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Mother Mary Alphonsa: A (possible) saint for terminal cancer patients

A (possible) saint for terminal cancer patients

Mother Mary Alphonsa (Rose Hawthorne Lathrop)

The Berkshires may one day be able to claim a Catholic saint was born here.

Mother Mary Alphonsa, founder of the Dominican Order of St. Rose of Lima, was declared a "Servant of God" in 2003 by the Cardinal Edward Egan, archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York, the first step in the canonization process.

A decade later, in 2013, the Vatican's Congregation of the Causes of Saints released a "Decree of Validity" affirming they had accepted Mother Alphonsa, also known as Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, for consideration. The investigation period, a somewhat lengthy process used to determine sainthood, officially began in 2014.

Lathrop, the youngest daughter of author Nathaniel Hawthorne and illustrator Sophia Peabody Hawthorne, founded the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne in 1900. The religious order provides palliative care to terminal cancer patients free of charge.

"We feel she can speak to so many people," Mother Mary Francis Lepore, superior general of the order Lathrop founded, told the The Journal News of Westchester County, N.Y., in 2013. "She was a wife who had a difficult marriage, a mother who lost her child and a convert. She also sends a strong message about the dignity of life when there's so much talk about euthanasia."

Born in Lenox in May 1851, Rose Hawthorne's time in Lenox was short, as the family moved to Britain in 1853 when Nathaniel Hawthorne was appointed as the American consul in Liverpool. The family spent time in England, France and Italy, where, although raised in the Protestant faith, a young Rose spent time at the Vatican Museum and reportedly caught a glance of Pope Pius IX on his balcony. The family returned to Massachusetts in 1860, settling in Concord. Her father would die four years later and her mother, in an effort to save money, moved the family to Germany where the cost of living was far less than in America. It was there Rose Hawthorne would meet George Lathrop, an American writer and later editor at the Atlantic Monthly. They would marry in 1871. The couple returned to the United States and in 1876, their only child, Francis, was born. They would lose him to diphtheria in 1881.

Following their son's death, the couple moved from Cambridge to Connecticut, where they converted to Catholicism. In 1895, Rose Hawthorne Lathrop petitioned the Catholic Church for permission to leave her husband, an alcoholic. The couple separated (but remained married until George Lathrop's death in 1898). A year after their separation, in 1896, Rose Lathrop, 45, enrolled in a course to become a nurse and began working with the then New York Cancer Hospital. Inspired by the work, she founded Sister Rose's Free Home in a Manhattan apartment building to care for impoverished patients. She would join the Dominican Order in 1899 and found the Dominican Order of St. Rose of Lima a year later. She became the order's first Mother Superior, taking the name Mother Mary Alphonsa. The order refused all payments from the patients and their families, existing on donations from supporters.

Today, the order continues Lathrop's work at three locations: Rosary Hill Home in Hawthorne, N.Y.; Sacred Heart Home in Philadelphia and Our Lady of Perpetual Help Home in Atlanta.


Features Editor

Jennifer Huberdeau is The Eagle's features editor. Prior to The Eagle, she worked at The North Adams Transcript. She is a 2021 Rabkin Award Winner, 2020 New England First Amendment Institute Fellow and a 2010 BCBS Health Care Fellow.

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