By BISHOP BERNARD E SHLESINGER III | Published February 18, 2023 | En Español
Recently, we honored the men and women religious working in the Archdiocese of Atlanta who have done incredible things. For example, the Sisters of Mercy opened the first hospital in Atlanta in 1880 having arrived with only five dollars for their use; their legacy continues with Mercy Care to the poor and homeless of Atlanta.
The Trappist monks came to Conyers in 1944 and built a monastery by hand. The Marist Fathers and Brothers established Marist College in 1901 and have educated thousands of students. So many religious continue to serve in parishes and in other ways. I am dedicating this column to telling the story of someone whose charism has been lived in Atlanta since 1939 but remains mostly unknown.
Acclaimed American author Nathaniel Hawthorne’s youngest daughter Rose was born in 1851. Throughout her life, she suffered a number of tragedies, including the deaths of her parents, the death of her only child at the age of 5, the breakdown of her marriage due to her husband’s alcoholism and abusive behavior, and finally the death of a dear friend from cancer.
At the time of her friend’s death, in the late 1880s, cancer was thought to be contagious. Those who contracted the disease were brought to a poor house on the east side of Manhattan in New York City and were left to die alone. Rose was moved with compassion and knew that God was calling her to serve the cancerous poor. In her own words: “A fire was then lighted in my heart, where it still burns. I set my whole being to endeavor to bring consolation to the incurable cancerous poor.” She took a nursing course in a local hospital and rented a small apartment in Manhattan where she would care for cancer patients.
Rose was joined by a volunteer, Alice Huber, and together they opened their first free home in 1899 under the title Servants of Relief for Incurable Cancer. On Dec. 8, 1900, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, they were clothed in the Dominican habit as Sister Mary Alphonsa (Rose) and Sister Mary Rose (Alice).
Rose’s mission was clear: “To take the neediest class we know, both in poverty and suffering, and put them in such a condition that if Our Lord knocked at the door, I should not be ashamed to show what I have done. This is a great hope.” Mother Mary Alphonsa, OP, (Rose) died on July 9, 1926. Her Cause for Canonization is ongoing and gaining momentum.
The dream of St. Mary Alphonsa (Rose) continues today. The order she established is known as the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne and they have two homes in the United States: Rosary Hill in Hawthorne, New York and Our Lady of Perpetual Help Home here in Atlanta, nestled next to Georgia State University’s football stadium. From the time of my arrival here in Atlanta, I have celebrated holy Mass there on a frequent basis, witnessing firsthand the love and dedication of the sisters and staff. I have had the privilege of meeting and praying with residents as they prepare to leave this world and hope for an eternity in the next.
Please pray for Mother Mary Alphonsa’s cause for canonization and for vocations to her congregation.