Mother Mary Joseph Rogers (1882-1955)
“as being a reflection of the love of God, nothing more nor less than that, a reflection of the love of God.” (MMJ: 1932)
Youth and Education
Mary Josephine Rogers was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, on 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, then Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she specialized in zoology, graduating in 1905. She also spent a year at Boston Normal School in a special program for college graduates that earned her a teaching certificate. After two years at Smith College, where she was an assistant in the biology department, she taught in Boston’s public schools, at both the elementary and high school levels.
Early Work in Missions
At the suggestion of Elizabeth Hanscom, a faculty member, and with the encouragement of the 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 college’s Catholic students in 1906. From 1908, when she returned to Boston until 1912, she devoted 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.
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 mission service abroad. Late that year, they went to New York to make their foundation, the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, more commonly known as the 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 that prevented Mary Josephine from leaving Boston had been satisfied, she joined them in their temporary home in Hawthorne, New York.
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 35, was recognized as a diocesan religious congregation–the Foreign Mission Sisters of St. Dominic, generally called the Maryknoll Sisters.
At the first General Chapter in 1925, Mary Josephine 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 the Orient (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 religious community she founded, as is shown 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.