A woman of extraordinary vision and drive, Mother Mary Joseph Rogers, MM, founded the Maryknoll Sisters, the first U. S.-based Catholic
congregation of religious women dedicated to a global mission.
While studying zoology at Smith College, Rogers became inspired by graduating Protestant students who were soon leaving for missionary work in China. Following her graduation, she worked as an assistant in the Biology Department for two years and then taught in Boston’s public schools. Shortly thereafter, Rogers returned to Smith and started a mission club for Catholic students. While organizing the club, she met Father James A. Walsh, director of Boston’s Office for the Propagation of the Faith. Father Walsh was launching a mission magazine in which Rogers took immediate interest and volunteered her time to assist with production.
Nearly a decade later, Father Walsh co-founded Maryknoll Fathers & Brothers, and Rogers was selected as one of the “secretaries” to direct the group under his guidance. Rogers took the religious name Mother Mary Joseph and oversaw the growth of the congregation and its expansion into mission. In 1920, the group became recognized as the Maryknoll Sisters, a mission society of women that minister to the humanitarian needs of all people, especially the poor, regardless of race, creed, or color. While leading the mission, Mother Mary Joseph welcomed women from all nations, stressed the need for sisters to be compassionate women, and took care to integrate prayer with apostolic ministry.
Mother Mary Joseph was awarded honorary doctorates from Smith College, Trinity University and Regis College, Boston. By the time of her death in 1955, there were 1,065 sisters working in twenty countries and several cities in the United States. The Maryknoll Sisters became a Pontifical Institute in 1954 and the name of the Congregation was changed to Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic. Rogers also fought against child labor, supported the 48-hour work week for women, and backed equal pay for equal work.