Mary Scanlon, LCM
‘Lord, your people, the suffering and the dying, are my people.’ So wrote Venerable Mary Potter as she reflected on her life’s work: the foundation of the Little Company of Mary Sisters devoted to a life of prayer and care for the sick and dying of the world.
An English woman born in 1847, Mary grew up with her four older brothers in a single-parent home, after her father abandoned the family when Mary was but a year old. Having been born with a congenital heart defect, she was very frail all her life, and a near-death experience as a young woman startled her into an awareness of the needs of those dying daily in our world.
She developed a deep sense of God’s intimate and all-embracing love for her, for all humankind and for all of creation, together with a very real closeness to Mary, the mother of Jesus. For her, loving God in return meant loving everyone and everything God had made. Her vision of a world united in Christ through his mother Mary led her out of her world of security and stability and into a life of challenge and suffering. She instructed her Sisters to engage fully with the world and its peoples, standing in solidarity with those most in need: the poor and powerless, the sick and suffering, the dying and the grieving.
Mary Potter’s vision was that the Little Company of Mary Sisters would stand in spirit with the dying Christ and his faithful mother Mary on the Calvarys of people’s lives, bringing them comfort, nurture, and spiritual and physical support. Above all, she longed for those dying every day to gain a sense of hope in the midst of their desperation, as one of her sayings beautifully describes: ‘Hope is a flower that casts a radiance about us; it can grow only on earth and blooms best in adversity.’ How well she understood the human heart! Today, the Sisters are still called to share in the maternal and evangelising role of Mary, Christ’s mother.
In the spirit of Mary on Calvary, they enter into the sufferings of those around them, to bring about reverence for all life and dignity for all people; thus they join with others to make visible the healing presence of Jesus. In living as Mary’s companions, they endeavour to express with her the strong faith of her “fiat” and the joy of her “magnificat.” Mary Potter’s words again: ‘Our Lord has died and has risen, and we live in the glad day of his Resurrection. May it be a fresh joy to us each day!’
The Sisters’ lifestyle aims to reflect their dedication as they live simply and with hospitality, pray constantly for the dying worldwide, and reach out to all they meet with compassion and aroha. Their spirituality statement, promulgated at their General Assembly 2005, proclaims this with beauty, depth and insight: ‘In response to love, Jesus offered his life for all. In saying her “Yes” Mary stood in faith, compassion and solidarity with Jesus and with all who were on Calvary. Today, Calvary is experienced where life is threatened or destroyed, or where suffering and need exist. As companions of Mary at the foot of the cross, we are called to be a compassionate and prayerful presence, birthing to life God’s love in the many sufferings and dyings of our world.’ Let Mary Potter have the last word: ‘Let us deliver ourselves to Mary, depend upon her and live by her spirit.’ (Spiritual Motto 2006).