Today, LCM continues to spread its special mission of caring for the sick and dying in the maternal spirit of Mary, Mother of Jesus.
Christchurch holds special significance in the Little Company of Mary’s history as it was the first New Zealand city where the LCM Sisters established themselves. It is also where the first large hospital was built. It was ultimately the first city where the Sisters carried out their Mission: to bring the healing presence of Christ to all comers, especially the sick and dying, through prayer and care.
After spending more than 20 years spreading their mission of prayer and care for the dying in Australia, the first LCM sisters arrived in Christchurch in January 1914. The Sisters got to work quickly. It wasn’t long before they had purchased a property in Bealey Ave for what was to be Lewisham Hospital. It contained 40 beds, an operating theatre, an onsite chapel and accommodation for the sisters. While the hospital was being built, the Sisters began home-based Nursing from Rangiora across to the West Coast.
During the outbreak of the Spanish Influenza pandemic in 1918, the hospital was converted into a dedicated facility for flu patients. Of the 14 sisters who worked in Lewisham’s hospital, nine caught the infection and one, Sister Frederick Reynolds, died. After the outbreak was over, the hospital continued to expand in the 1920s and 30s, with the introduction of an x-ray machine and a pathology department.
In 1940, a maternity ward was added to the hospital. The government at the time was shutting down small, unsafe maternity hospitals to ensure that the maternity hospitals that were established could be trusted by the public. In the first four years, 18 Sisters trained as maternity nurses, with several achieving top marks in their national examinations. As the maternity unit in Christchurch grew from strength to strength, it was transferred to new premises, in time for the baby boom at the end of World War Two in 1945.
In 1953, Lewisham Hospital along with all other LCM hospitals in New Zealand, became known as Calvary hospitals. The hospitals and work being carried out by the LCM sisters were widely respected.
After a revolutionary suggestion by Mother Dominic Foley who was visiting from Australia, a small psychiatric clinic was opened in 1962 in a cottage on the corner of Durham Street and Bealey Ave. This clinic followed the changes that were happening in the treatment of psychiatric disorders around the world. As the first stand-alone private day clinic in New Zealand, it was an immediate success.
In 1964, the same year as LCM’s golden jubilee in Christchurch, a new three-storey convent was built, facing Durham Street. The building could accommodate up to 51 Sisters and was the first permanent accommodation for the Sisters in Christchurch. A new chapel was blessed and opened by the Catholic Bishop of Christchurch, Bishop Ashby, in December 1968. This allowed staff and patients of the hospital to attend mass there.
Calvary Hospital was sold to Southern Cross Medical Care in 1979, who took charge of it on 1 June. It was the end of an era for the Little Company of Mary in Christchurch.
While it was hard for some of the Sisters who had dedicated much of their life to the hospital, many continued to work in terminal, aged and psychiatric care, including at the Mary Potter Hospital on Bealey Avenue. A plaque, recognising the sister’s hard work, was placed in the vestibule of the hospital.
In 1988, it was decided the running of the Mary Potter Hospital should be passed over to an independent charitable trust. A board was set up two years later to oversee the hospital and make sure it was run in a way that reflected the philosophy and spiritual values of the Little Company of Mary. The hospital had been setup in 1950 as a facility to provide the elderly and terminally ill patients with the care they deserved. It was expanded in 1952 to include 85 medical and surgical beds and state-of-the-art surgical equipment.
A new convent was built in 1992 on Caledonian Road next to the Mary Potter Hospital, to cater for the changing nature of the Order. Villas were also built on the land providing independent living for elderly people in a secure environment. The LCM land then accommodated the convent, villas (known as Mary Potter Courts) and its beautiful garden. Mary Potter Hospital was sold in 2004 and the Sisters decided they would increase their focus on supporting the elderly. The Sisters brought the total number of villas to 30 and the Mary Potter Community Centre was completed in 2007, providing a hub for the residents and local community. A range of social activities are held in the community centre, including the celebration of the Eucharist once a week. In 2016, 12 upmarket apartments were built on Durham St North for the wider community to rent. These beautifully designed homes won the ‘Multi Housing Unit Award’ at the New Zealand Architecture Awards that same year.
The Sisters of the Little Company of Mary, and the people they have worked with, have contributed immensely to the people of Christchurch through their religious life and in the delivery of their medicine and hospital services.