September 19, 2008

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Possible U.S. saints: Sr. Marianne Cope

John F. Fink(Seventeenth in a series of columns)

Back in the Nov. 24, 2000, issue, I wrote about Father Damien de Veuster, the “leper priest” of Molokai, Hawaii.

He is one of the U.S. blesseds, beatified in 1995. He went to the leper colony on Molokai in 1873.

Ten years later, Venerable Marianne Cope answered the plea for a community of nuns to nurse the sick poor in Hawaii, especially the lepers on Molokai. She was then 45 years old and the provincial of the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis in Syracuse, N.Y. She was to spend 35 years serving the victims of Hansen’s disease in Hawaii.

Mother Marianne was born Barbara Cope in Heidelberg, Germany. Her family came to the United States when she was 1, and settled in Utica, N.Y. She entered religious life when she was 24, and taught at elementary schools in northern New York for eight years. Then she was appointed chief administrator of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse before being elected provincial.

After Father Damien established his mission among the lepers, the vicar apostolic of Hawaii sent letters to more than 50 religious congregations seeking sisters to work on Molokai. Mother Marianne replied enthusiastically then convinced the Father Provincial of the Franciscan community to allow six sisters to go to Hawaii. Mother Marianne accompanied them to Hawaii to establish the new ministry, but the plan was for her to return to Syracuse to continue her work as provincial.

Once in Hawaii, though, it became apparent that Mother Marianne was needed there. When Father Damien contracted terminal leprosy in 1884, there was no possibility that Mother Marianne would return to Syracuse.

By 1888, Mother Marianne had opened three facilities: a general hospital on Maui, the Kapiolani Home for healthy girls of leprous parents on Oahu, and the

C. R. Bishop Home for homeless women and girls with leprosy on the Kalaupapa peninsula at Molokai. In 1888, the Hawaiian Board of Health required all lepers to be transferred to Molokai. Mother Marianne moved there, but continued to care for her sisters’ spiritual needs in other parts of Hawaii. The sisters on Oahu continued to care for the children at Kapiolani Home.

Father Damien died in 1889, and Mother Marianne began to care for his boys as well as for her girls. She always insisted on strict sanitary procedures, and no sister ever contracted the highly contagious Hansen’s disease.

She had to worry about more than the health of the lepers. It was dangerous for women lepers, and she insisted that the women on Molokai be protected from groups of drunken men who attacked those who had no police to guard them. There were also predators who awaited the girls and boys as they arrived in the settlement.

In 1902, Mother Marianne wrote to her nephew, Paul Cope, “I am working for God, and do so cheerfully. How many graces did he not shower down on me, from my birth till now.”

She died at Kalaupapa on Molokai in 1918 when she was 80. †

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