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‘To Take Up Our Work in the World’

One Alumna’s Global Influence

By Schuyler Clemente ’07

After graduating from Smith in 1905, Mary Josephine (Mollie) Rogers went on to become Mother Mary Joseph, the founder of the highly acclaimed order of Catholic nuns dedicated to worldwide foreign mission. Photo courtesy of the Maryknoll Sisters.

In 1905, a Smith College graduate named Mollie Rogers wrote to her high school newspaper: “We leave college with a sense of self-reliance and responsibility to take up our work in the world.” Little did Rogers know how far-reaching her work would be as she went on to become Mother Mary Joseph and the founder of the Maryknoll Sisters -- the first order of Catholic nuns in the United States dedicated to foreign mission.

To commemorate the centennial of Rogers’ graduation, the Helen Hills Hills Chapel and the Newman Association, a Catholic student organization, teamed up with the Kahn Liberal Arts Institute to sponsor a symposium on Mollie Rogers this past February.

According to Catholic Chaplain Elizabeth Carr, one of the organizers of the symposium, “Mollie Rogers had the inspiration to [found the order] when she was a student at Smith.…She felt that women who went to mission should do the same thing priests could do.”

Michele Chapdelaine ’07, chair of the Mollie Rogers Centennial Celebration Committee and member of the Newman Association, explains the connection to the Kahn Institute’s yearlong project Biotechnology and World Health. “The Maryknoll Sisters do a lot of work in communities with high rates of HIV/AIDS.”

Maryknoll Sister Dr. Mary Annel, M.M., delivered the keynote address, titled “HIV/AIDS: Reconsidering Sexuality and Cultural Norms.” Sister Dr. Annel lives in El Salvador and works in AIDS prevention and in ministry with those who suffer from AIDS. She discussed the culture of El Salvador and how cultural views and mores have contributed to the spread of HIV/AIDS among the population, and what the Maryknoll Sisters are doing to try and lessen its impact.

“We have to know our church and try to help insert it into today’s reality.…We the people are our church,” said Sister Dr. Annel. “We try to help people make life decisions from a basis of knowledge, not ignorance.”

Emilee Mooney ’05 attended the keynote address. “I was really delighted to find there is a place in the Catholic Church for AIDS outreach,” she maintains. “This is not what I learned in CCD” (religious education classes).

The symposium included a panel on “HIV/AIDS Prevention and Treatment: Who Gets Access?” which was moderated by Sister Dr. Annel. Christine White-Ziegler, Kahn faculty fellow and assistant professor of biological sciences, sat on the panel, along with Susan Weissert, Maryknoll AIDS Task Force coordinator, and Avette J. Richards AC.

Chapdelaine felt that it was fitting for this event to be held at Smith. “It’s important because Mollie Rogers was a Smith graduate, and I would say she’s probably one of the most worldwide influential graduates.”

The Maryknoll Sisters have redefined what was classically known as “mission work,” Chapdelaine adds. “They’re not as interested in imposing their faith as they are in helping communities to grow in their own cultural context.”

The “fire” that inspired Mollie Rogers continues in Smith students today, according to Carr. “The students who are here now continue the tradition of women having an education and using that education for the well-being of people in the world.”

“Mollie Rogers created an order of women to be equal to men, which certainly fits with the mission of Smith College,” continues Carr. “They certainly are a perennial blessing to the world, literally.”

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