HAWTHORNE, N.Y. – A Hawthorne nun who founded a Dominican order and spent the better part of her life treating poor cancer patients is one step closer to becoming a saint.
The Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne are working to get their founder Mother Mary Alphonsa, born Rose Hawthorne, declared a saint. The sainthood process took a big step in April as more than 1,300 pages on Hawthorne were compiled and sealed before a cardinal and then sent to Rome.
A Roman postulate must be appointed to review the sealed documents and put together a position paper. If Hawthorne Lathrop is found to have heroic virtue, she will become venerable. For sainthood, there must be a miracle and beatification.
“It could be as long or short as God wishes,” Mother Mary Francis said.
Rose Hawthorne Lathrop was born in Massachusetts in 1851 to noted American author Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife. Hawthorne Lathrop was first introduced to the Catholic faith as her father's work and her sister's illness carried them to Europe, Sister Mary DePaul said.
Hawthorne Lathrop met George Lathrop in Germany when she was 19 and married quickly, Sister Mary DePaul said.
“The marriage had some difficulties from the very beginning,” Sister Mary DePaul said, noting they dealt with financial difficulties, as well as the loss of a daughter. The duo would eventually begin to grow in the Catholic faith and officially converted in 1891.
Sister Mary DePaul said their new faith gave a “great hope” to the marriage, but things devolved when Lathrop began having difficulties and started drinking again as Hawthorne Lathrop continued to grow in her faith. The two would later separate.
“In 1895, Rose was looking for, as she calls it, 'usefulness,'” Sister Mary DePaul said. “She really wanted to give back all the grace she felt she had been receiving.”
In 1896, Hawthorne Lathrop decided to take a three-month nursing course at New York's Cancer Hospital, which would later evolve into Sloan Kettering, moved into a three-room cold-water flat on the Lower East Side and began treating cancer patients. Hawthorne Lathrop was joined by Alice Huber in 1898, who was inspired by Hawthorne Lathrop's letters to the editor in a newspaper.
“People basically thought she was nuts,” Mother Mary Francis said, noting that cancer patients were thought to be contagious and treated like lepers.
Hawthorne Lathrop and Huber decided to form a religious order at the suggestion of a Dominican priest they had worked with, and in 1900 they were allowed to receive the Dominican habit. They moved to Hawthorne Lathrop in 1901, where the order has remained since.
“She had been looking for a way to care for men patients because they only had women living with them,” Sister Mary Joseph said. “She also wanted to get these poor people out of the slums and into the country where it was more quiet and healthful and clean.”
The move to declare Hawthorne Lathrop a saint began in early 2000 during the order's centennial, when the sisters opened a cause in the archdiocese and hired an archivist to organize Hawthorne Lathrop's things. The process has so far included research into her writings and gathering depositions about Hawthorne Lathrop from devotees and those who knew her.
The sisters said they were glad the process had begun and they expected Hawthorne Lathrop will one day become a saint. Sister Mary DePaul called the move to Rome “exciting.”
Mother Mary Francis agreed.
“It's important for the church and people outside the church to know about her,” she said.