Nathaniel Hawthorne’s daughter became a nun. Rose Hawthorne, the youngest daughter of the famous American author, married George Lathrop, another writer, in 1871. In 1881 their only son died when he was five. Living the life of romantic artists, the Lathrops moved from place to place, George doing his writing, and Rose never finding anything to keep her interest. It came as some surprise to their friends that they became Catholics in 1891. Despite his good resolutions and his sincere conversion to Catholicism, George’s drinking (which started after his son’s death) grew worse, and the Lathrops received a Church-sanctioned separation in 1895 (George died four years later, after receiving the Last Rites).
Talented in many fields, but persevering in none, Rose found herself alone and with no purpose. With time and prayer, however, God’s Will became clear. Inspired by the life of Saint Vincent de Paul, Rose Lathrop developed an interest in caring for the poor sick. At that time, cancer was thought to be contagious, and to be diagnosed with it meant not only certain death, but also loneliness and abandonment by everyone: hospitals, friends, and family. Her course became clear: Here were people who needed help, and, for the love of God, she would provide it. Starting with a three-month training session in New York’s Cancer Hospital and then taking a three-room tenement apartment in New York’s Lower East Side, a work was begun that has spread to seven institutions in six states. Rose’s first assistant was a young portrait painter named Alice Huber. Calling themselves the Servants of Relief for Incurable Cancer (with Saint Rose of Lima for their Patroness), in 1899 they were received into the Third Order of the Dominicans. When they took their vows on December 8, 1900, Rose became Mother Alphonsa, and Alice became Sister Rose. From being a woman with no real purpose in life, to being a hard-working, charitable, compassionate Sister, Mother Alphonsa actively labored as their apostolate grew. In 1901 the site of the present motherhouse was purchased: Rosary Hill, in Sherman Park, New York (now Hawthorne, New York). The Servants of Relief for Incurable Cancer (now known as The Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne) never accept payments from their patients. They rely solely on God’s providence and the generosity of benefactors. Mother Alphonsa died on July 9, 1926.