By George Reed, Retired Executive Director of the NC Council of Churches
The New York Times Sunday Magazine for May 15, 2016 – the annual health issue – focused entirely on cancer. Its last article, “Standard of Care,” was about a Catholic nursing home in New York which provides care for those who are dying of cancer and can’t afford care elsewhere. Rosary Hill Home does not accept payment from patients, patients’ families, or the government. As I read the brief article, accompanied by beautiful photographs of some of the nuns at Rosary, I thought how much the place reminded me of where Sr. Evelyn Mattern spent her last weeks in Philadelphia. Then the NYT article noted that “the Hawthorne Dominicans also operate similar homes in Atlanta and Philadelphia.” Sure enough, the Sacred Heart Home in Philadelphia, where Evelyn moved in October 2003 and passed at the end of that November, is one of the three homes run by the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne. My son and I visited Evelyn there shortly before her passing and found it to be a place of simplicity, compassion, and peace. Part of the money contributed to the NC Council of Churches in memory of Sr. Evelyn was given to the Sacred Heart Home in appreciation for their care of our dear friend and colleague.
I learned from this article and from Gail Kelley (a friend of the NC Council and a longtime friend and colleague of Evelyn) that the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne were founded by Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, who was a daughter of Nathaniel Hawthorne, the American novelist of the mid-1800s. In words that sound like today’s hospice movement, Rose Hawthorne said that their mission was to “assure the dignity and value of [their patients’] final days, and keep them comfortable and free of pain.” The NY Times quotes the article’s photographer, Gillian Laub, whose mother-in-law died at Rosary Hill Home last September: “It doesn’t feel like a place of death. It feels like a place of living.” The sisters care for those of all religions; Laub’s mother-in-law was Jewish.
There’s a powerful symmetry here which I now more fully grasp – Sr. Evelyn, a Ph.D. in literature from the University of Pennsylvania, returned home to Philadelphia to live her last days in a place looking out on a park where she played as a child and in the care of compassionate nuns whose order’s name goes back to a great American author and who shared Evelyn’s life-long commitment to those who are poor and vulnerable.
Thanks to the NY Times for this unexpected reminder of Sr. Evelyn and other compassionate and caring sisters.