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Maryknoll Sisters founder inducted into United States Hall of Fame

NEW YORK (SE) : The founder of the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic, Mother Mary Joseph Rogers, has been named one of nine women from the United States of America (US) to be inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, it was announced on March 5.

The director of the Women’s Hall of Fame, Amanda Bishop, described the choice of Mother Rogers as recognising and applauding her extraordinary achievements.

As the oldest national membership organisation in the US dedicated to recognising outstanding individual American women and their achievements, up to 12 women are inducted into exalted hall every other year.

The Hall of Fame honours in perpetuity “those whose contributions have been of the greatest value for the development of the country.” They are selected by a board of judges from leading national organisations, education institutions and diverse fields of human endeavour.

Mother Mary Rogers will join the 247 eminent women who have been inducted into the hall since its founding in 1969 at a special ceremony to be held at the organisation’s headquarters in Seneca Falls, New York, on October 12.

Among others included in this year’s honours list are Betty Ford and House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi.

“We are thrilled and honoured by Mother Mary Joseph’s selection,” the president of the Maryknoll Sisters, Sister Janice McLaughlin, said upon receiving the news from the president of the hall committee, Beverly Ryder, “and happy for the recognition it gives to our founder who achieved so much, not only for women religious, but for all American women, at a time when possibilities for them were far more limited than they are today.”

She added, “Mary Josephine Rogers, as she was called prior to joining religious life, broke through the negative stereotypes about the role of American Catholic women in Church and society at the beginning of the 20th century. As founder of the first American mission congregation of Catholic women, she proved that women were equal to the demands of life and ministry abroad, particularly in places where poverty, physical hardship and sometimes, even safety during wartime, were commonplace.”

A graduate of Smith College, Mother Mary Joseph was a woman gifted with natural leadership ability and a charismatic bearing that quickly showed others, among them Father James A. Walsh, one of the founders of Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, with whom she worked, that she was the perfect person to lead the first US-based congregation of women religious dedicated to foreign mission in 1912. 

Born on 27 October 1882, in Roxbury, Massachusetts, Mary Josephine Rogers, the fourth of eight children, was inspired by her Irish Catholic parents with a passion for the Church and its works worldwide that they sought to sow in all their children.

Affectionately known as Mollie, she was wondering how she might personally contribute to the work of the Church, when she overheard the joyful praises of Protestant students exiting a service at Smith in 1904, where they had pledged their lives to missionary service.

“If Protestant women can do this,” she asked herself, “why not Catholic women, as well?”

One year on, following her own graduation from Smith, Rogers returned to her alma mater where, in addition to assisting the instructor in zoology with laboratory experiments, she had begun a mission club for Catholic women.

It was in seeking material to use for the club that she met Father Walsh and soon began assisting him with a magazine he had begun publishing, The Field Afar, now known simply as Maryknoll.

Following the founding of the congregation on 6 January 1912, Rogers took the religious name Mother Mary Joseph. 

As she oversaw the growth of the congregation and its expansion into mission, she also placed great value on diversity, welcoming women from all nations.

She integrated prayer with apostolic ministry, so that in her own words, “No one would take us for anything but contemplatives in mission.”

Mother Rogers drew from a lifetime of spiritual depth when she stressed the need for the sisters to be compassionate women, adaptable and willing to try new ways without fear of failure or censure.

Above all, she emphasised the primacy of a holy life.

Her innovative professional and mission preparation of the sisters was recognised through honorary doctorates given to her by Smith, Trinity University and Regis College, Boston.

By the time of her death on 9 October 1955, there were 1,065 sisters working in 20 countries and serving minority groups in several cities in the US.

Today, the Maryknoll Sisters are in 26 nations around the world, ministering to all people, regardless of race, creed or nationality, with a special emphasis on working with the poor, with women and with all those who struggle on the fringes of society.

Their numbers include doctors and nurses; authors, artists and dancers; social workers, ecologists and peace activists; theologians and spokespersons to the United Nations.

Sister Sue Glass recalled the words of Mother Rogers at a celebration at the Maryknoll School in Kowloon Tong on October 27 last year to mark the centenary of the foundation of the missionary sisters’ congregation.

During the dark years of World War II in 1944, Mother Rogers reflected, “Up to this time, we have given ourselves as completely as we knew how… In confidence we look trustfully forward to the years ahead, resolved never to hesitate to answer the call of Christ.”

Mother Rogers is being honoured as Maryknoll moves into its second century. Mother Rogers’ presence in the Women’s Hall of Fame is not a memory to be wondered at, but represents a living act of faith that bequeaths to coming generations a way of growing, and a way of beginning a journey towards understanding ourselves and who we are with each other, as well as with God.

It is a witness to the nation.

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