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The work for the incurable cancerous poor was started in the autumn of 1896 by Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, with one patient, in two little rooms at No. 1 Scammel Street, New York City. Shortly after, the whole Scammel Street block was pulled down to make room for a public school building, and a few rooms were secured at 688 Water Street, a dilapidated frame building where six, and sometimes (with considerable crowding) eight patients could be cared for. There she lived and worked alone until I came to live with her on March 25, 1898; however, I had been coming twice a week to help in the Relief Room from the time of our first meeting, December 15, 1897. While on Water Street we asked and obtained permission from Archbishop Corrigan to wear a semi-religious dress and to follow a rule of life; we were called “The Servants of Relief for Incurable Cancer,” and on January 24, 1901, we were incorporated under that title.
On May 1, 1899, 426 Cherry Street was opened and called St. Rose’s Free Home for Incurable Cancer; there we accommodated 16 patients. On September 14, 1899, Rev. Clement M. Thuente, O.P., with Archbishop Corrigan’s approval, received us as tertiaries of the Third Order of St. Dominic; the foundress was called Sister M. Alphonsa, and I, Sister M. Rose. Shortly after that time several postulants entered and we were granted permission to have the Blessed Sacrament in our little chapel, with Mass once a week.
In the autumn of 1900 we called on the Archbishop by appointment, and he told us that we had had a long and severe novitiate and that we could wear the habit of the Dominican Order and form a community. On the eighth of December, 1900, Rev. Clement M. Thuente, O.P. was sent by Archbishop Corrigan to give us the habit and to receive our vows; we were called the Congregation of St. Rose of Lima. Shortly afterwards the Archbishop sent us a copy of the Dominican Rule, with the advice to live up to it insofar as was consistent with our work.
On the first of June, 1901, Rosary Hill Home, Hawthorne, New York, was opened by Mother Alphonsa, who took with her one-half of the little community. That foundation was laid in great poverty and with much trouble and anxiety; the first postulants did not persevere, but they were soon succeeded by others. The first sisters had to suffer many privations; the house was cold and there was little money to meet expenses. Mother Alphonsa set them a splendid example of patient endurance, and as time went on matters improved.
On the fifteenth of December, 1912, the new St. Rose’s Home, at 71 Jackson Street, to replace the old St. Rose’s, was opened and blessed by Cardinal Farley. On April 24, 1924, St. Joseph’s Home, the first wing of the new building at Hawthorne, was opened and blessed by Rt. Rev. Msgr. James T. McEntyre, (our ecclesiastical superior and a friend of the work from its Water Street days). On the fifteenth of June, 1926, work on the remaining portion of the new fireproof home was commenced; all seemed bright and hopeful. Mother had worked hard for this new building, and we felt that a great step had been made. Our joy was saddened by the sudden death in the early morning of July 9, 1926, of Mother Alphonsa; her death was a terrible shock and a great sorrow. She left the work on a solid foundation with a growing community. The Rule is now approved by Cardinal Hayes, who has watched over and guided us as the shepherd of the flock. Let us follow it faithfully and keep the work for the cancerous poor in the spirit it was founded by our beloved and venerated Mother Alphonsa.