Editor’s note: This is part of a series for Lent.
Each of God’s holy ones stand with their own story. Imagine a friend of God who loses her son, suffers through her husband’s alcoholism, sees her marriage fall apart, and tries with everything in her being to see God’s providence and to make an act of faith.
This was the heroic life of Rose Hawthorne. She is a “Servant of God,” which is one of the first steps in the process of becoming a canonized saint.
Rose was the daughter of the Puritan writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of such works as “The Scarlet Letter.” Rose grew up around the literary elite of New England, London and Florence, and was highly cultured.
As a young woman, she married the author, George Lathrop. It began as a happy marriage. In 1891, both converted to Catholicism, which was considered a radical act, and they lost several friends. Rose and George eventually had a son named Francis.
Tragically, at the age of five, Francis died from diphtheria. The death of her son shook Rose’s life, and led her into a deep sorrow. It is said that the smile of her son was before Rose her entire life.
The Lord Jesus teaches: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Mt 5:4).
Rose struggled to find meaning in her faith, and in this promise of the Lord. It was not easy.
George turned to alcohol to sooth his grief, and strains in the marriage began to cause severe problems for the couple. Rose tried to heal her marriage, but eventually she and George separated.
In her darkness, Rose chose to believe in the Lord’s comfort, and she asserted “sorrow builds a bridge.” She turned to those who had cancer, once an untreatable condition that was considered as a type of leprosy.
Rose went to the forgotten and suffering and she let her sorrow build a bridge of compassion and selfless service to those with cancer. By this way of life, the Lord was able to give Rose His comfort and consolation.
When George died, Rose became a religious sister and eventually founded her own convent of Dominicans, taking the name Mother Mary Alphonsa.
This Servant of God was an ordinary woman who suffered and mourned deeply. She stands as a strong witness to us of the Lord’s power to turn mourning into comfort, and sorrow into a bridge.
Father Jeffrey Kirby is a priest of the Diocese of Charleston currently studying moral theology in Rome.