CONCORD, Mass. — Moving the remains of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s wife to the family plot here had what it takes to capture the public’s imagination: love, death, religion and intimations of immortality.

Yet the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne, founded by the famous author’s daughter, Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, were not prepared for the storm of publicity they received after announcing the move.

“This has taken us totally by surprise,” Sister Mary de Paul Mullen told the Register, after completing an interview with National Public Radio. The director of nursing at the order’s cancer care facility in Hawthorne, N.Y., Sister Mary De Paul was serving for a couple of weeks in June as the order’s media contact person. “All we wanted to do was take care of our foundress’ family, as we have always done. But what has attracted everyone’s attention is that this is a love story, the love between Nathaniel and his wife, Sophia, who were buried an ocean apart, but now will be reunited.”

At the heart of the story also is the Catholic practice of reverencing the remains of the dead as a sign of faith in the resurrection, she noted.

“There are no coincidences in God’s design,” she added. “This is a wonderful opportunity for us to witness to our faith, and also to gain recognition for our foundress. We could not have paid for this kind of publicity.”

The cause for canonization of Rose Hawthorne, known in religious life as Mother Alphonsa, was opened recently at the Vatican. A convert to Catholicism, she founded the Servants of Relief for Incurable Cancer in 1900 on New York City’s lower East Side, with Alice Huber (Mother Rose), to care for destitute and incurable cancer patients. A visiting priest, Dominican Father Clement Thuente, suggested that they become Dominican nuns. Today, the order operates five homes for patients in four states, and recently opened a facility in Kenya.

Rose, who died in 1926, is buried at the Dominican motherhouse in Hawthorne.

Hawthorne, author of The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables, died in Plymouth, N.H., in 1864, and was buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, where other literary lights such as Henry David Thoreau and Louisa May Alcott also rest. After his death, Hawthorne’s wife brought the couple’s children — Una, Rose and Julian — to England, where they had lived when Hawthorne was a diplomat. Sophia died there in 1871, and Una in 1877. Both were buried at Kensal Green in London. Rose returned to the United States and married George Lathrop, with whom she had one child before he died.

Love Story

The modern love story began after the Dominican Sisters learned that the Hawthorne gravesites in Kensal Green needed extensive repairs following a storm. The sisters, who had paid for the upkeep of the graves for decades, decided to bring the remains of the two women to the Hawthorne plot in Concord. Among the Hawthorne great-grandchildren who agreed to the move was Joan Deming Ensor, 93, of Redding, Conn.

“We gave our consent gladly, and thought it was an excellent idea,” she told the Associated Press.

A public ceremony was held June 26 at The Old Manse in Concord, where the Hawthornes had once lived, with talks by elected officials and Hawthorne descendants, and prayers by Dominican Father Carleton Jones, himself a convert. Several Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne also attended.

A local funeral home, Charles Dee’s, which has been in business since before the Civil War, heard about the re-interment and offered an old horse-drawn hearse for use, believed to have carried the Alcotts and Emersons. “Mr. Dee had one of his employees give it a good tune up last week — polishing it and greasing the wheels,” Sister Mary de Paul said. “The manager of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Patricia Hopkins, found someone to loan us a horse for the day.”

The interment at Sleepy Hollow was private.

The Dominican Sisters seek to impart Christ’s love and compassion to incurable cancer patients in their final days, Sister Mary de Paul said, and are accustomed to dealing with death and burials. They take only patients who have been declared incurable by physicians, and provide them with modern palliative care, treating their pain and keeping them comfortable in a homelike setting. Daily Mass, prayer and Eucharistic adoration are essential to the ministry of the sisters, who seek to serve Christ in the suffering and dying patients. They have kept the practice of the founders, existing solely on donations and accepting no direct payment from patients or any other private or public sources. The motherhouse is in Hawthorne, N.Y., a Westchester County town named for the foundress.

The sisters were not looking to publicize the transfer of the Hawthorne remains until they were approached by Barbara Ewen — a member of the Board of the Friends of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery — who also runs a public relations firm.

“When I heard about the remains of Sophia and Una being moved, I tracked down Sister Mary de Paul and asked if I might be involved in the media outreach,” Ewen said. Calling it a “positive, feel-good story,” Ewen said that “Sophia and Nathaniel were a devoted, loving couple who supported each other throughout their marriage. Both are of historical significance — he as one of the most acclaimed American authors, and she as one of the forward-thinking and much-written-about Peabody sisters.”

Ewen wrote a press release that was picked up by the Boston Globe, and then the Associated Press, and suddenly the story of the Dominican Sisters and their foundress’ family was transmitted worldwide. Media outlets were particularly fond of a quote from Sophia that Ewen provided.

While Sophia was forced to convalesce from an illness in Portugal while Nathaniel was living in England, she wrote: “I once thought that no power on earth should ever induce me to live without thee, and especially thought an ocean should never roll between us.”

Maria Caulfield is based in

Wallingford, Connecticut.