Jenny – A pilgrim’s story

This year, I was extremely privileged to have the most amazing experience to be a Calvary/Mary Potter heritage pilgrim. It was an incredible opportunity to become immersed in the history of our remarkable organisation which developed from the humble beginnings and the determined work of Venerable Mary Potter.  Mary Potter was more than just a figurehead and founder, more than just a timeline of events for the Calvary organisation. Mary Potter was a unique person who felt a great devotion to her faith, belief in God, and worked tireless upon what she knew was her calling to religious life. Mary Potter believed that her calling was to bring healing to the sick and needy and prayer for the dying through the love of God and the spirit of Mary Magdalene.

When I think about the Calvary heritage and our founder Venerable Mary Potter, there are parts of the story which really stand out and give meaning to the legacy we all share today as part of the Calvary family. The Victorian era, when Mary Potter was born and founded the Little Company of Mary ministry, was a difficult time to forge an independent career as a woman and to belong to the Catholic faith in the United Kingdom. Women during the 1800’s were expected to be submissive, subservient, and obedient to male authorities, while the women themselves were considered to be weak and have no ability to form any technique. During this period women were not socially permitted to engage in independent thought or action and defiance of these expectations drew scorn from other men and women (BBC, 2014).

Following the religious upheavals during the reign of King Henry the VIII in the 16th century Catholicism was discredited, demoralised and discouraged in the United Kingdom. Catholic faithfuls were discriminated against through legislation, financial and social disadvantage for many centuries (Landow, 1998). The cultural influences of this era made Mary Potter’s choices to be a strong independent woman and a dedicated Catholic, difficult life pathways, that brought about shame and scorn from the normal expectations of the community in which she lived. I must have great respect for Mary Potter’s enthusiastic engagement in an independent and religious way of life that was an arduous and tough path to follow and determination to complete the work that Mary Potter believed she was called to.

Considering all the remarkable trials, challenges and achievements Mary Potter experienced, I think one of the most incredible events was that of the two separate mastectomy surgeries Mary Potter endured – on the Convent’s kitchen table.  Due to Mary potter’s congenital heart and lung conditions, she was unable to have much in the way of pain relief or anaesthesia during her mastectomy surgery. This meant that Mary Potter experienced extreme suffering. After the first breast had been removed and she had recovered, Mary Potter needed a second mastectomy to remove the other breast. I wonder how Mary Potter could have brought herself to undertake these interventions, particularly the second surgery, having already experienced the first horrendous encounter. Those who were present during these procedures reported that Mary Potter was serene, engaged in prayer and showed great concern for those who were attending her.

Venerable Mary Potter created the foundations of Calvary, a health service committed to providing quality health care to the most vulnerable members of the community and prayers for the dying. Mary Potter has created, through her great effort, devotion and faith, an organisation with a common goal that unites us in “being for others”. Today as custodians of the Mary Potter legacy we hold dear the values of hospitality, healing, stewardship and respect, as we serve the communities around us with the aim of healing and caring for others in their times of need. We are fortunate that we can be part of the Calvary tradition.

Jenny Sutton, Clinical Nurse Specialist, Calvary Mater Newcastle


BBC. 2014. History,  viewed online 1 June 2018,

Landow, G. 1998, Roman Catholicism in Nineteenth Century Great Britain, viewed online 15 July 2018,