Sister Mary James Rogers, MM

Born: July 9, 1888
Entered: July 6, 1918
Died: October 16, 1979

On Tuesday morning, October 16, Sister Mary James Rogers quietly and gently entered the new life which she had long awaited. She spoke frequently about “Mollie” and Abe and other members of her family, during these past days, and we rejoice with her that she is safe with them now in Jesus’s presence.

Just before her own death, Mother Mary Joseph said to those who were watching with her, “Tell Sister James everything will be all right!” We were confident that Mother would obtain for Sister every strength and grace she needed during the remainder of her pilgrimage; and so it has been during these 24 intervening years. There have been countless opportunities for Sister James to share Our Lord’s Cross, as well as His joys; but the grace has never been lacking.

Louise Regis Rogers was born in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, July 9, 1888, into a happy family of eight children and completely devoted parents. Louise was the youngest of the 3 girls, and third from the youngest child. The family members all loved music, and most had some talent for it. Louise was blessed with outstanding musical gifts, and with the accompanying artistic temperament, she was sensitive to beauty in all its manifestations and to its opposite, as well.

After completing her High School, Louise concentrated on her music studies, and delighted in helping her mother with the house work. She loved to visit the homes of her older brothers and sister when they left the family nest. She spent much time each year with her sister, Elizabeth, and her family in Baltimore. Most of all she was interested in Mollie’s new life at Maryknoll. She prayed to discern the direction in which God’s finger was pointing for her. She wrote to “Mollie”, “Please pray for me that if I have a vocation I may be able to fulfill it.” Maryknoll was in its infancy then; but God’s call became quite clear to Louise. He was asking her to join that little band of pioneer women who were reaching out for religious life in the service of mission in the context of strong faith and great uncertain ties.

She came in 1918 and, as Sister Mary James, was with Mother Mary Joseph in the first group to make their vows in 1921.

Sister generously shared all her lovely talents, especially her musical skills with her new religious family in the years that followed. Her piano and organ students attest to her patience and understanding with those less gifted than herself. When a house of studies was opened in Washington, D.C., so that our Sisters could take advantage of courses offered at Catholic University to prepare them for the mission work ahead, Sister James enrolled in the School of Music, obtaining the degree of Bachelor in Music in 1931. During the following years, she continued her work at Catholic University on a part-time basis and was awarded her M.A. in Music, magna cum laude, in 1939. She was highly commended for her official recital and for her many original compositions including a Mass and more than 20 motets. Two of Sister’s compositions — “Ave Maria” and “Ave Verum” — will hear in the Liturgy today. When the College opened here at the Motherhouse, Sister James joined the Staff and taught Music Appreciation for many years.

Sister’s apostolate, like Mother Mary Joseph’s, was devoted to her own Community — helping in so many many ways by teaching and example to prepare young missioners for service in fields afar. She accompanied Mother Mary Joseph as her secretary and companion on one of her visitations in the Orient. This glimpse of the Sisters in actual mission service was always among Sister’s treasured memories.

God had other designs on Sister’s generosity besides that of sharing her musical skills. In a number of unexpected ways, He asked her to share His cross. A diminishment of hearing ability is a traumatic experience for any one; but for a musician it is painfully acute. Beginning in the 1930’s, Sister bravely accepted gradually increasing deafness until during the past year she could hear no sound. When she was no longer able to use her musical skills to help others, she learned to type and became an excellent accurate typist, generously using this new skill where such service was needed.

Sister had a few injuries. She never indulged in self-pity, but tried to do as much as she could to help herself. At the same time, she sweetly accepted necessary assistance, and tried in so far as she was able to be a vital part of the Community.

All who were privileged to help Sister through the various stages of her infirmities are agreed that her lovely appreciation of the smallest service made it a joy to be with her in any capacity.

About 3 years ago, Sister James became very ill and required skilled nursing care. She was then assigned to Bethany, and in November of last year moved to the new Nursing Home at The Center.

As Sister’s mobility became more restricted she loved to read and to keep up her contacts with her family and friends through correspondence. Her beautifully written letters brought joy to all who received them.

During her last weeks, Sister edified all who assisted her with her thoughtfulness of others. Her usual greeting was, “How are you? I hope you’re all right. Can I do anything for you?” Her sense of gentle refinement, so much a part of her, was evident to the last moments when she tried to cover her lips whenever a little cough would come. Her Sisters welcomed the opportunity through the last days and nights to watch and pray with Sister James as she waited for the great moment when Jesus would come with “Mollie” to lead her home.

The pain had left before the end. Father Frank Meccia, M.M., who had recently administered the Sacrament of the Sick, was beside her to give a final blessing: she was surrounded by her Sisters and nurses, and as the last notes of the “Salve Regina” were sung, Sister slipped away. Mother Mary Joseph’s promise had been fulfilled, “Everything had been all right with Sister James.”

Sister James’ presence in our midst was such a strong reminder of Mother Mary Joseph. Her death is a milestone in our history and a call to us to remain faithful to our heritage. Let us remember her in prayer, with love and gratitude for her life and with confidence that she is with the Lord forever.

Our loving sympathy goes out to Sister’s devoted family and friends. We celebrate the Mass of the Resurrection this morning with our Maryknoll Fathers, John K. Halbert, principal celebrant, assisted by Frank Meccia.