Sunday, November 11, 2012


Nathaniel with his children

SERVANT of GOD ROSE HAWTHORNE, the second daughter of Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne, converted to Roman Catholicism in 1891 and founded a religious order to care for victims of cancer.

Born in Lenox, Mass., May 20, 1851, Rose grew up moving from place to place. She lived in West Newton and Concord, Mass. and as an infant in Liverpool, England, then London, Paris, Rome, and Florence, Italy. Her family returned to Concord in 1860 and her father died in 1864. Her mother then moved the family to Germany and then England.

Rose had an unhappy marriage to George Parsons Lathrop, who became assistant editor of Atlantic Monthly, and who edited a collected edition of Hawthorne's works in 1883. George was an alcoholic and their son, Francis, born in 1876, died five years later of diphtheria.

Rose wrote short stories and verse. A book of poems, Along the Shore, was published in 1888.
She separated from her husband and moved to New York. There she trained as a nurse in order to aid cancer victims. To help raise money, she wrote Memories of Hawthorne in 1897. She opened a refuge for cancer victims on New York's Lower East Side. Her husband died in 1898 and a year later she moved to a larger house, St. Rose's Free Home for Incurable Cancer.

Serv. of God Rose made her vows as a Dominican nun Dec. 8, 1900, taking the name Alphonsa. With her first companion, Sister M. Rose, she founded the Dominican Congregation of St. Rose of Lima, later called the Servants of Relief for Incurable Cancer.

Ser. of God Rose's interest in cancer was prompted by her friendship with the poet Emma Lazarus, author of the inscription on the base of the Statue of Liberty. During a conversation she learned that Emma was suffering from cancer. In the late 1800s, cancer carried a fierce stigma and was believed to be contagious. Although Emma was well cared for until she died, others who contracted the disease were not so lucky. People with cancer who had no economic resources were sent to the grim Blackwell's Island, New York City's last resort for the penniless.

So remarkable was Ser. of God Rose’s vision that she determined to provide the very best of care for the cancerous poor, for free. There was to be no class system, no "upstairs/downstairs" for her residents. She and her religious sisters would be the servants. The residents would be the object of all their care and concern.

It is significant that she referred to her residents as "Christ's poor" because she found the source and inspiration for all that she did in Christ himself. She knew His love when her own marriage floundered; she knew His love when she lost her first-born and only child. She came to know the full meaning of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, that she was loved by Him and could depend on Him for everything she needed. Her needs were great and depend on Him she did!

In 1901, Ser. of God Rose opened Rosary Hill Home in Hawthorne, New York (now the Mother Home of the Order). She died there July 9, 1926, the anniversary of her parents' wedding. She had served the poor with incurable cancer for thirty years.

Excerpt from a letter from Mark Twain to Rose Hawthorne Lathrop:

"And certainly if there is an unassailably good cause in the world, it is this one undertaken by the Dominican Sisters, of housing, nourishing, and nursing the most pathetically unfortunate of all the afflicted among us — men and women sentenced to a painful and lingering death by incurable disease. I have seen [this lofty work of yours] rise from seedling to tree with no endowment but the voluntary aid which your patient labor and faith have drawn from the purses of grateful and compassionate men; and I am glad. . . to know that this prosperity will continue and be permanent . . . . It cannot fail until pity fails in the hearts of men, and that will never be."

Serv. of God Rose Hawthorne

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