Development of a Catholic Mission Group
The environment of Smith College was a great influence on Mollie. After her grad-uation, she accepted an invitation by Smith College to return on a fellowship as a Demonstrator in the Zoology Department in the Fall of 1906. She was chosen also to be a ‘house mother’ at White Lodge, a recognized position at one of the select off-campus residences for senior students.
Mollie was hardly settled back before she was challenged by Miss Elizabeth Deering Hanscom, a professor of English and the faculty advisor of The Smith College Association for Christian Work, to organize some kind of Bible or religious activity for the Catholic students. Feeling incompetent and unprepared for a Bible study group, Mollie suggested a Mission Study Club.
June 1950 at Smith College when MMJ received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Degree. MMJ was the first and only Sister to be so honored by Smith College. Among friends present was Miss Hanscom on the far left.
With Miss Hanscom’s encouragement, Mollie decided to follow the foreign mission interest which was assuming a greater hold in her spirit, heart and mind. Forty-eight young women signed up to be part of the Mission Study Club.
Mollie’s Letter to Father Walsh
Mollie discovered the lack of any Catholic mission materials. At the suggestion of Father Kenny, her confessor and a curate at her parish, St. Thomas in Jamaica Plain, MA, Mollie wrote to Father James A. Walsh.
He was the Director, since 1903, of The Society of the Propagation of the Faith in Boston. The letter which Mollie wrote to Father Walsh revealed clearly her own deep intent. “The particular motive of these classes is to inspire girls to do actual mission work when they leave college.” She closed the letter with a request for information “in English, French or Latin” and with a line which is seen prophetically today, “Who knows but that the little work we do here may be the beginning of greater efforts in later life.”
Father Walsh’s Response
A prompt answer came back from Father Walsh, dated October 20, 1906: “Far from bothering me, your appeal gives me great pleasure in the thought that you will interest the Catholic girls of Smith College in the great work of Catholic Foreign Missions.”
He commended the points for discussion which she had proposed and added another of his own, “the martyr spirit of our age.” He sent her a supply of materials which he thought should be of help for the group; and, for herself, a copy of the Life of Theophane Venard as a gift. He closed his letter saying:
“I shall look upon it as a privilege and a pleasure to assist you in the effort which you are making and for which Almighty God will give you some reward through the prayers and sacrifices of those whom you are thereby helping.”
Encounter with Father Walsh
Mollie Rogers made her first visit to see Father Walsh in person during the Christmas holidays in 1906. The impression of that meeting remained vivid all her life. She never ceased to recall it. It marked the beginning of her lifetime cooperation and friendship with Father, the one whom God chose with a gentle breath to fan into a living flame in her soul “the already lighted spark of apostolic fire.”
The encounter of these two persons constituted a then unknown point of an inherent future, Maryknoll. Each detail of this first meeting was important to Mollie, his office, his surroundings, his accumulation of mission materials. Of significant importance on the day of that famous visit to him was the fact that Mollie saw the galley sheets of the first copy of The Field Afar, his new Catholic mission magazine, to be published January 1907. Mollie recorded this peak moment of the experience of her visit:
“I realized, of course, that Father was very busy and I said to him, “Well I must be going now.” “Oh, no,” he said, “You sit down, I am trying to form an opinion of you.” He always said afterward that he really never could have said anything so rude. “Well,” I said, “You did, and I was very uncomfortable.” But anyway I stayed and as I was leaving he said, ”I think you and I are going to be very good friends.”
When Mollie left Father Walsh’s office, she took along letters and articles to translate from French into English for future use in The Field Afar. For the following years, she became the nameless translator behind many contributions by French missioners.
Mission Apostolate of The Field Afar
From 1907 until 1911, Mollie gave all her spare time to work with Father Walsh at the SPF Office in Boston. Terminating her teaching at Smith College in 1908, she attended Boston Normal School in a special section for college graduates and then taught in the public schools. The Boston location brought her closer to the mission work which now held first place in her life.
Mollie’s work was extensive with the translations to be made, editing to be done, topics to be developed into articles, any activity connected with the publication of The Field Afar. Mollie’s life became absorbed in the mission apostolate of The Field Afar.
(Who became Sr. M. Theophane)
Father Walsh’s secretary, Miss Donovan, wanted to be a Missionary Sister, and was entering a new missionary community near French Quebec. On the third Tuesday of the month, Father Walsh used to attend a promoters’ meeting of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith made up of dedicated lay people. Through a faithful lay woman promoter whose accounts were beautifully done, he learned that a young woman named Nora Shea did the accounts for her and Nora was out of work. The promoter asked if Father could do anything for her and he responded that she come to see him.
Nora (Honora Frances), who was born on March 2, 1880, was the 5th child in a family of eight children. Her widowed mother had to work from dawn to dusk in one of the Massachusetts’ mills. Nora carried many responsibilities at home and always had a happy disposition. By the first week of February 1909, Nora was working for Father Walsh. Two days after, when it came time for Miss Donovan to leave, she gave last minute instructions to Nora. Running down the steps, she paused and called back to Nora, “Oh, you will be all right. Just pray to St. Jude. He is hanging on the wall there. He will do everything for you!”
Mollie and Nora
A brighter day dawned for Nora when Mollie came to the office to help out. She knew where everything was and how everything was done. Nora’s heart was Mollie’s from that time on! Nora felt that altogether Mollie was a rather more empowering co-worker than St. Jude, with all due respect to him!
By the spring of 1911, Mollie along with Nora Shea were following closely and facilitating the efforts of Fathers Walsh and Price to establish a foreign mission seminary in America.
Together these two women assumed more and more responsibility for the publication work connected with The Field Afar. At the same time Fathers Walsh and Price moved a proposal for a foreign mission seminary to the agenda of the Archbishops’ Meeting held on April 23, 1911, at the Catholic University in Washington, D.C. While Father Price paced the hall outside the meeting room of the archbishops in Washington, Father Walsh worked in his Boston office. When word came from Father Price that the proposal was “unanimously approved,” Father Walsh, Mollie and Nora, were the first to know!
On May 31, 1911, Mollie and Nora took complete responsibility for the publication of The Field Afar as Fathers Walsh and Price sailed for Rome. Mollie, upon whom Father Walsh had come to rely heavily, applied her skills to oversee all the editorial work. Nora took care of the business end. Together, they heard that on June 29, the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, Cardinal Gotti had told Fathers Walsh and Price that the foreign mission society had papal approval.
Mollie and Nora were responsible for meeting the printer’s deadlines for the publication of The Field Afar during those summer months till Fathers Walsh and Price returned in September. It was their privilege to put out the first two issues announcing the creation of the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America and a Foreign Mission Seminary.
First Significant Event of Mollie’s Life
Years later Mollie recorded outstanding events of her life regarding her mission vocation. She reflected on the first significant one as: “Going to Smith College where I saw the active work of Protestants for the missions. This led to my forming a mission study class at college; this was the immediate avenue to Father Walsh to whom I wrote in October of 1906, an event that marked the beginning of our friendship and cooperation.”
Meeting Fr. Walsh, in fact, constituted her first decisive step toward the founding of the Maryknoll Sisters.
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Just a Postscript
Sr. M. Theophane (Nora Shea) died on April 22, 1940
Since Mollie and Nora were close friends from the beginning, we share this meaningful excerpt from MMJ’s Eulogy on Sr. M. Theophane, who died from cancer:
“There are flowers that show forth their beauty during the day and, as shadows lengthen, fold their petals in sleep to open them again only with the rising of the sun. Kindred to that loveliness was the soul of our dear Sister M. Theophane….She was quietly active, genuinely humble, gently firm, endowed with rare and sparkling humor ….Her natural gifts seemed to irradiate her wasting form and to draw us to her as if in hope of absorbing something of her exquisite nobility of soul…her spirit still broods over us in loving, prayerful watchfulness.”
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Questions for Reflection:
1 – How does Mollie’s journey evoke faith, challenge and creativity in us?
2 – As Mollie empowered Nora Shea and so many others, how do we empower others?
|March 2011 The above Reflections were adapted from To the Uttermost Parts of the Earth by Camilla Kennedy, M.M., Maryknoll’s First Lady by Jeanne Marie Lyons, M.M., and Maryknoll in China by Jean-Paul Wiest. Maryknoll Contemplative Community and the Sisters Centennial Retreats-Reflection Committee|