Little Company of Mary Sisters Africa

Our History

The Congregation of the Little Company of Mary was founded in 1877 by Venerable Mary Potter in Nottingham, England, where an old stocking factory became the first convent.

From the humble beginnings in Nottingham the Congregation spread to the various parts of the world where the Sisters can be found ministering today.

Venerable Mary Potter was a woman of great vision who did not limit herself or the Congregation to any one particular apostolic work. She knew the great work to be done was the work of evangelization.

Today our communities are found throughout the world, reflecting the cultural diversity of which they are a part.

Mary Potter’s legacy and her wholehearted commitment to God were recognized by Pope John Paul II on February 8, 1988 when he declared Mary Potter “Venerable “. This declaration demonstrated the Church’s validation of Mary Potter’s saintly life and acceptance of her extensive spiritual writings.


Bishop McSherry pleaded for many years with Mary Potter, Foundress of the Little Company of Mary, to send some of her Sisters to open a house in Port Elizabeth.  Mary Potter eventually responded to his plea, and Mother Antonia Daly, Sisters Perpetua Flanagan, Magdalen Lynch, and Gonzaga Carpenter, were sent from the Australian Province.   On the 5th November 1904 these four intrepid Sisters set sail from Sydney harbour by the Persic White Star Line, with the princely sum of Twenty-four Pounds and some instruments.    Mother Antonia jokingly remarked that she would build a Hospital with these riches. .  They arrived in Port Elizabeth on the 10th December 1904.  Things were extremely difficult.  From their records we read that a priest from the nearby town of Uitenhage influenced his parishioners and Doctors on their behalf, and but for him they might have gone hungry, as the people of Port Elizabeth still held aloof.  Thus, for two years or more practically all their nursing was done in the town of Uitenhage.   The Sisters ministered to the people in their homes, and sometimes returned home to Prospect Hill after weeks of strenuous nursing with little recompense for their efforts.  On one occasion a Sister just received two canaries! 

This pattern or struggle repeats itself so often in any prophetic ministry.  From this little group of four Sisters, few could foretell the impact that the Little Company of Mary would have, not only in the Diocese of Port Elizabeth but in Southern Africa. The first community was established at Prospect Hill with primitive facilities and equipment.  True to their Charism, of standing in spirit with Mary on Calvary while she watched over her dying Son, the Sisters shared in the suffering and anguish of the local people.  It was a compassionate presence in the many dark hours of people’s Calvary. From that mustard seed beginning, new branches would eventually grow. In  September 1937  Mother Columbanus, Provincial Superior, with eight Sisters  -  Sisters Kieran, Alberta, Benedict, Monica, Dominic, Bernardine, Hilary and Aidan left Ireland for Salisbury. They sailed on the City of Exeter from Tilbury docks, London, and were three weeks at sea. When they docked in Port Elizabeth, en route for Salisbury, among others to welcome them was Bishop McSherry, as he had been at the Harbour to welcome the first Sisters from Australia 33 years before.   When the Sisters finally reached St. Anne’s they felt encouraged by the warm welcome they received to their new home. On her visit to Rhodesia from Ireland Mother Columba (Provincial Superior) was accompanied by Mother Berchmans. Mother Berchmans became seriously ill during the visitation and died in St. Anne’s.   This was a great shock to the Sisters. She was the first Sister to be buried in the Little Company of Mary section of the Pioneer Cemetery, Salisbury. When the war ended in 1945 people from overseas flocked into Rhodesia.  The 33 beds at St. Anne’s were proving to be inadequate and necessitated another section being added to the Hospital, giving a bed-capacity of 76 beds.  The nursing care and dedication of the Sisters was an inspiration to all. Tropical diseases were the cause of much suffering and many deaths in those days, before the introduction of antibiotics. 

Up until this time the Sisters used the top floor of the Hospital for their accommodation.    As the number of Sisters coming from Ireland continued to increase and the need for more Hospital beds became urgent, they applied to the State Lotteries Trustees for help in order to build a new Convent.   Their request was successful and the new Convent was blessed and officially opened on the 8th December.

The Sisters were anxious that their ministry of caring for the sick and dying be extended to the African people.  Fr. Ludger Boeckenhoff, SJ had started a Mission in Wedza in 1950 and appealed to the Sisters to open a Hospital there.  The necessary approvals were obtained and the Convent and Hospital were ready for the official opening on the 11th October 1954.   Sisters Marguerite Harty, Zita Buckley and Emelian Danaher were the pioneer Sisters for this ministry. Their mission apostolate was further expanded when in 1966 they obtained twelve acres of land in Murambinda.  A Clinic was completed in 1967 and the Hospital named Our Lady Queen of Peace was completed and opened at the end of 1969.  Sisters Annunciata Hughes and Elizabeth Carroll was the pioneer Sisters for this ministry.

           In 1969 St. Anne’s the demand for beds continued to increase, and a West Wing was added bringing the number of available beds to 93.   It became necessary to employ lay nurses and in order to provide accommodation for them a Nurses Home was built on the grounds having eight en-suite rooms.    As time went on the Home was utilized for frail and terminally ill patients.   At present it has become the Convent for the Sisters. 

                Further expansion ……. Little Company of Mary was asked by Bishop Donal Lamont, O.Carm Bishop of the Diocese of Umtali in 1973, to take over St. Peter’s Mission at Chisumbanje.  Sister Annunciata Hughes and Mairead McGeough ministered there until 1977.  They were sorry when they had to leave the Mission, but it became necessary due to security reasons.

                The political situation in the country was of great concern to the people.  There was a lot of tension in the country principally in the rural areas.   Priests and Sisters were always welcome to stay at St. Anne’s while they were getting adjusted and were renewed spiritually and physically.

                The Hospital continued to function during tension times, although the number of patients decreased due to the building of a new government Hospital with 1,000 beds and all kinds of modern equipment. In 1980 Rhodesia was declared independent and the name of the country changed to Zimbabwe.  The name Salisbury was also changed to Harare. From this time on the admission of patients to St.  Anne’s increased.