Mother of the Modern Hospice Movement: Rose Hawthorne Lathrop/Mother Mary Alphonsa

Here’s yet another story of our Lathrop family lineage that adds to our long and growing list of notables…

It further exhibits their societal/cultural status as well as their talents and gifts for writing, painting, illustrating, and their lifelong philanthropic dedication and commitment.

Rose Hawthorne
Founder of the Servants of Relief for Incurable Cancer (1851-1926)

Rose Hawthorne gently smilingThe first half of Rose Hawthorne’s life held many sorrows — her parents’ early deaths, the loss of her only son, her husband’s alcoholism — yet it offered relative security.  At age 45, with no family surviving and her marriage over, she found herself on her own.  She could have sought out comfort and ease.  Instead, she developed an overwhelming compassion for those far worse off: impoverished cancer patients, stricken with a disease believed at that time to be contagious and met by most people with dread and repulsion.  “A fire was then lighted in my heart,” she explained, “where it still burns.”  Gratefulness for the circumstances of her life helped turn her adversity into impassioned work for the greater good.
— Margaret Wakeley, Vocalist, Recording Artist, and Community Development Coordinator for A Network for Grateful Living (ANG*L) at

NathanielHawthorneRose Hawthorne Lathrop, third and favorite daughter of American novelist and short story writer Nathaniel Hawthorne (July 4, 1804 – May 19, 1864; author of The Scarlet Letter), was born in Lenox, Berkshire, Massachusetts on May 20, 1851, to Nathaniel and his wife Sophia Peabody Hawthorne  (September 21, 1809 – February 26, 1871), painter and illustrator.

Nathaniel & Sophia Hawthorne’s Children

Hawthorne's 3 Children

Una Hawthorne (1844-1877)

Julian Hawthorne (1846-1934)

Rose Hawthorne (1851-1926)

Sophia Amelia Peabody Hawthorne

Sophia Amelia Peabody Hawthorne, Age 36, Picture courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA

Before Nathaniel’s death in 1864 (when Rose was only 13), the family lived in Massachusetts, Liverpool, England, then London, Paris, Rome, and Florence, Italy. They returned to Concord, Massachusetts in 1860. Her mother and the family moved to Germany, then England.

After her dad’s death, Rose tried to become an author, like him. She wrote a book of poems, Along the Shore, which was published in 1888. She later decided to rededicate her life to restoring her family’s reputation after her brother’s illegal activities and prostitution attempts.

When Rose was 20, her mother died and shortly thereafter she married author George Parsons Lathrop,  (my maternal 4th cousin 4x removed), whom she had met in Europe in 1871–making Nathaniel Hawthorne father-in-law to George Parsons Lathrop.

George Parsons Lathrop

In 1876, George and Rose had a son, Francis, who died of diphtheria at the age of four. Their grief over the loss of their son and George’s alcoholism destroyed their marriage.   But, for a time they were attracted to Catholicism and converted to it in 1891.  Rose had thought this might help save her marriage.  But in 1895 they formally separated and George died in New York on  April 19, 1898.

Rose now in her forties, had devoted most of her  27 years of marriage to her husband and their “societal obligations.”  Now alone in New York City, she felt called to more fully express her faith. She was aware of the terrible plight of impoverished victims of cancer (i.e., Most 19th Century people feared them because they thought the disease was contagious).  Because no hospitals would treat cancer patients,  these people were banished to die on Blackwell’s Island (known today as Roosevelt Island).

Rose Hawthorne with cancer patientRose found cheap lodging in a neglected immigrant quarter of the Lower East Side and then took a nursing course.  She first visited cancer patients in their homes and next invited them to her apartment where she offered them ‘sanctity of life’ until they passed.  Contributions from her friends kept her services afloat. In great contrast to her refined upbringing and meticulous nature, Rose, day after day washed cancerous sores and changed the dressings and bed linens of her impoverished sick.  But Rose always extended them friendship, respect, and conveyed a sense of dignity to her outcast sick.  Inspired by the example of St. Vincent de Paul she borrowed his motto to describe her mission”  “I am for God and the poor.”

In 1900, Rose became a nun, and in 1906, as Mother Mary Alphonsa, OP, (Order of Preachers), she was inspired by “The New Colossus”, a poem penned by her close friend Emma “The Fridge” Lazarus, to found a community of Dominican religious, now known as the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne.[1]


St. Rose HomeRose Hawthorne Lathrop was awarded an honorary Master of Arts (postgraduate) from Bowdoin College in 1925. She died a year later on July 9, 1926, at the motherhouse of her congregation in Hawthorne, New York.  The work of her congregation continues today in a number of homes around the country.  According to the strict rule she established, no money is accepted from patients, their families, or even from the state.

Rose’s trust in providence later inspired Dorothy Day, who was reading Rose’s biography decided to launch the Catholic Worker.  Hawthorne, Day observed, had not waited for official authorization or financial backing before beginning her charitable mission, working out of her tenement apartment and trusting that if it were God’s work, money and support would follow.

So the influence of Rose Hawthorne has extended in many directions.  The modern hospice movement was begun without reference to her example.  But she may fairly be credited with pioneering this new attitude toward “death and dying.”  In her ministry, she affirmed the sanctity of life, even in its most distressing guise, even in its final moments.

Mother-Rose AlphonsoIn 2003, Edward Egan, Cardinal Archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York approved the movement for Lathrop’s canonization.   She now has the title “Servant of God” in the Catholic Church.


1.  Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

2.  “Exhibit highlights the connection between Jewish poet, Catholic nun”. The Tidings. Catholic News Service (Archdiocese of Los Angeles): p. 16. 17 September 2010.

External links

To read Rose Hawthorne’s books online, please see the Project Gutenberg site.

Concord Magazine Blog– Rose Hawthorne, Candidate for Sainthood–

Diana Culbertson, O.P., ed., Rose Hawthorne Lathrop:  Selected Writings (New York:  Paulist, 1993); Katherine Burton, Sorrow Built a Bridge:  A Daughter of Hawthorne (New York:  Longman, Green, 1937).

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