Rogers, Mother Mary Joseph (1882–1955)

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Rogers, Mother Mary Joseph (1882–1955)

American who founded the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic. Name variations: Mary Josephine Rogers; Mollie Rogers. Born Mary Josephine Rogers on October 27, 1882, in Roxbury, Massachusetts; died on October 9, 1955, in New York City; daughter of Abraham Rogers and Mary Josephine (Plummer) Rogers; attended public school in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts; graduated from West Roxbury High School; Smith College, B.A., 1905; Boston Normal School, teacher's certificate, 1909.

Returned to Smith to work and organize a missionstudy class for Catholic undergraduates (1906); resigned from Smith and went to Boston to help Reverend James Anthony Walsh propagate the Catholic faith (1908); received a teacher's certificate (1909) and taught in Boston for next three years, while helping Walsh with mission magazine; moved to Maryknoll Seminary to assist Walsh and became intent on forming a women's religious community (1912); first group of Maryknoll nuns took vows (1921); elected superior general of order (1925); established first contemplative branch of community of religious women (1933); after years of service, declined reelection as superior general (1947).

Mary Josephine Rogers was born in 1882 in Roxbury, Massachusetts, one of eight children of Abraham and Mary Plummer Rogers . Growing up in a middle-class family, she attended public schools in Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury, Massachusetts, then earned her B.A. at Smith College in June 1905. While there, she became interested in a group of young Protestant women who were being sent off to foreign missions. It was this experience that, years later, led Rogers to found the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic, a missionary congregation.

When Rogers returned to Smith in 1906 to teach, she was also asked to promote some kind of religious group for Catholic students. She responded by forming a small Catholic mission club which eventually became the Smith Newman Club. Seeking advice for the club, she contacted Father James Anthony Walsh in Boston. His warm welcome and helpful suggestions led her to resign her position at Smith in 1908, and she went to Boston and volunteered to help him with his mission magazine, The Field Afar. Rogers also enrolled in Boston Normal School, received her teaching certificate in 1909, and taught for three years while continuing her work with Walsh. In 1912, Walsh opened Maryknoll Seminary near Ossining, New York, to prepare American priests for service in mission areas. Assisting the priests at Maryknoll were six young women, including Rogers, who served as secretaries and became known as the Teresians. Although the women aspired to the religious life, their role was generally perceived as one of supporting the Maryknoll men. Their desire to form a religious community continued to develop, however, and in 1914, after a difficult search, they enlisted members of the Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary to come from Pennsylvania to provide training. After two years, Walsh, Rogers and the other sisters decided on a simpler, more flexible order, and the women became part of the Dominican family. The group finally received approval as a religious congregation from Rome in 1920, after a period of instruction with the Sinsinawa Dominicans. From the beginning, Maryknoll women worked among the Japanese in California and Seattle, and in 1921, six sisters ventured to China. In 1925, the order met and elected Mary Josephine Rogers, now Mother Mary Joseph, as superior. She served as the congregation's leader until 1946, at which time, knowing Rome would not allow her to continue in her post because of her lengthy tenure, she declined renomination.

The priests and sisters of Maryknoll continued to cooperate closely and exchange ideas freely. Mother Mary Joseph provided bold leadership to the order, emphasizing duty of service and the need for professional preparation. While concerned with the preservation of the faith and worship of God, she felt that service to God could be seen in service to fellow humans, an unusual viewpoint at that time. Under her guidance, Maryknoll sisters who were in training were never "tried" on their spiritual progress; she believed that their responses to later challenges would provide proof enough. Mother Mary Joseph also believed strongly in the power of prayer and meditation, and in 1933 she established a contemplative branch of the order, where cloistered sisters offered their lives in prayer and penance for the work of missions worldwide. Cloisters were also later established in New Mexico, the Sudan, and Guatemala (1980s), and in Thailand (1991). Maryknoll sisters were expected to be fully qualified for their work. Most sisters were involved in some form of social service and received professional preparation. Initially serving mostly in the Far East, Maryknoll sisters diversified over the years and extended their reach around the world, working in Africa, Micronesia, the Mid-East, and Latin America. Mother Mary Joseph remained an important and constructive influence in the order she had founded until her death from peritonitis in New York City on October 9, 1955.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1605–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

Jo Anne Meginnes , freelance writer, Brookfield, Vermont

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Rogers, Mother Mary Joseph (1882–1955)

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