The Gift of the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne


f you’ve walked through the front lobby of the Our Lady of Peace Hospice Residence, you’ve most likely seen the painting of our founder, Rose Hawthorne, on the wall. Rose was the daughter of American author Nathaniel Hawthorne, and her lineage traces back to the original Massachusetts Bay Colonists who first settled on Plymouth Rock.  

Rose went from the society pages to the streets of New York to care for poor people dying of cancer. She was later joined by her friend and former art instructor, Alice Huber. Together, they founded the Congregation of St. Rose of Lima, and in 1900, the two friends were accepted into  

The Dominican Third Order. Their community was established as a congregation of religious sisters, they were given the Dominican habit, and were called The Servants of Relief for Incurable Cancer. In 1901, after the establishment of the motherhouse in Hawthorne, New York, the order became known informally as the Hawthorne Dominicans. 

Rose became Mother Mary Alphonsa of the Hawthorne Dominicans and Like Saint Dominic who was full of solicitude for all of humanity, she was moved with tender compassion for the most neglected and marginalized segment of society in her day, people who were called the cancerous poor. 

Over the years with Alice and their congregation, Mother Alphonsa established seven free cancer homes across the country. Our Lady of Good Counsel, now Our Lady of Peace, was the sixth, opening its doors on the day Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941. 

The Dominicans Sisters of Hawthorne were united in a mission to provide free care, and their special skill of caring for the dying was learned on the job, with knowledge passed from one caregiver to the next. In the 1970s this special care became known as “hospice.”  

The Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne continue to serve 

As of 2013, the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne order numbered fifty-three sisters who continue to serve at motherhouse on Rosary Hill in New York and at homes in Philadelphia and Atlanta. The sisters say: 

We live and pray in a holy tradition that dates back to the time of Saint Dominic in the 13th Century. Traditions of the Dominican Order, such as 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. We are committed to the traditional pillars of Dominican Life: Prayer, Community Life, Study, and Preaching. As Dominicans, we are charged to preach to and serve the people of God. We preach God’s love and His healing presence in the world today through our ministry to his sick poor. Each Sister is challenged to balance the two dimensions of Dominican life – contemplative and active – in her own life. 

Some of the information within this blog post excerpted from the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne website and a Ramsey County History Magazine article, entitled, Our Lady of Good Counsel/Our Lady of Peace: Two Names, Decades of Daily Mercy, and Innumerable Blessings at St. Paul’s Free Hospice Home. Click here to access the article.