By Blackfriars Staff
On December 6, 2018, Colleen O’Rourke- Heredia received a life-altering phone call. After experiencing medical symptoms that summer, she had visited several doctors in search of an explanation. An oncologist was on the line with the results of a biopsy: Colleen had an aggressive form of uterine cancer and would require immediate surgery.
The fifty-four-year-old wife and mother of two’s first thought was, “Oh my God, what am I going to do? Pray.” Prayer, her own and that of others, would carry Colleen forward from that moment.
Two days later, Colleen and her family attended Sunday Mass at their parish in Summit, New Jersey. Afterward, Colleen told Fr. Gregory Salamone, O.P., about her diagnosis.
“He said, ‘Colleen, I want to anoint you right now and I want to anoint your family,’” Colleen recalls. “It was just the most beautiful thing. He prayed for all of us and said, ‘Colleen, this is not only your diagnosis, but your family’s.’ Then he talked to me privately and said, ‘I want you to pray to Rose Hawthorne.’”
Servant of God Rose Hawthorne (1851- 1926), also known as Mother Mary Alphonsa, was the daughter of author Nathaniel Hawthorne and a convert to the Catholic faith. After her only child died of diptheria and her estranged husband of alcoholism, Rose devoted herself to caring for cancer sufferers among the urban poor. More women joined Rose’s ministry and, after becoming Dominican tertiaries, they formed the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne, who run a hospice in Hawthorne, New York, to this day.
Colleen entered the care of an oncologist at Sloan Kettering Memorial Cancer Center, formerly the New York Cancer Hospital, where Rose Hawthorne had been trained. The oncologist confirmed a grade three uterine tumor, and tests showed it had spread to Colleen’s lymph nodes. Removal of the uterus and lymph nodes would likely be followed by chemotherapy. Surgery was set for January 2, 2018.
The Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary, where Fr. Gregory served as chaplain, is an imposing edifice overlooking the town of Summit. In 2016, when Colleen’s son Sebastian was looking for a service project to make Eagle Scout, she suggested asking the contemplative Dominican nuns who lived there, hidden from the world, if they needed anything. The women requested a prayer garden with walkways to pray outdoors. They deliberated in prayer before inviting the scouts, Colleen, and her husband into the enclosure.
By the time of Colleen’s diagnosis, the project had gone on for two years, during which Colleen frequently accompanied her son to the monastery. “I’ve often reflected that, before I realized I had cancer, God brought me into that sacred space,’” Colleen recalls.
On the day of the surgery, the nuns texted Fr. John Devaney, O.P., Catholic chaplain at Sloan, and urged him to visit Colleen.
She recalls, “I’m in pre-op with my husband, and they’re putting in the IVs, when all of a sudden I hear a voice behind the curtain, ‘I’m looking for the mom of a Boy Scout!’”
Fr. John, himself an Eagle Scout, gave Colleen the sacraments and asked if she had ever heard of Rose Hawthorne.
“When I found out Colleen had been praying to her, I said, ‘let’s specifically ask God that, if it be His holy will, He would give you complete healing through the intercession of Rose Hawthorne.’”
As she was wheeled into the operating room for a four hour surgery, Colleen was at peace. Doctors removed her uterus and sent her lymph nodes for testing.
Ten days later, she received a call from the oncologist: “Colleen, we cannot find any cancer cells in those lymph nodes. Your tissues went to the top pathologist at Sloan Kettering. There is no medical explanation.” Colleen tested cancer-free and would not need chemotherapy.
Colleen visited the grave of Rose Hawthorne at the hospice run by her daughters and is now a novice in the third order (lay) Dominicans.
Fr. John is in the process of requesting testimony to the medical inexplicability of the cure from Colleen’s oncologist. This has the potential to elevate Rose Hawthorne to the rank of blessed.
Colleen is not concerned with the technicality. “I just want people to know that prayer works,” she says.