About Ven. Mother Mary Potter and Devotion For The Dying

   Although she never worked any miracles, at least that have been recorded, all the members of the Little Company of Mary who knew her considered their foundress, Mother Mary Potter [1847-1913], to be a Saint. And the Church seemingly has concurred, for the cause of her canonization has begun; she was declared Venerable on February 8, 1988. Thus, and without presuming upon the judgment of the Church, the work you are about to read is most likely the work of a Saint of the Catholic Church.

   Devotion for the Dying, therefore, is not just another pious work by another pious writer. As stated, it is more than likely the work of a Saint. And moreover it expresses the central mission of that Saint's entire life and whose writings even the greatest of the great saintly authors who have glorified the Catholic Church by their incomparable writings would have been most humbly thankful to Almighty God and His Blessed Mother, had they written it. And it was written by a young woman, just 33 years old.

Who was Mother Mary Potter, and what is Devotion for the Dying?

Mother Mary Potter was the fifth of five children born to William Norwood Potter and Mary Anne [Martin] Potter, who lived in Newington, on the southern outskirts of London, and who had married in 1838. Mrs. Potter converted to the Catholic Faith in 1845, and two years after the birth of Mary in 1847, William Potter abandoned the family as a result of a dispute over who should manage a legacy bequeathed to Mrs. Potter and the children by Thomas Potter, her husband's eldest brother. Thomas had designated Henry, another brother, as trustee, and Henry refused to relinquish this office to William, who thought there was collusion against him between Henry and his wife. Mr. Potter abandoned the family and left for Australia, dying there some years later. Before she was even born, Mary was consecrated by her mother to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She was given but one name only, "Mary" after the Holy Mother of God, and a couple of years after her birth her mother took her to St. George's Cathedral in Portsea, whence the family had moved, and dedicated her to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary grew up with but minimum instruction in the Catholic Faith, and at age 20 was affianced to Godfrey King. Ironically, it was Godfrey who encouraged Mary in a more serious study and practice of her faith, with the result that she soon realized that she had a calling to become a nun.

Not knowing what convent to enter, she was directed by Bishop Thomas Grant of Southwark, a close friend of the family, to go visit the Sisters of Mercy at Brighton, to see if she judged herself physically up to the life they led. Mary and her mother misunderstood the Bishop's intent, and so Mary stayed with the Sisters of Mercy, though, as she told the mother superior, she had "no attraction to the Order," and was joining them at the direction of Bishop Grant. "Though she had not come to Brighton to make an impression on her companions or superiors," writes her biographer, Patrick Dougherty, "all were deeply impressed." [Patrick Dougherty, Mother Mary Potter, London: Sands & Co. (Publishers) Ltd., 1961, p. 31. (Subsequent references to this work will be given parenthetically in the text, citing only the page number.)] Her stay with the Sisters of Mercy lasted only some 18 months, when Mary was forced to return home on June 23, 1869 to convalesce from a serious illness.

      Father Lambert, a Jesuit Confessor and advisor to the Sisters of Mercy, had declared that Mary did not have a vocation to be a Sister of Mercy, though she did have a vocation to be a nun.

      Mary spent another 30 months at home recuperating from her illness, but by the end of 1871 she was still only able to do light housework. The next three years were spent teaching school at home. By 1873, when she was 26 years old, remarks Patrick Dougherty, she was a remarkable person: "From the day when she chose Christ as her only spouse, her yearning for perfection never weakened." [36]

In mid-1872, she happened across Treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin by St. Louis Grignion De Montfort [now commonly titled True Devotion to Mary]. She read it and was unimpressed. But because St. Louis De Montfort cited so many and such glowing endorsements of this devotion from eminent Churchmen, she prayerfully read it again and again. On December 8, 1872, she consecrated herself to the Blessed Virgin Mary with the approval of her spiritual advisor, Bishop John Virtue. "The daily living of this consecration would be the secret of Mary's spiritual progress from that day forward." [38]

       Toward the end of 1871, when she was 24 years old, she conceived a certain solicitude for the eternal salvation of the dying, plus a conviction of the good to be wrought from the physical presence of those in the state of grace at the deathbed. "The vivid memory of the solicitude, fear, weakness and inability to pray, which she had experienced during the days of [her own physical] crisis, caused her to think how useful it would be if there were in the Church a group of religious Sisters dedicated to the spiritual, and, where possible, the physical assistance of those in danger of death." [40]

        Months later, in 1872, when she was 25, the urge to do something for the dying so pressed on her that she intended to mention it to Msgr. Virtue, though nothing came of it. For the third time, on October 4, 1874 [then the Feast of the Holy Rosary], she was, in her own words, "so strongly drawn to pray for the dying." "On this occasion she knew with some certainty that whatever her vocation in life, she was expected to pray fervently and constantly for the dying: for the devotion had come to her 'like a sudden inspiration.' " [40]

   On Friday, November 6, 1874, two weeks before her 27th birthday, just after she had recited the Five Sorrowful Mysteries for the Poor Souls in Purgatory and while she was still kneeling before the little shrine in her bedroom, "Quite unexpectedly she was aware that God was calling her to perform a special work for Him. Then there 'seemed to echo' in her heart the words: 'I have chosen thee that thou shouldst go and bring forth fruit and that thy fruit should remain.' 'I felt,' Mary tells us, 'rising in me: "Why me?" The same echo replied: "The weak things of this earth have I chosen." I do not remember exactly what followed. The answer I made ran something like this: "As Thou hast said to Thy servant, so be it done.' " [41] "As she breakfasted alone the next morning, she was reading a booklet on some spiritual topic and came across a paragraph on Our Lady's patronage of the dying: At that moment a 'greater love than ever towards the Blessed Virgin came up within me. I prayed. In the midst of my prayer an echo of her voice seemed to come to me: "It is my will that you do this work." I knelt and prayed.' " [41]

   "To love and care for the dying under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin, and to organize a community of persons dedicated to this work-----these constituted, as far as Mary could see, her special mission on earth." [41] "I believe," she wrote to Msgr. Virtue, her spiritual director, "that to pray for the dying is a work appointed to me; so much so that, unless I were told [to do so] I could not enter a convent unless it were directed to that purpose, perpetual prayer for the dying. God wishes to exercise His Mercy . . . by raising up an Order in His Church devoted to the work of rescuing dying sinners at the very last hour." [42]

        On the 8th of December, 1874, a further clarification of the new Institute to be devoted to the dying was given to Mary: "The message 'Honor the Heart of My Mother; so impressed her that she began to ponder its significance. 'God knows,' she explained to Monsignor Virtue, 'how I had been pouring myself out in prayer to save the dying, and now it seemed to me that God had given me a wonderfully efficacious means of prayer, and that [He had indicated His Will to be that] we should set before Him from out [of] this fallen world the Mother Heart of Our Lady pleading for her children, especially for those who have the greatest need, the dying.' " [43]

        With this inspiration, then, that she should pray and work through the Maternal Heart of Mary, the core of Mother Potter's spiritual life was thereby formed. Up to that time she had loved the devotion "True Devotion to Mary," but she had not realized its value, nor did she feel she had fully entered into its spirit. "Now, however, she brought the Saint's Treatise under the banner of the Maternal Heart of Mary and her only reason for grief was that 'for many years' she had not been so childlike in her affection for her Heavenly Mother.' " [43]

      On yet another Friday of December, 1874, Mary received still another "great grace," and that was a profound appreciation for the value of the Precious Blood of Jesus in the work that God was preparing her for. This was to be the fourth of five essential elements of her spiritual life; the first four were True Devotion to Mary, devotion to the dying, devotion to the Maternal Heart of Mary, and devotion to the Precious Blood.

      " 'Shall I tell you what I see in the future?' Mary wrote to her Director early in 1875. 'God's people with greater love worshipping the Precious Blood, the Price of their Salvation, the Blood shed for them on Calvary. I would like to say that this Devotion will rise in the Sanctuary of the Heart of Mary and spread throughout the Church. Great will be the rejoicing of the Saints, great joy will be given to the Angels, who will, through it, rejoice over more sinners doing penance; wonderful help will it be in this time of need to the Church, and immense relief and succor to the suffering Souls in Purgatory.' " [44]
"Mary rejoiced each time the outline of the future foundation was made less obscure. 'Week after week, for months,' she tells us, 'the whole plan of the Little Company of Mary was gradually unfolded, one feature after the other. It made a complete plan.' Moreover, till the end of her life she remained convinced that this plan was not the fruit of her own mind, but the 'impress of the Most High': 'Does not Our Lord show His predilection for the devotion to the dying by thus opening [to me] His Treasures-----Mary suffering on Calvary . . . and the Precious Blood? What will not God do for souls for whom that sorrowful Mother's heart pleaded and pleads by the Infinitely Precious Blood?' " 44]
(emphasis added).

   But the one final element in her spiritual program was still missing, and that was given to her in a great inspiration she received on Saturday, February 20, 1875 when, before the Blessed Sacrament, she was led to "honor" and "love" the Holy Spirit, and she could see that "dying sinners, the chief object of her prayer and zeal, would be converted only when the Holy Spirit touched their hearts and moved them to desire and achieve a renewal of supernatural grace." [45]

   Thus, by the end of 1875, the entire, harmonious plan of Mary Potter's task and the spirit with which it was to be animated were clear to her, and she could write to her spiritual director: " 'Now His work is consummated, though not commenced on earth, except within myself. The Angels and Saints see that God's work is done; they praise Him as the Angels praised Him when, whilst the earth was but chaos, they saw its creation in the Divine Mind. " 'The Heart of Mary, the Precious Blood, the Holy Spirit-----with such shalt thou fight and conquer! . . . with these do I present myself in prayer to God.' " [45]

     Thus, a young woman in her twenties was inspired by God to pray for and promote devotion for the dying, not only in her own personal prayer life, but also by founding a congregation of sisters dedicated to working with the sick and dying and praying for their eternal salvation. Five elements marked Mary Potter's entire spiritual orientation: 1) True Devotion to Mary, according to the method of St. Louis De Montfort, 2) devotion to the Maternal Heart of Mary, whereby all is done by and through her Motherly Heart, 3) devotion to the dying, the principal object of her work as a religious, 4) devotion to the Precious Blood, the price of our salvation, which we should offer to the Heavenly Father for the salvation of souls through the Heart of Mary, and 5) devotion to the Holy Spirit for the conversion of poor sinners, especially those about to die.  . . .

At Rome, she was eventually successful in obtaining Vatican approval for the Little Company of Mary to be an institute under Roman jurisdiction rather than remain a diocesan institute, and thus she freed her new foundation from the control of a local bishop, in one country, that it might be allowed to develop unhindered along the lines she believed God had inspired her to guide it. The Motherhouse of her order was established in Rome, and in time other foundations were made in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the U.S.A. [in the Chicago area], and Malta-----all within the lifetime of Mother Mary Potter. [Today the Little Company of Mary is still in all these countries, save Malta, but it is also in Scotland, South Africa, Tonga, Haiti, Korea and England.]

   Devotion for the Dying was published in 1880, when Mother Mary Potter was just 33 years old and the foundation of the Little Company of Mary in only its fourth year. Altogether, Mother Potter is the author of some 27 published books, booklets and pamphlets of which 17 were issued during her lifetime.