiritual health of so many Australians: firstly on the streets of Sydney and the rudimentary beginnings of home nursing; latterly and currently in the stewardship of some of Australia’s best-known and much-loved hospitals, together with a national Calvary health, community and aged care ministry.
From humble beginnings…
The Little Company of Mary was founded in Nottingham, England, in 1877. Mary Potter was just 28 when she converted a stocking factory into their first convent.
Her mission was simple. Pray and care for those who are sick, dying and in need.
Venerable Mary Potter
Mary Potter was born on 22 November 1847 in England in the wake of the industrial revolution and established the Little Company of Mary in an old stocking factory at Hyson Green in Nottingham, England in 1877. She 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.
When Mary Potter went to Rome in 1882 to gain approval for the Constitutions of her new Congregation, she also worked among the poor of the area, establishing a hospital – Calvary – as well as the Chapel of the Maternal Heart. Mary died in Rome on 9 April 1913. She was declared Venerable by Pope Saint John Paul II on 8 February 1988.
The beginnings of Calvary in Australia
In 1885, at the invitation of Cardinal Moran, six Sisters of the Little Company of Mary sailed from Naples on the S.S. Liguria, eventually arriving in Sydney on 4 November 1885.
The Sisters became involved in caring for the sick, the poor and the dying with a home nursing visit the day after they arrived.
The first call out for a longer home nursing stay came on their first Sunday, when Sister Rose Mowles went by boat to Hunters Hill up the Parramatta River to nurse Lettie D’Apice.
Their early ministry blossomed:
1887: nursing as far afield as Gunnedah and Armidale
1888: opened St Patrick’s school for the Blind
1892-1898: administered the Parish School at Ryde
1892-1903: Our Lady Help of Christians’ Night Refuge and Soup Kitchen for women and children in Woolloomooloo
1893: instructed and taught poor children under a tree at the ‘railway encampment’, Redfern
A mere three years into their ministry, in 1888, Cardinal Moran laid the foundation stone for the Little Company of Mary’s first hospital, the Children’s Hospital of the Holy Child, later renamed Lewisham Hospital, which operated for more than 100 years. The first wing opened on 9 June 1889.
With 5 years of their arrival, there were nearly 50 Sisters at the convent in Lewisham.
Between 1900 and 1985, the Sisters ran five nurse training schools, and provided clinical placements for college-educated nursing and medical students.The various ministries the Sisters operated are best depicted in the timeline of the Little Company of Mary in Australia.
In 1997, to ensure the continued growth and development of their health and aged care services, the Sisters established a company limited by guarantee, now known as Little Company of Mary Health Care Ltd.
Calvary Ministries took responsibility for the stewardship of this company on 1 January 2011.
The National Board of Little Company of Mary Health Care, appointed by Calvary Ministries, is responsible for the overall governance of the growing range of health, community and aged care services.
Inspired by the Venerable Mary Potter and the work of the Sisters of the Little Company of Mary in Australia, Calvary continues to provide high quality health, community and aged care services throughout Australia.
Today, Calvary is a charitable Catholic not-for-profit organisation with more than 12,000 staff and volunteers, 15 public and private hospitals, 15 Retirement and Aged Care facilities, and 22 Community Care centres. Calvary operates across six states and territories within Australia.
Our mission is to provide health care to the most vulnerable, including those reaching the end of their life. We provide aged and community care, acute and sub-acute health care; and specialist palliative care and comprehensive care for people in the final year of life.
Sister Brigid Rosser, the youngest founding Sister, remained in Australia and saw the foundation eventually flourish. She kept a diary of the trip out and of the early days in Australia. She closes her diary:
“… a work whose foundations were laid in dire poverty and planted deep in the Cross. Does this not teach us what a mighty tree grows from the Mustard Seed, watered and nurtured by the early traditions of our young Congregation. And as another era has begun, may each year unfold golden sheets, surpassing far anything that has gone before…”
Sister Brigid Rosser