University of Limerick
Lenahan_2015_Service.pdf (2.41 MB)

‘At the service of all who want them:’  The work of Little Company of Mary in Ireland, 1888-1980

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posted on 2023-07-10, 14:03 authored by NIAMH LENAHANNIAMH LENAHAN

This is the first, full length study to examine the work of the Little Company of Mary (LCM), a Roman Catholic women’s religious congregation, in Ireland. This study covers the period 1888 to 1980. Under its Foundress, Mother Mary Potter, the congregation was first  established in Nottingham, England in 1877 and eleven years later they made Ireland its fourth foundation. This study, based on original archival material and adopting an empirical approach, documents how this women’s religious order in Ireland contributed first, to thedevelopment of the nursing profession in Ireland and second, to the provision of medical services through building hospitals and pioneering hospice care in the Limerick area.

This study will address how the order managed, progressed and modernised their hospitals and adapted their work to suit the needs of a modern society in the twentieth century. It argues firstly, that the LCM, while working under male authority such as the local bishop or archbishop or medical figure, carved out a role for themselves particularly in the day-to-day running of their institutions. Secondly, it argues that the LCM’s vision for meeting the medical needs of Irish society changed over time to deal with all classes of people, and thirdly, that the order adapted to the new roles set out for female religious following the decrees of the Second Vatican Council (SVC) from 1962 to 1965. Female agency is at the core of this study and the thesis examines whether LCM achievements and failures progress arguments around female empowerment in the context of this religious congregation. Ultimately it is intended that by unfolding the role and agency of the LCM in Ireland, this study will expand our understanding of the history of female religious congregations and the history of nursing and medical care in Ireland.



  • Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences


  • Doctoral

First supervisor

Bernadette Whelan

Department or School

  • History

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