Mother of Exiles

Sun flashing and gleaming
on the shining sea
     stretching far beyond the bridge.
But my eyes strayed not so far out.
Wreathed in light,
     gentle foam lapping her island pedestal,
          stands the American Colossus.
From the rooftop thirty stories up,
     my back turned to all the gaudy garishness of the metropolis,
     I glimpse the woman
     who incarnates our nation’s indelible ideals.

In her 1883 sonnet, Emma Lazarus hailed the Statue of Liberty as the Mother of Exiles. On the lips of Lady Liberty, Lazarus placed that well-known call:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Lazarus’ friend, Rose Hawthorne, the daughter of the great American novelist, confronted the reality of these tired poor: masses eaten away by cancer, huddled in cramped tenements or abandoned in filthy alleyways. At least Lazarus, when she early succumbed to cancer, spent those last days in comfort and luxury. These tired men and women, on the other hand, society truly seemed to discard as wretched refuse. Without healthcare or the means to obtain it, the poor died of cancer in squalor, discomfort, and loneliness, often without the love that affirms human dignity.

Who was there to care for them? Who was the mother of these exiles? Who was there to hear their cry? “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him” (Ps. 34:6) and sent a mother.

Encountering the terrible conditions in which the incurably ill cancer-ridden poor wasted away, Rose sensed a call. Training as nurse, she began moving the dying off the streets and into clean apartments, caring for them with love until the hour of their deaths.

Others flocked to join this full-blooded American in what blossomed into a Congregation of Dominican Sisters. Nourished by their religious vows and communal prayer, the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne still provide loving care to those suffering from incurable cancer who are unable to afford treatment.

In responding to God’s vocation for her, Rose lived that bold all-embracing charity Lazarus attributed to the Statue of Liberty: Give me your tired, your poor. Following the example of their foundress, these sisters cry out to receive the neglected, the discarded. In a society that increasingly embraces the pseudo-mercy of euthanasia, these sisters provide an environment in which men and women can truly die with dignity: under the loving eyes, the joyful smiles, and gentle care of those who know the source of love, joy and comfort.

Rose Hawthorne and her sisters became mothers of exiles, emulating the Mother of Mercy, the most true Mother of Exiles. The Lord of mercy gave her to us all as Mother. To her we call: Turn then, most gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus, O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary!

Photo by Rehan Syed

From Dominicana Journal