Mary Potter: Her Story
England in the 19th Century was going through turmoil, politically and economically, as well as suffering conflicts about religion. It was a society of great poverty and great wealth.
This was a complex time of struggle and transition, the time of the Industrial Revolution. The Crimean War, (1853-56) inflicted so much suffering and it was the vision and action of Florence Nightingale who awakened the nation to the need for improvement in the care of the sick and dying. This was the world that Mary Potter was born into on the 22nd November 1847.
The Potter family had many problems, and these were mainly to do with religion and money. The family tensions were not helped by Mrs Potter’s overbearing nature and Mr Potter’s failing business. Mary was the youngest of five children and the only daughter. Her brothers were William, Thomas, Henry and George. Mary’s father left the family home after a lot of discord, in about 1848. He never returned after he sailed for Australia in July 1850.
Growing up, Mary developed into a bright teenager who had a personality full of fun and good humour. Her brothers often entertained their friends, and it was one of Thomas’ friends who met Mary and fell in love with her. His name was Godfrey King. He asked Mary to marry him, and to the surprise of all, she accepted! The engagement did not last long. Mary broke off the engagement after about four months. They both felt the break, but Mary knew in her heart that God was calling her, perhaps to the Religious Life.
In Mary’s search to do God’s will she looked at the Mercy Sisters at Brighton, but this was not suitable as her health suffered, and she left after 18 months. Then, listening to God in prayer, she felt she was called to pray for the dying, as she herself was very ill at this time, and could not pray. Through speaking to her spiritual director, she became aware of this call to pray for the dying. She wrote:
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 – Venerable Mary Potter
After much suffering from ill health and rejection from family and clergy, Mary persevered with this great insight, and in January 1877, she travelled to Nottingham in the Midlands of England; met the Bishop, who accepted this lay woman, and permitted her to commence the Little Company of Mary on the 2nd July, 1877. Mary and the Sisters went out all around Hyson Green and Nottingham, helping the sick, the poor and dying in their homes.
After Mary Potter’s death in 1913, the Little Company of Mary continued to spread throughout the world and continues into the 21st Century because of Mary’s great vision and openness.