Feast of Rose Hawthorne Lathrop (May 20)   Leave a comment

Above:  Rose Hawthorne Lathrop

Image in the Public Domain



Foundress of the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne

Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, the third of three children of Sophia Peabody Hawthorne and novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, became a writer then founded a Roman Catholic order devoted to helping those with incurable cancer die with dignity and as much comfort as possible, not isolated and suffering from stigma.

The cause for the canonization of Lathrop is open.  May 20 is the date Robert Ellsberg has assigned to her in All Saints:  Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (New York, NY:  The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997).  The Roman Catholic feast day will probably be July 9.

Our saint, born in Lenox, Massachusetts, on May 20, 1851, grew up in a Unitarian family with connections to transcendentalism.  Her father served as U.S. Consul to England (at Liverpool) from 1853 to 1857, during the administration of his friend, President Franklin Pierce, whose stylistically inferior biography (Life of Franklin Pierce) he had written in 1852.  (Hawthorne was a better writer of fiction than of nonfiction.)  From 1857 to 1860 the Hawthornes traveled in Europe.  When Rose was seven years old, at the Vatican, she saw Pope Pius IX during Holy Week.  The experience made quite an impression on her.  The family returned to the United States in 1860.  Neighbors at Concord, Massachusetts, included Louisa May Alcott and Ralph Waldo Emerson.  Visitors included Herman Melville and Henry David Thoreau.  After the great novelist died in 1864 the family returned to England, where Rose studied at the Kensington Art School.  Sophia died in early 1871.  On September 11 of that year the 20-year-old Rose married writer George Parsons Lathrop at the (Anglican) Church of St. Luke, Chelsea, England.

The marriage was difficult.  One reason was financial.  Another reason was the death of their only son, Francis, born in 1876.  He died of diptheria at the age of four years on February 6, 1881.  The grief-stricken parents poured themselves into their individual writing projects–Rose into poetry and short stories and George into his own material plus editorial duties at The Atlantic Monthly.  He also became an alcoholic.  Husband and wife attempted repeatedly to salvage their union, but George’s alcoholism continued to destroy the marriage.  On March 19, 1891, they converted to Roman Catholicism at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, New York, New York.  The Lathrops, immersing themselves in their new faith, helped to found the Catholic Summer School Movement in New London, Connecticut (their home), as well as Plattsburgh, New York.  Not even Roman Catholicism saved their marriage; the couple separated in 1893.

Rose, separated from her husband, who was drinking himself into his grave, devoted her life to helping cancer patients.  At the time few therapies existed and the stigma surrounding the disease was strong.  Cancer patients had to leave hospitals shortly after receiving their diagnosis.  Those lacking sufficient financial means and/or support from friends and relatives had to spend the remainder of their lives in pain and away from mainstream society.  In New York City they ended their days on Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt Island), as if they were lepers.  Our saint, a pioneer of the hospice movement, took some nursing courses then moved to the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  There she lived and worked among cancer patients in their homes.  Eventually she invited them into her home.  Rose refused to charge for her services; friends supported her financially.

Cirrhosis of George’s liver rendered Rose a widow in 1898.

Our widowed saint took her holy work to the next level.  On December 8, 1900, she and Alice Huber, a friend and a companion in caring for cancer patients, became Dominican nuns.  The two women opened homes for those afflicted with cancer.  In 1906 Rose founded the Servants of Relief for Incurable Cancer (now the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne) and became Mother Mary Alphonsa, the Superior.  The order opened new institutions and refused to charge for its services.

Our saint died, aged 75 years, at Hawthorne, New York, on July 9, 1926.

The Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne continue to care for cancer patients while not charging for their services.






O God, your Son came among us to serve and not to be served,

and to give his life for the life of the world.

Lead us by his love to serve all those to whom the world offers no comfort and little help.

Through us give hope to the hopeless,

love to the unloved,

peace to the trouble,

and rest to the weary,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60


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