The Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne are an American community, founded on December 8, 1900, by two extraordinary women. They live in community, strive to grow in a deep prayer life, and rely on and radically trust in God's providence. Their apostolate is to nurse and shelter incurable cancer patients who cannot afford care elsewhere. All care is free. No payments are accepted either from patients or their families, nor from Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance. Traditions of the Dominican Order ... love of the Church and the Holy Father, wearing the habit, devotion to the Passion of Christ and Our Blessed Mother ... are a major focus of the community's life.
Rose Hawthorne, daughter of American novelist Nathanial Hawthorne, began the work at age 45. She moved into a tenement in the poorest area of New York City, and began nursing incurable cancer patients. Rose, later to become Mother Alphonsa, was a convert to Catholicism. This work was the practical fulfillment of her conversion.
Alice Huber was one of the first to join Rose in the work of nursing the poor with incurable cancer. Alice was 36 years old and a successful portrait painter who had said to her friends, "When I find a work of perfect charity, I will join it."
Alice later became Mother Rose. Neither woman had any prior nursing experience. Together, these two women founded the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne on December 8, 1900 as they professed their 1st vows.
Fidelity to St. Dominic
The affiliation of their community with the Dominican Order came about at the suggestion of a visiting young Dominican priest, Rev. Clement Thuente. This affiliation gave the foundresses a heritage which was deeply rooted in prayer, sacrifice, and the desire to bring Christ to the world.
St. Dominic founded the Order of Preachers in 1221 to combat the heresy of the Albigensians. He recognized that in order to effectively preach the truth of the Gospel, his friars would have to live as Christ did in poverty, humility, and constant prayer. The Dominican ideal became to preach the love of God by contemplation and to give to others the fruit of that contemplation.
In the fall of 1896, after having taken a three-month nursing course at New York's Cancer Hospital, Rose Hawthorne 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.
She said at the time: No description had given me a real knowledge of how dark the passages are in the daytime, how miserably inadequate the water supply, how impossible that the masses of poor in tenements should keep themselves or their quarters clean.
But keeping her focus on God, she resolved ... to take the lowest class we know both in poverty and suffering and put them in such a condition, that if our Lord knocked at the door we should not be ashamed to show what we have done.
In November of 1897, Alice Huber was stirred by a newspaper article written by Rose about caring for the cancerous poor, which closed with: ALet the woman who begs for care have comfort, and bestow on this representative of Christ a little gentle attention until she dies. This is all, yet it requires the sacrifice of your life. But that is why Christ asked it, and blesses with unending reward the simple choice. Soon after reading the article, Alice visited the tenement on Water Street. A fair, bright-faced woman, who was bending over an old woman bandaging up her leg, rose from her work and came forward to meet me. I looked at her as she stood there, the only bright being in all that mass of ugliness and misery. As I looked at her, a great feeling of affection and pity came into my heart for her. So, at last I mustered up courage and offered to help her one afternoon of each week. On March 24, 1898, Alice joined Rose in her work. After a few short days she realized ... the sacrifice of life Rose Hawthorne was leading. We had not time for reading. I could not write, not even think for a time, the change was so great, the noise and confusion unbearable. I became extremely homesick and shed so many tears...
But the two women persevered in the work. And in May 1899, they moved several blocks to 426 Cherry Street, into their own house, the down payment for which was made by a group of benefactors. This was the first St. Roses Free Home, named in honor of St. Rose of Lima.
On September 14th of the same year, at the suggestion of a young Dominican priest, Rev. Clement Thuente, Rose and Alice become Dominican Tertiaries like St. Rose of Lima. They drew strength and grace to continue their sacrificial work from the Dominican heritage rooted in prayer, sacrifice, and the desire to bring Christ to the world.
A year later... December 8, 1900... Sister Alphonsa (Rose Hawthorne) and Sr. Rose (Alice Huber) were invested in the Dominican habit and took their first vows. Fr. Thuente presided. The new community adopted the Rule of St. Augustine, and were later incorporated as ... The Servants of Relief for Incurable Cancer. Years later Sr. Alphonsa and Sr. Rose opened a second home, Rosary Hill, in Westchester County, north of New York City. It would come to serve as both a nursing home and the mother house and novitiate for the Dominican Sisters.
Mother Alphonsa died in her sleep on July 9, 1926. She had served the poor with incurable cancer for thirty years. The community continues to carry out the apostolate of loving service to those afflicted with incurable cancer. Faithful to the spirit of the foundresses, no payment is accepted from the patients, their families, any government agency, or any third-party payor. The sisters continue to rely on the loving providence of God through the generosity of benefactors for the support of the work and the community.
For more information on The Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne, please visit their web site at www.hawthorne-dominicans.org
Prayer to St. Dominic
O holy Priest of God
and glorious Patriarch,
thou who was the friend,
the well-beloved son
and confident of the Queen of Heaven,
and didst work on many miracles
by the power of the Holy Rosary,
have regard for my necessities.
On earth you opened your heart
to the miseries of your fellow men
and your hands were strong to help them;
now in heaven your charity
has not grown less
nor has your power waned.
Pray for me to the Mother of the Rosary,
and to her divine Son,
for I have great confidence
that through your assistance
I shall obtain the favor
I so much desire.
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