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A Poet and the makings of a Saint

Francis Bennoch, 1812-1890 by William Ridgway after Alexander Johnston. Source : The Victorian Web (National Scottish Portrait Gallery.)

Lying aside one of the inner pathways in Ladywell cemetery close to the Wall of Remembrance is a toppled headstone whose inscription is partially obscured. The inscription is of a nineteenth century Scottish born poet and patron of the arts called Francis Bennoch (d.1890) and his wife Margaret (d.1893).  Having established himself as a successful businessman in the City of London he began to refine his literary tastes and publish volumes of his own poetry. Although not as successful as a poet, he enjoyed friendships with many of the most famous literary figures of the day, including Dickens and Wordsworth. It also brought him into contact with the well known American novelist, Nathaniel Hawthorne. Their friendship was to last for a lifetime and Hawthorne spent time with his family at Bennoch's house in Blackheath. Francis Bennoch married Yorkshire born Margaret Raine in 1838. Their marriage was childless. He died in a railway carriage in Kempen, Germany - Margaret died at Keats Cottage, Hampstead.

Nathaniel Hawthorne Jr. (1804- 1864) was an American novelist who wrote The Scarlet Letter.  He is also the writer of The House of the Seven Gables and other short stories and is regarded as one of America's greatest authors. Source : Classic Literature Wikipedia.

He described Francis Bennoch as ' The dear and valued friend, who, by his generous and genial hospitality and unfailing sympathy, contributed so largely to render Mr. Hawthorne's residence in England agreeable and homelike, his ENGLISH NOTES were dedicated to Mr Bennoch.

One of Nathaniel Hawthorne's daughter's Rose got married in 1871 to a George Parsons Lathrop and the couple converted to Catholicism in 1891 , although their marriage was a troubled one due to her husband's alcoholism. Following George's death in 1898, Rose sought greater purpose in her life and spent time with the Sisters of Charity and worked tirelessly with the poor and sick living in the Lower East Side of New York City. In 1900, Rose founded a new religious order, the order was named the Servants of Relief for Incurable Cancer; she became its first Mother Superior, with the name Mother Mary Alphonsa. Known as the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne and now located in New York state they specialize in caring for those suffering from terminal cancer and having no financial resources. Rose died in 1926. The Rose Hawthorne Guild was established to promote Mother Mary Alphonsa's cause for Canonisation.  In 2003, Cardinal Edward Egan, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York, approved the movement for Mother Mary Alphonsa's canonisation. She now has the title "Servant of God" in the Catholic Church. I often stop in a reflective moment at the Bennoch's neglected headstone and bring to mind the image of a young Rose's carefree summer at the Bennoch household and how she was later inspired to commit herself to the cause of those with incurable cancer. As in her eyes, those in such need were always “Christ’s Poor "

Mother Mary Alphonsa in her habit (photo-Wikipedia)

Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, was the daughter of the famous American author Nathaniel Hawthorne, and the foundress of the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne.  For a fuller account of her life - this 2019 podcast offers an excellent overview. The Woman of Compassion - Mother Mary Alphonsa, OP The OP denotes Order of Preachers, the name of the Dominican Order.

Francis Bennoch's last resting place in Ladywell cemetery lies forlornly broken and toppled (photo by author)

The poem below was composed by Francis Bennoch and could be said to neatly encapsulate his genial and generous approach to living.

If wealth thou art wooing, or title, or fame,

There is that in the doing brings honour or shame;

There is something in running life's perilous race,

Will stamp thee as worthy, or brand thee as base.

      Oh, then, be a man — and, whatever betide,

      Keep truth thy companion, and honour thy guide.

 ' Truth and Honour' c.1849 .

Francis Bennoch's obituary appeared in the New York Times in July 1890.

His obituary also appeared in the Athenaeum the same month , in which he is described as a' most amiable and benevolent fellow', who helped many a struggling artist, and man of letters.