Mother Mary Alphonsa
|Mother Mary Alphonsa, OP|
|Religious Sister, Social Worker, Foundress|
May 20, 1851
Lenox, Massachusetts, United States
|Died||July 9, 1926
New York City, United States
|Venerated in||Roman Catholic Church|
Mother Alphonsa was born on May 20, 1851 to Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife, Sophia, and baptised as Rose Hawthorne. Sophia was assisted in the birth by her grandfather, Dr. Nathaniel Peabody. Hawthorne wrote about it to his friend, Horatio Bridge, comparing her to a book: "Mrs. Hawthorne published a little work, two months ago, which still lies in sheets; but, I assure you, it makes some noise in the world, both by day and night. In plain English, we have another little red-headed daughter—a very bright, strong, and healthy imp, but, at present, with no pretentions to beauty." On July 28, 1851, Sophia took Rose and her older sister, Una, to visit relatives in West Newton, Massachusetts.
Growing up, Rose lived in Massachusetts, Liverpool, London, Paris, Rome, and Florence. The family returned to Concord, Massachusetts in 1860. There, her older brother, Julian, was enrolled in a school run by Franklin Benjamin Sanborn. Though their friend, Ellery Channing, recommended the Hawthorne girls attend the same school, neither Una nor Rose were enrolled, despite it being coeducational. Sophia wrote, "We entirely disapprove of this commingling of youths and maidens at the electric age in school. I find no end of ill effect from it, and this is why I do not send Una and Rose to your school." Two years after Nathaniel's death in 1864, Rose was enrolled at a boarding school run by Diocletian Lewis in nearby Lexington, Massachusetts, though she disliked the experience.
Later, the family moved to Germany, then England. Sophia and Una died there in 1871 and 1877, respectively.
Rose married author George Parsons Lathrop in 1871. In 1876, they had a son, Francis, who died of diphtheria at the age of five. In the spring of 1879, her family's former home in Concord, The Wayside, became available for purchase and, with borrowed money, the Lathrops bought it. The day of Francis' death, however, they moved out. They returned to New York City but, in 1887, moved to New London, Connecticut for George's health. There, they became involved with the Catholic summer school movement and collaborated on a book, A Story of Courage: A History of the Georgetown Visitation Convent. Rose tried to become an author, like her father, in her own right and published a book of poems, Along the Shore, in 1888. Both she and George converted to Roman Catholicism in 1891 but he became an alcoholic and increasingly unstable after Francis' death. Una suspected abuse. George also competed with Rose's brother, Julian, for control of Nathaniel's legacy. In 1883, Julian planned to published Dr. Grimshawe's Secret, an unpublished manuscript left unfinished by their father, but Rose did not believe in its existence and suspected him of forgery or perpetrating a hoax. After Francis' death, Rose and Julian tried to end their quarreling and the Lathrops visited him in England in 1881. During that trip, however, they spent more and more time apart. They separated permanently in 1895; George died of cirrhosis three years later.
Rose sought greater purpose in her life and spent time with the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul in Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts, and was inspired by their motto, "I am for God and for the poor." She was further inspired by the death of Emma Lazarus, whom she befriended in 1881. After Lazarus' death from cancer at age 38, Rose recalled that she was at least comfortable, unlike others who were poor. She wrote later, "Though I grieved deeply for her, I would not pity her, for she never knew unaided suffering, but every amelioration." She particularly referenced being motivated to work with incurable impoverished people by the story of a young seamstress who was too poor to seek treatment and instead admitted herself to an almshouse on Blackwell's Island amidst the insane.
In the summer of 1896, at age 45, Rose trained as a nurse at the New York Cancer Hospital, the first institution in the nation dedicated to training cancer treatment at a time when general hospitals in the city did not admit patients with cancer. Later that year, she founded a charitable organization named after Rose of Lima as Sister Rose's Free Home to care for impoverished cancer patients. At first, she went to the homes of patients but, in October 1896, she rented three rooms in a tenement on Scammel Street in the poor Lower East Side. and founded with the help of an assistant named Alice Huber. The first patient to join them there was 65-year-old Mary Watson. A Dominican priest witnessed their work in February 1899 and encouraged them to join the order as tertiaries. They were approved by an archbishop in September and Rose and Alice became known as Mother Alphonsa and Mother Rose, respectively. The order they founded, now known as the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne, opened a facility called St. Rose's Home on Water Street in Manhattan before moving to Cherry Street before settling in what is now Rosary Hill Home in Hawthorne.
Her brother, Julian, considered her decision as martyrdom, writing, "Nothing less than the extreme would satisfy her thirst for self-sacrifice." When he was imprisoned for mail fraud, she traveled to Washington, D.C. on April 3, 1913, to ask President Woodrow Wilson to pardon him. He was angered by her intervention and no pardon was granted.
On July 8, 1926, Rose wrote various letters asking for donations until nearly 10 o'clock before going to bed. She died in her sleep on July 9, the day that would have been her parents' 84th wedding anniversary.
Awards and honors
Rose received a medal from the National Institute of Social Sciences for "notable achievement" in that field in 1914. In 1925, she was awarded an honorary Master of Arts from Bowdoin College. On April 18, 1926, Rotary Club of New York presented her with a service medal as "soldier of love, a friend of the poor, organizer of rare ability, hope of the hopeless."
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