Sister Mary Rogers officially retired on June 30, 2015 after a distinguished 15 year career as a drug and alcohol counselor at Fr. Alfred Center. For thousands of people, she was the first face they saw when making the life-changing decision to seek treatment for their addiction. For many more, she was a critical link in their journey to remain clean and sober.
“If you told me 25 years ago I’d be doing THIS, I’d say you were crazy,” she chuckled. ‘THIS’ describes the experience of being an 80 year old nun and the only female counselor in a drug and alcohol recovery program for 60 homeless and low-income men.
Nearly 39 years ago, Sr. Mary took her last sip of alcohol and never looked back. At the time, she and her husband Jack checked into a recovery program for alcoholics in Santa Barbara, determined to find their own sobriety. Two years later, in 1978, Jack died, leaving Sr. Mary widowed, newly sober, and searching for a way forward in life.
When I asked, what influenced her to become sober?, Sr. Mary responded with a resounding,
“Ugh. That was so long ago.”
After a thoughtful pause, she elaborated and said, “Finally, some part of me surrendered enough to let God in.” This surrender eventually led her to religious life. She joined the Sisters of the Holy Names in 1991.
Sister Mary first heard about St. Anthony’s from Fr. John Hardin in the late 1990s. At the time, she was working as the secretary to the Provincial for the Franciscan Friars in Oakland. She had just completed a Master’s Degree in Pastoral Counseling from Holy Names College.
“I knew I wanted to do something in the recovery field with the 12 steps. Fr. John said to me, ‘you know, you outta check out Seton Hall [predecessor to Fr. Alfred Center]. It’s a recovery program for 41 men.’ I said to John, ‘What the hell am I supposed to do with 41 men? Forget it.”
What followed was a three week détente of sorts. Fr. John continued to pester Sister Mary. Sister Mary stood firm in her resolve not to listen to him while she pursued a job that ministered to women.
“Finally, Fr. John convinced me to go down to Seton Hall for a visit. I met with Linda Pasquinucci, the Director at the time, and she introduced me to Arthur Bradshaw, the manager of the program. And that’s all she wrote. I’ve been here ever since. It just felt right.”
Lucky for St. Anthony’s, it felt right for many of her clients, too. Sister Mary has a God given ability to connect with people seeking recovery, especially those whose spirits have been broken by the world around them. She remembered fondly one of her first clients, Scoop.
“He was a challenge, but he hung in there. He had a ‘but’ for everything. I said to him, ‘A butt is what you sit on. Get over the ‘but’. He’s still clean and sober today, all these years later.”
Sister Mary knew from her own experience that every addict has another run in them, but no guarantee of another recovery. When pressed to explain how a person in her shoes weathers the tantalizing highs and immense lows of working with people in recovery – and in this case, the poorest of the poor – she attributed her steadfast resolve to a connection that harkens to the divine.
“There’s a goodness within the guys that they don’t even know yet, and have maybe never been aware of. And with so many of them, they haven’t had a lot of love in their lives. It’s a privilege to be with them.”
Being in the company of Sr. Mary is akin to standing on firm ground. Everything seems to make more sense. The world slows down a bit. During our conversation, I hung on to every word she said. Sister Mary’s reflections on her profound career as a Sister of Holy Names and a counselor for Fr. Alfred Center are short and succinct. Each word reflects the wisdom of a person who has experienced a truly blessed life.
“These are 15 years that I’m incredibly grateful for. Between St. Anthony’s and religious life, I’ve been given a life I could have never imagined. We’re working with folks who are hitting pretty tough times. I just love them. It’s an incredible chance to walk with my brothers and sisters.”