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 CNS Story:

HAWTHORNE Jun-29-2006 (790 words) With photo. xxxn

Hawthorne Dominicans bring remains of founder's mother, sister home

By Claudia McDonnell
Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) -- Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of "The Scarlet Letter" and other classics of American letters, left more than a literary legacy.

His daughter Rose, a convert to Catholicism, founded the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne, who have provided free care to poor cancer patients for more than 100 years.

Hawthorne and his wife, Sophia, had a deeply happy and loving marriage but were separated in death. Nathaniel Hawthorne was buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Mass., the town where the Hawthorne family had lived for some years.

The widowed Sophia Hawthorne and the couple's three children moved to England; Sophia and her daughter Una died there and were buried in London.

Now the remains of Sophia and Una Hawthorne are being brought home for burial beside Nathaniel Hawthorne, thanks to the Hawthorne Dominicans and some of their friends on both sides of the Atlantic.

"It's the right thing to do," said Mother Anne Marie Holden, superior general, who is based at the motherhouse at Rosary Hill Home in Hawthorne, N.Y.

The sisters visit the grave in Concord -- all are taken there as novices -- and Mother Anne Marie remarked that they have always wished that the Hawthornes could be buried together. Now they will be, but the relocation of the graves is more than a wish fulfilled.

To the sisters' surprise, media interest in the story and in the tender love of Sophia and Nathaniel Hawthorne has generated interest in Rose Hawthorne and her work.

That is particularly important to the congregation now, because its founder's cause for canonization has been introduced in Rome. In religious life she was known as Mother Alphonsa.

Dominican Sister Mary de Paul Mullen, director of nursing at Rosary Hill Home, said in an interview with Catholic New York, the archdiocesan newspaper, that the congregation had tried to have a movie made about Rose Hawthorne's life. The project was too costly, she said, and it was dropped.

Now a tide of publicity is rushing in. Sister Mary de Paul said she was "weary with excitement" after being interviewed by reporters from media outlets in North America and overseas.

"We had no idea that it would have world repercussions," she told Catholic New York. "They're interested in England, in Canada, in Australia, in India. We couldn't have paid for this, couldn't have made it happen. But it happened."

How it happened is a tale that's worthy of Nathaniel Hawthorne himself.

After he died in 1864, his wife had to manage on a more modest income; she moved to Europe with the couple's children -- including son Julian -- because it was cheaper to live there. They went first to Germany and then to England, which they loved.

Sophia Hawthorne died in 1871, Una Hawthorne in 1877. They were buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, now the oldest English cemetery still in operation. For many years daughter Rose's religious community paid for the upkeep of the Hawthorne plot.

Early last year the cemetery superintendent notified the sisters that the plot needed extensive and costly repairs. The roots of a hawthorn tree planted there had damaged the graves; then the tree had fallen and knocked over Una's headstone.

Sister Mary de Paul said the sisters were discussing the situation one day when one of them mentioned that grave markers had previously been placed alongside Nathaniel Hawthorne's plot to commemorate Sophia and Una. "Why don't we bring them back?" she asked.

"It was simpler than we thought," Mother Mary de Paul said. The congregation used an English company, Kenyon Christopher Henley International Funeral Directors, that specializes in repatriation of remains.

"They did everything they could to keep it cost-efficient for us," she said. The bill was $15,000. Sister Mary de Paul said the sisters also will pay for the vaults at the Concord cemetery; all other costs in the United States are being covered by donations.

A public ceremony in Concord June 26 marked the reburial of Sophia and Una Hawthorne. About 10 sisters, including Mother Anne Marie, attended that and a private interment ceremony.

Also taking part that day were members of the Nathaniel Hawthorne Society, a scholarly group whose members include Hawthorne Dominican Sister Mary Joseph Powers, administrator of St. Rose's Home in Manhattan. She told Catholic New York that moving the remains of the women to the graves in Concord was "very appropriate."

"Nathaniel and Sophia had a very loving marriage, and it was a close-knit family," she said. "It was difficult for them to be separated in life, so I think there's a kind of poetic justice in the fact that they're being brought together now."


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