Navigation

Mother Mary Joseph Rogers (1882-1955)

Mary Josephine “Mollie” Rogers was born near Boston[1] in 1882[2], the first girl of her Irish Catholic family’s eight children. She came to Smith as a member of the class of 1905. While at Smith, she was a member of the Ancient Order of the Hibernians, the Chapel choir, and the Biological Society[3]. During her junior year, Rogers became aware of students who signed the Student Volunteer pledge (part of a larger American missionary movement), “to go to China to teach in mission schools or work in hospitals.”[4] As she put it, “Everybody in college knew what the Student Volunteer pledge meant, but this was our first experience in the actual offering of girls, and they were the college’s best. Something—I do not know how to describe it—happened within me… I had work to do, little or great, God alone knew[5].” In 1906, she returned to Smith “to pursue a masters of science degree and serve as an instructor in the zoology department.” [6] American Literature professor Elizabeth Hanscom[7] encouraged her to begin a group[8]—which became a “Catholic Missions” class promoted by the Smith Missionary Society[9], and the forerunner of the college Newman Club[10]. Ironically she had declined to join mission study classes upon arriving at Smith in 1901, as there were none on Catholic subjects[11]. In 1908, Mollie moved to Boston to attend the Boston Normal School and to teach in public schools[12]. She was also assisting Fr. James Anthony Walsh, director of the Society for Propagation of the Faith, with whom she had first come into contact after requesting materials for her mission study club[13]. From closely working with him on The Field Afar, “a monthly publication about the foreign missions of the Catholic Church,” she learned much about editing and publishing[14]. Walsh became the founder of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, or the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, in 1911. The following year she and seven other women moved to Ossining, New York, to a property owned by Maryknoll[15]. After some uncertainty as to whether to give up what seemed at best a challenging endeavor—Maryknoll was cash-poor and The Field Afar understaffed– she was finally convinced to stay in New York by Mother Alphonsa Hawthorne, daughter of Nathaniel Hawthorne, herself the head of a Dominican community and whose two thousand dollar gift allowed Mollie to devote herself to Maryknoll.[16] (Previously her teaching salary had helped to support her family.) In 1914 Rogers founded the Foreign Mission Sisters of St. Dominic[17]. “It took three requests, but finally in 1921 [the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic] received formal recognition from Rome.”[18] In 1921 Rogers went to China on her premier overseas missionary journey. In 1925 she was elected mother general[19] under her religious name, Mother Mary Joseph, which she remained until she retired “active administrative duties”[20] in 1946. In 1943, at the recommendation of Elizabeth Hanscom, Mother Mary Joseph was offered an honorary degree from Smith College but had to cancel due to ill health. She had first been offered one in 1940[21] but was sent on a mission to visit the then fifty-three Maryknoll Convents worldwide[22], “which meant she had to refuse the honor.” [23] Her request had also been “denied by the local Bishop because Smith was not a Catholic college,” to which her response was: “Strangely enough, God used Smith College as the instrument through which my vocation to foreign mission work materialized and naturally it has a warm place in my heart[24].” In 1950, Mother Mary Joseph Rogers received an honorary degree at Smith College’s Commencement. It was her third honorary degree, after receiving Regis College’s first ever honorary degree in 1945, and one from Washington D.C.’s Trinity College in 1949[25]. She died in 1955 of peritonitis at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York[26]. Mother Mary Joseph was eulogized as “the foundress of the first American community of nuns dedicated exclusively to missionary labors,”[27] and one of the “first ladies” of the Catholic Church in America[28]. Ironically, she once said as a child she had “never cared for nuns. They wore black habits, and I thought, I certainly wouldn’t want to go around dressed that way.”[29] In the spring of 1963, the Maryknoll Teachers College in White Plains, New York, changed its name Mary Rogers College[30], after its foundress and first president. A century after her graduation, Smith College held a symposium in her honor entitled, “‘To Take up Our Work in the World’: Celebrating Mollie Rogers[31].”

 


[1] Penny Lernoux, with Arthur Jones and Robert Ellsburg, “How Mollie Rogers Became Mother Mary Joseph,” Catholic Digest, August 1994, Copy, Records of the Smith College Class of 1905, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts

[2] “‘A Warm Place in My Heart’: Mary Josephine Rogers and Smith College,” Smith College Archives Web Exhibit, http://smithlibraries.org/digital/exhibits/show/mothermaryjoseph

[3] “Campus Activities,” from http://smithlibraries.org/digital/exhibits/show/mothermaryjoseph/campus+activities

[4] Mother Mary Joseph Rogers, quoted in Penny Lernoux, with Arthur Jones and Robert Ellsburg, “How Mollie Rogers Became Mother Mary Joseph,” Catholic Digest, August 1994, Copy, Records of the Smith College Class of 1905, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts

[5] Mother Mary Joseph Rogers, quoted in Penny Lernoux, with Arthur Jones and Robert Ellsburg, “How Mollie Rogers Became Mother Mary Joseph,” Catholic Digest, August 1994, Copy, Records of the Smith College Class of 1905, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts

[6] Peggy Weber, “Maryknoll Sisters continue Mollie Rogers’ mission,” The Catholic Observer, 16 October 1992, Copy, Records of the Smith College Class of 1905, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts

[7] “Elizabeth Deering Hanscom,” from http://smithlibraries.org/digital/exhibits/show/mothermaryjoseph/guidinghands

[8]  Peggy Weber, “Maryknoll Sisters continue Mollie Rogers’ mission,” The Catholic Observer, 16 October 1992, Copy, Records of the Smith College Class of 1905, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts

[9] See  Smithipedia’s entry on “The Missionary Society of Smith College” (http://sophia.smith.edu/blog/smithipedia/student-life/missionary-society/) for additional information

[10] Stephen Kiltonic, “Smith College celebrates foundress of Maryknoll Missionaries,” Catholic Observer, 1 April 2005, Records of the Smith College Class of 1905, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts

[11] Lernoux, Records of the Smith College Class of 1905, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts

[12] “Mother Mary Joseph,” from http://smithlibraries.org/digital/exhibits/show/mothermaryjoseph/mothermaryjoseph

[13] Kiltonic, “Smith College celebrates foundress of Maryknoll Missionaries,” Smith College Class of 1905, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts

[14] Kiltonic, “Smith College celebrates foundress of Maryknoll Missionaries,” Smith College Class of 1905, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts

[15] Lernoux, Records of the Smith College Class of 1905, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts

[16] Lernoux, Records of the Smith College Class of 1905, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts

[17] Lernoux, Records of the Smith College Class of 1905, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts

[18] Sister Claudette LaVerdiere, quoted in Weber, Records of the Smith College Class of 1905, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts

[19] Kiltonic, “Smith College celebrates foundress of Maryknoll Missionaries,” Smith College Class of 1905, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts

[20] “Mary Josephine Rogers ’05,” Alumnae Quarterly, February 1947, Records of the Board of Trustees Committee on Honorary Degrees, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts

[21] Letter from Annetta Clark to Mira Wilson, 16 December 1949, Records of the Board of Trustees Committee on Honorary Degrees, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts

[22] “Mary Josephine Rogers ’05,” Alumnae Quarterly, February 1941, Records of the Board of Trustees Committee on Honorary Degrees, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts

[23] Note from Annetta Clark, 19 January 1943, Records of the Board of Trustees Committee on Honorary Degrees, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts

[24] “Honorary Degree,” from http://smithlibraries.org/digital/exhibits/show/mothermaryjoseph/honorarydegree

[25] “Mary Josephine Rogers ’05,” Alumnae Quarterly, November 1949, Records of the Board of Trustees Committee on Honorary Degrees, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts

[26] “Mother Mary Joseph, 72,” Newark Evening News, 10 October 1955, Copy, Records of the Smith College Class of 1905, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts

[27] Archbishop Cushing, quoted in “Protestant Mission Enthusiast Spurred Maryknoll Foundress,” The Pilot, 3 December 1955, Copy, Records of the Smith College Class of 1905, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts

[28] “Mother Mary Joseph,” from http://smithlibraries.org/digital/exhibits/show/mothermaryjoseph/mothermaryjoseph

[29] Mother Mary Joseph Rogers, quoted in Lernoux, Records of the Smith College Class of 1905, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts

[30] “Nuns Change College Name at Maryknoll,” White Plains Reporter Dispatcher, 29 April 1963, Copy, Records of the Smith College Class of 1905, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts

[31] “‘To Take up Our Work in the World’: Celebrating Mollie Rogers, February 27-28, 2005,” Program of Activities, Records of the Smith College Class of 1905, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts

Leave a Reply

  

  

  

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>