Dr Eilish Gregory Visit to Australia and New Zealand
June 11, 2024 | Uncategorized

As the Little Company of Mary Fellow, based at Durham University, I have been researching the early history of the Little Company of Mary (LCM) from its foundation by the Mother Foundress Mary Potter in 1877 until the outbreak of the Second World War. From the early 1880s, the LCM sisters were very innovative in their missionary work as they started to establish nursing homes, hospitals, and convalescent homes when invited to do so by religious leaders and influential patrons around the world, including in Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, the USA, South Africa, Argentina, Malta, and Italy. My project has been assessing the global missionary activities of these pioneering first generation of LCM sisters, novices, and postulants who helped the order to thrive around the world in often very difficult circumstances, and to situate the sisters within the wider context of the history of women religious and of the modernisation of nursing. This includes the LCM’s spirituality, their relationship with the Archbishops, the Clergy and the wider Catholic community, their nursing work, their fundraising, as well as how they set up new missions across the globe.

Since I began the project in 2022, I have been regularly visiting the LCM archives in Tooting Bec, London to study the correspondence written by the early LCM sisters, spiritual leaders, and influential patrons. Additionally, I have visited several archives across the UK and Ireland, including the Mary Potter Heritage Centre in Nottingham, the LCM Region Archives in Dublin, the Bodleian Library in Oxford, the London Metropolitan Archives, Wellcome Library Special Collections, and the diocesan archives in Birmingham, Nottingham, Westminster, and Limerick. These trips have enabled me to learn about how the LCM set up their global missions and to chart almost in ‘real time’ how the LCM sisters experienced working as a new religious order in very tough working conditions and in new environments which could be hostile towards Catholics.

In April and May 2024, I travelled to Australia and New Zealand to research the first generation of LCM sisters who arrived in Sydney in 1885 and in Christchurch in 1914, and the other foundations they established in these two countries before the Second World War. I worked in the LCM Regional Office in Mascot, Sydney and in the office of the LCM Community Centre in Christchurch, and visited the Archdiocesan archives in Sydney, Melbourne, Christchurch, and Wellington. While on my trips, I had the opportunity to present my research to the LCM sisters at Ryde, the office team at Mascot, and at the LCM Community Centre in Christchurch.

During my visits, I examined a wide variety of letters written by the LCM sisters in Australia and New Zealand, the letters they received from Propaganda de Fide, various Archbishops and Bishops, and I also studied newspaper cuttings, and logbooks, alongside other miscellaneous manuscripts. Studying these sources was very enriching for the project, as they helped me to learn about how the LCM sisters set up their missions, but also about their often-strained relationships with the Archbishops and Bishops who invited them to set up their missions in their dioceses. Through the newspaper cuttings, I was able to discover the local, national, and international impact the LCM made in their communities, and how their activities were reported, with articles appearing about their clothing ceremonies, special Jubilee celebrations and Masses, and how they selflessly put themselves in danger to help patients, including helping survivors in earthquakes, and treating patients suffering from tuberculosis and the Spanish Flu.

It has been wonderful to learn about how enterprising the pioneering first generation of LCM sisters who arrived in Australia and New Zealand from 1885 and 1914. I would like to thank the LCM sisters and everyone in the Mascot and Christchurch offices for their very kind and warm welcome during my visits, and who made me feel part of the team.

Dr Eilish Gregory