Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne

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Exterior or Rosary Hill Home in Hawthorne, New York

The Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne are a Roman Catholic congregation of Religious Sisters, who are a part of the Third Order of Saint Dominic. They specialize in caring for those suffering from terminal cancer and have no financial resources.


The Congregation was founded on December 8, 1900, by Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, a daughter of the famed novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne. Early in life, Rose Hawthorne married George Parsons Lathrop, both of whom converted to Roman Catholicism in 1891. Rose had seemingly married well as a young woman, and they moved from her native Massachusetts to New York City and then to Connecticut after their marriage. Unfortunately her husband soon turned out to be unreliable and difficult. Eventually she was driven in 1895 to seek permission from the Church to live apart from him, and this was granted.

Finding herself alone and with few financial resources, she began to seek some meaning to her life. In this journey, she found her answer in her Catholic faith. She learned of the sorry plight of the poor who were diagnosed with incurable cancer. At the time, this disease was believed by many to be highly contagious, so there was a deep fear of contact with those suffering from this affliction. Lathrop soon found a special vocation to this work.

In the fall of 1896, after having taken a three-month nursing course at New York's Cancer Hospital, Lathrop moved into a three-room cold-water flat on New York City's impoverished Lower East Side and began to nurse the poor with incurable cancer. In March 1898 Alice Huber, having responded to an article Lathrop had written about her work, joined her in this service. Shortly afterwards Rose's husband George died. As others came to join them, Lathrop was inspired to found a religious congregation. One of her early supporters was Josephine Lazarus, sister of the poet Emma Lazarus who had been Rose's friend until her death from cancer.[1]

A new congregation[edit]

The community became established as a congregation of Religious Sisters in 1900 and were given the Dominican habit. They termed themselves "the Servants of Relief for Incurable Cancer", and their purpose was to provide for the well-being of incurably ill and destitute cancer patients. At that time, Lathrop was elected as superior of the community, becoming known as Mother Mary Alphonsa.

Their first home was founded in that same neighborhood of Manhattan. It was named St. Rose's Free Home for Incurable Cancer. The Sisters took only the most destitute, and provided them with all the care they needed, doing so without any form of compensation. Even now in the 21st century they refuse to accept any payment from the patients or their families or from government funds from either Social Security or Medicare. Nor do they accept money from private insurance. Mother Alphonsa wanted a better environment for her charges than the bleak dirty streets of that part of Manhattan. She then established a second nursing home, Rosary Hill, in a small hamlet of Westchester County, some twenty miles north of New York City. The community came to be called Hawthorne, New York, in honor of her father.

Present situation[edit]

While greatly reduced in numbers, like most other religious communities in the late 20th century, the Sisters continue to serve at Rosary Hill and at homes in Philadelphia, and Atlanta.


  1. ^ "Exhibit highlights connection between Jewish poet, Catholic nun". The Tidings (Archdiocese of Los Angeles). Catholic News Service. 17 September 2010. p. 16. Retrieved 20 September 2010. 

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