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Sister Rose Regina Smith, CSJ: A Tribute to a Saint Rose Icon
From the Winter 2011 Saint Rose Magazine (permission by Lisa Haley Thompson)
When she entered religious life, Maryrose Smith prayed to be given the name "Rose." She had been immersed, since birth, in The College of Saint Rose, as the niece of a founding sister, the first daughter of a charter class member and, later, an alumna herself. Also, she had once dreamed of being crowned Rose Queen at the annual College pageant celebrating the ideals of Saint Rose and the Christian woman.
She was granted her wish, and then some, when she was received by the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet and given the name Sister Rose Regina.
"Regina means 'Queen' and I have been the Rose Queen ever since," Sister Rose said close to 60 years later, having contributed 35 years of service to the College. In 2008, the College awarded Sister Rose the Carondelet Medal, the highest honor the College can bestow, for her unmatched commitment to the Saint Rose mission and values.
Few would argue. Sister Rose, who conducts herself in a style at once gracious and direct, has served as a one-person bridge between the founding sisters and the vibrant institution of today. She can recite the years of eight family members' Saint Rose graduations, the arrival and retirement dates of presidents and the launch of academic programs.
Just as important, Sister Rose has borne witness to core principles that have not changed during decades of significant change. Her faith in the College is tied to her religious faith and belief in striving, always, to be a better person.
"The whole point is that the spirit and mission and vision of the original sisters are still in place," she said firmly. "It is embedded."
On June 30, Sister Rose, 82, retired from Saint Rose, where she served most recently as assistant to the president for donor relations. In this capacity, she "invited" alumni and friends to support the College, attending social events and following up with letters with an eye toward building the Annual Fund. This ministry fit squarely with her conviction that Saint Rose students receive an outstanding education.
And over the years, she concedes, she became good at making her case to donors.
"It is a skill I have developed," she acknowledged. "It's a unique job, and I am a unique person to do it."
Growing up just a few blocks west of campus, her college choice was all but assured at birth. Her mother, Ursula R. Casey Smith, had enrolled at Saint Rose in 1920, the year the College opened its doors. She was among the first 19 students in a college housed in a single building, Moran Hall. In addition, Ursula's own sister, Sister Rita Agnes Casey, CSJ, lived in Moran, and served as music department chair for many years. Sister Rose grew up attending her mother's alumnae events and visiting her aunt.
After graduating from Vincentian Institute, along this same stretch of Madison Ave., Sister Rose enrolled at Saint Rose as a "day hop" and graduated in 1950 with a major in commerce. Her studies included accounting and business arithmetic, along with such core subjects as English. Later, realizing that God was calling her in a special way, she entered the Sisters of St. Joseph.
In 1974, she was named administrative assistant to the Saint Rose president, a prospect she found intimidating given the academic credentials of those with whom she worked.
Her fear is difficult to picture today, given her insight, clear writing style and attention to detail. She is apt to correct colleagues on their posture or glitches in grammar. Rarely one to miss a birthday, birth or anniversary, Sister Rose has sent out thousands of cards, written by hand and bound in a ribbon matching the card's color.
Tall and regal, she might well be pulled from the pages of a fashion magazine. Her designer clothing and impeccable jewelry are a far cry from the habit she wore until 1968. In 1990, as most of her peers were preparing for retirement, Sister Rose became a concrete symbol of lifelong learning when she earned her M.S. in Education.
Sister Rose speaks of herself as having a "worldly mind and a cloistered heart." She prefers a corporate appearance at work as a hedge against being treated differently. But the clothing is all donated, she never shops. The cards are repurposed, the fronts clipped from previously used ones.
Carrying on the ministry of Jesus Christ remains her priority. When she left College offices for the day, it was to return home to the sisters of her religious community, where she continues to live. "We share prayer and meals and conversation and live together," she said.
But born, raised, educated and employed along this stretch of Madison Ave., Sister Rose said she is unlikely to stay away from campus for long, even in retirement.
I have already asked President Sullivan if I may return in the fall to volunteer," she concluded. As if she needed to ask.
Sister Rose Regina Smith, CSJ, at The College of Saint Rose, Albany, NY