Mollie’s Mission Study Club
Mollie’s decision to organize a Catholic Mission Study Club at Smith College in 1906 turned out to be one of the most important gifts in her life and the lives of the Maryknoll Sisters. Because of the lack of any Catholic materials, she wrote to Fr. James A. Walsh, Boston’s SPF Director, in October 1906 at the suggestion of a priest in her parish.
The letter revealed that the particular motive of these classes was to invite young women to do actual mission work when they leave college. Her plan had four objectives: the preparation needed for priests and nuns for mission work; the mission orders and their field of work; the type of work; and the collection and distribution of funds for the missions. Mollie asked for information “in English, French or Latin,” ending prophetic-ally, “who knows but that the little work we do here may be the beginning of greater efforts in later life.” Fr. Walsh responded quickly, suggesting that Mollie include in her study plan “the martyr spirit of our age,” and he invited her to visit him.
Mollie’s Initiation to “The Field Afar”
During the 1906 Christmas holidays, Mollie had her first visit with Fr. Walsh. On his desk were the galley proofs of the first issue of The Field Afar, a bimonthly publication beginning January 1, 1907. He spread them out, giving her a lesson in paging, correction-making and telling her the genesis of this project.
The aim of The Field Afar was forthrightly stated on its editorial page—“to deepen and widen in its readers the missionary spirit.” That winter of 1906 and the following spring when not at her duties at Smith College, Mollie gave her free time to what she already had accepted as a great cause. She translated French letters and articles that were used in The Field Afar. Fr. Walsh printed Mollie’s October 1906 letter in the May 1907 editorial of The FA for the “edification of the readers.” Also, he was so pleased with the program Mollie planned and carried out for the students at Smith College that he presented it in The FA issues, October 1907 and February 1908, as a model and incentive for other study groups.
During vacation time in 1907, Mollie went every day to the SPF Office in Boston, where Fr. Walsh squeezed in another desk and called it hers. She translated, edited, composed articles, and removed heavy cardboard from pictures to be filed. The pictures she took home and put to soak in the bathtub, with overwhelming tolerance of her family! From 1908 until 1911, Mollie gave all her spare time to work with Fr. Walsh. His gratitude was evidenced by a Christmas gift she received from him on December 24, 1908—a bound copy of the first year’s issues of The Field Afar. On the flyleaf, Fr. Walsh had written in his swinging script: “To my co-worker with deep appreciation of her faithful service.” It remained one of the few treasures which Mollie kept and brought with her when she left her home for Hawthorne, NY, nearly four years later.
Archbishops’ Approval of the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America (CFMSA)
On April 27, 1911, the Archbishops met at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, to discuss a proposal for a CFMSA. Fr. Price waited outside the Conference Room, while Fr. Walsh worked at his desk in the SPF Office in Boston, trying to keep his mind on what he was doing.
Nora at her typewriter, and Mollie in her classroom, also had this one preoccupation filling the whole background of their consciousness. In the late afternoon, Fr. Walsh joyfully told Nora: Miss Shea, the word has come. ‘Unanimously approved!’ Mollie, returning home from school, heard the wonderful news! That evening, it was in the late papers. Things moved quickly after that.
Moving The Field Afar Office
Father Walsh was released from his duties as SPF Director. The Field Afar now needed new quarters. The Washington Press in Jamaica Plain, which printed The Field Afar, offered Father space in their plant. The space consisted of a long storeroom, small and stuffy, unbelievably dirty at the moment and permanently subject to the noise of the printing presses thumping, clanging and grating just the other side of the thin wall!
Mollie and Nora went to work with brooms, wall brushes and scrub brushes. They were stiff and groaning but still good-natured by the time they were finished. They arranged the two desks and the empty file cases into the semblance of an office and learned to shout at each other at the top of their voices over the noise of the presses!
Writing New Index Cards for the FA
The Field Afar subscription list of over 7,000 names and the SPF patrons had all been entered on the same index cards. These cards were needed in the SPF Office during the day. Mollie offered to bring the files home, drawer by drawer, at five o’clock each day and bring them back before nine the next morning, riding the public transportation from Boston to Jamaica Plain.
After supper, Mollie, her parents, siblings and friends sat around the big dining room table and copied the names and subscription information of The Field Afar subscribers on new index cards. Mollie’s Mother would bring the night’s task to a close with some treat as their reward.
Years later at Maryknoll, Mollie would come across an index card written in her mother’s or father’s hand and it would bring back precious memories of her family’s sharing in the beginning days of Maryknoll!
Rome’s Approval of the CFMSA
At the end of May, Fr. Walsh appointed Mollie to be in charge of the editorial work of The Field Afar and Nora Shea, the administrative work, when he and Fr. Price left for Rome. On June 29, 1911, the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Frs. Walsh and Price were in Rome and received the word from Cardinal Gotti that their plan for the CFMSA had been approved by Pope Pius X. Back in Boston, Mollie and Nora were overjoyed.
During the long hot summer, Mollie and Nora had worked away on The Field Afar. How much Father Walsh relied on Mollie could be judged from a cable which he sent to the Washington Press that July: “Print FA. Rogers fill space.” This he followed up with a letter to Mollie, saying, “I know that you have used good judgment.”
New York - Site for Mission Society
On September 19, 1911, Fathers Walsh and Price were back in Boston. A decision had been reached to locate the Seminary-to-be and The Field Afar Office in the New York Archdiocese. In October, Fathers Walsh and Price accepted the hospitality from the French Dominican Fathers at Hawthorne.
“The Field Afar” and the Secretaries
Fr. Walsh rented two rooms at Hood House (Warren Avenue in Hawthorne) for The FA Office. Tulph Cottage (Marietta Avenue) was rented for the three new secretaries: Mary Louise Wholean, Sara Sullivan and Mary Dwyer, who arrived on January 6, 1912. They worked daily on The FA, walking to and from their house to Hood House. Their days and nights were dedicated to The FA. In April 1912, they moved to Rau House (Linda Ave.), which was large enough to accommodate both home and work space. The front room was transformed into The Field Afar Office.
Mary Louise, an exact and careful worker with a fine-honed mind and a good grasp of languages, helped with the editorial work, giving attention particularly to missionary articles and letters contributed from the field, many of them in French, some in Italian and German. These she translated and edited.She was to prepare occasional articles for the daily press and mission notes for the Providence, RI, Visitor and the Hartford, CT, Transcript. And like the other two secretaries, she was to help wrap and mail The Field Afar, which now had a circulation of about ten thousand subscribers.
Mary Dwyer was the bookkeeper, took dictation, did the multigraphing, had charge of stock and was responsible for all the ordering and shipping.
Sara Sullivan was responsible for the bulky and antiquated addressograph, which printed the monthly wrappers for The FA. She had charge of the subscribers’ index cards and stencils, sent acknowledgments to new subscribers and urged the lapsed to renew their subscriptions.
Nora Shea often came from Boston for temporary stays to help the secretaries, helping wherever she was most needed. In the Summer of 1912, she came to stay.
Mollie did not let anyone at home guess what she felt about these new developments. She did not abandon the hope of someday being a volunteer in Father Walsh’s little group, but her family needed her. Her hope was realized on September 9, 1912, when she and Margaret Shea arrived at Hawthorne.
The Teresian Diary includes much information regarding the strenuous work involved in producing The Field Afar Magazine. We share a few excerpts from the 1912 Diary:
The Field Afar arrived and we all set to work folding the papers in their envelopes and getting them ready for mailing. Our one-time dining room resembles a first-class post office. Every available space is covered with envelopes. Woe to anyone who puts Michigan on the Minnesota chair, or knocks over the State of Connecticut, which rises above the table like the Leaning Tower of Pisa!
The last FA issue sent from Hawthorne:
We worked quite calmly until 4:30 p.m., when Father appeared with a determination to rush off The Field Afar material so that the last issue could be sent out from the Hawthorne Post Office before the move to Ossining. In about three minutes we were spinning around like pin-wheels, each one trying to catch up with herself and with the particular task that had fallen to her lot.
The office sounded like a full-sized machine shop, with Mary Augustine turning the crank of the multigraph and Sara running the addressograph. We are struggling day and night to keep our heads above The Field Afar, which is pouring in upon us in bundles of ever-increasing size!
Fr. Walsh writes in jest and in truthin the July 1916 Field Afar issue:
Unfortunately for us, the Teresians have learned that we cannot get along without them, unless we wish to give up The Field Afar and that would be suicide!
Through their translating, editing and clerical work, the Teresians maintained The Field Afar, which Fr. Walsh called “Maryknoll’s Lifeline!” The Field Afar was the conduit for the CFMSA’s vocations and monetary gifts.
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Question for Reflection
Like Mollie and the other Teresians, how are our faith, trust, and sense of mission growing wherever we are?
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The above Reflections were adapted from Maryknoll’s First Lady by Jeanne Marie Lyons, MM; 1912 Teresian Diary; Maryknoll in China by Jean-Paul Wiest; and The Founders by Robert E. Sheridan, MM.
Maryknoll Contemplative Community for theSistersCentennialRetreats-Reflection Committee
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