Mollie Rogers, a middle-class young woman from Boston, was one of the handful of Catholics at Smith College in the spring of 1904. A group of Protestant young women being sent off to foreign missions left a lasting impression on her. When she returned to Smith in 1906 as an instructor, she organized a small Catholic mission club. Seeking advice for organizing the mission club, she went to see Father James A. Walsh in Boston. His warm reception led her to begin volunteer work on his new mission magazine, The Field Afar. In 1910, Father Walsh and Father Thomas Frederick Price laid the foundation for the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America. Mollie directed the womens’ contingent of the group and founded the congregation that ultimately became the Foreign Mission Sisters of St. Dominic, or the Maryknoll Sisters.
Youth and Education
Mary Josephine Rogers was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, October 27,1882, to Abraham T. Rogers and Mary Josephine Plummer, both of Boston. Mollie was the fourth child and first daughter in a family of eight, five boys and three girls.
Mary Josephine attended public schools in Boston and Smith College in Northampton where she specialized in zoology, graduating in 1905. She also spent a year at Boston Normal School in a special section for college graduates and received a teaching certificate. After two years at Smith where she was an assistant in the Biology Department, she taught in Boston public schools, at both elementary and high school levels.
Early Work in Missions
While at Smith in 1906, at the suggestion of Elizabeth Hanscom, a faculty member, and with the encouragement of Rev. James A. Walsh, Director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in Boston, Mary Josephine organized a Mission Study Club for the Catholic students.
From 1908, when she returned to Boston from Smith, until 1912 she devoted all her spare time to assisting Father Walsh in the work of mission education – editing, translating and writing for The Field Afar, a mission magazine begun by Father Walsh in 1907 and now called Maryknoll, and organizing his mission photo collection.
The Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America
In 1911 Father Walsh and Father Thomas Frederick Price, a seasoned home missioner in North Carolina, were commissioned by the Bishops of the United States to begin a seminary to train American young men for the foreign missions, and late that year they went to New York to make their foundation, The Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, more commonly known as Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers.
Mary Josephine was not able to go with the first small group of three women who offered their services to the young organization, but in September 1912, when the family obligations which prevented her leaving Boston had been satisfied, she joined them in their temporary home in Hawthorne, New York.
First Seven Secretaries
Growth under Her Leadership
Mary Josephine was chosen by Father Walsh and the “Secretaries”, as they were called, to direct the group under Father Walsh’s guidance. She continued in that capacity until 1920 when the group, then numbering thirty-five, was recognized as a Diocesan Religious Congregation – The Foreign Mission Sisters of St. Dominic, generally called Maryknoll Sisters. At the first General Chapter in 1925 she was elected Mother General. Mother Mary Joseph (her religious name) was re-elected to that office at subsequent General Chapters until her retirement in 1946 at the age of 64. At that time the Congregation numbered 733 and the Sisters were working in Asia (China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines) and in Latin America (Panama, Bolivia, Nicaragua) as well as with ethnic and racial groups in the United States. The reverence and esteem for Mother Mary Joseph extended far beyond the community she founded as is evidenced by the honorary degrees which were bestowed on her – Doctor of Laws by Regis College in Boston in 1945 and Trinity College in Washington D.C. in 1949 and Doctor of Letters from her alma mater, Smith College, in 1950.
The Maryknoll Sisters became a Pontifical Institute in 1954 and the name of the Congregation was changed to Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic.
Mother Mary Joseph died October 9, 1955, at the age of 73.