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Mary Potter Heritage Centre opens
Venerable Mary Potter
The foundation created by Mary Potter continues to help people today

A permanent exhibition has opened to Mary Potter, a nun recognised for her work with the destitute.

It all started in an old stocking factory in Hyson Green, Nottingham, where she set up her mission, the Little Company of Mary, in 1877.

Her legacy is an international Roman Catholic institute of women dedicated to caring for the suffering, the sick and the dying.

Mary Potter was declared 'venerable' in 1988 by Pope John Paul II.

Humble beginnings

Mary Potter was born in London in 1847. She had a difficult childhood, having a serious heart and lung defect that most thought she would not survive. Her father emigrated to Australia when she was just one, leaving her mother to raise her and her four brothers.

Mary was nearly married to Godfrey King of Portsmouth, a man who tried to change Mary's joyful attitude to life, giving her a book called Instructions for Christians with a Timid Conscience. The book can be seen in the exhibition.

On the recommendation of her spiritualist adviser, Dr Grant, Mary broke off the engagement and at the age of 21 was accepted into the Mercy sisters in Brighton.

Less than a year later, Mary became ill again and returned home. It was at this time that Mary started reading The Path of Mary by Louis De Montfort, a book that was to change her life.

Facing opposition from family, friends and the church, she was eventually introduced to a wealthy patron of the Nottingham diocese, a Mr Young, who suggested a meeting with Bishop Bagshaw. He encouraged her to look for premises in the poor part of Nottingham in which to set up a mission.

Move to Nottingham

Those premises were a derelict stocking factory in Hyson Green. Mary Potter and her then four companions set about remodelling the building and starting their work. Asda stands on the site now.

Some of the exhibits
Sister Margaret and Sister Anita continue Mary Potter's work

Sister Anita McDonald from the Little Company of Mary said: "Mary Potter was having difficulty while in Nottingham to get recognition for her congregation so she knew she had to go to Rome to get permission from the Pope. There was some lack of understanding between her and the Bishop.

"She wanted the Little Company of Mary to have a very strong spiritual basis and he saw the sisters as wanting to do a task within the parish."

Sister Margaret Watson, is Province Leader of the Little Company of Mary. She is in charge for the whole of Britain. She added: "Mary had two surgeries for breast cancer. She had it done on a kitchen table in Hyson Green, without an anaesthetic. We still don't know how she survived that because really even in this day and age we don't think anyone would survive that."

The Legacy Room

The exhibition shows Mary Potter's life from her birth to her passing away in Rome in 1913. The first room you come to is the Legacy Room which contains a beautiful translucent tree.

"The tree symbolises the continuity of the little Company of Mary throughout the whole world from the time of Mary Potter's foundation here in Nottingham.

"The leaves also symbolise the sisters of the associates who live this ... spirituality. The changing lights indicate the changing seasons of the year," said Sister McDonald, who is based in Nottingham.

Mary Potter's slippers
Mary Potter's slippers are among several artefacts in the exhibition

Exhibits include a crucifix made from the wood of a tree in Hyson Green, the clothes she wore, including her christening gown and habit, and personal items such as her hairbrush, sunglasses, slippers and sewing box.

Mary Potter's remains were brought back from Rome and buried in a tomb at St Barnabas Cathedral in Nottingham in 1997.

The sisters of the Little Company of Mary continue the work of Mary Potter in Nottinghamshire and throughout the world.

The Mary Potter Heritage Centre can be found at 32 Regent Street in Nottingham. Tours will be available to the public from April 2010 but are by appointment only. For more information call Sister Anita McDonald at the Heritage Centre on 0115 950 5167.


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