Spirit of St. Marianne Cope Lives On

“Where others feared to tread, Mother Marianne reached out to those in need:  the sick, the elderly, the alcoholic, the outcast,” said Bishop Robert Cunningham during a 2011 liturgy at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse, N.Y.  Hundreds of faithful filled the cathedral to celebrate the feast day of Mother Marianne Cope, a leader in the religious community of the Sisters of St. Francis in Syracuse.

Graced with a heart of compassion for the outcasts of society, in 1883 she was the only one of 50 religious superiors to say “yes” in response to a plea from Hawaiian officials for sisters to provide care to people with Hansen’s disease (leprosy) in Hawaii.

Born in Utica, N.Y., Mother Marianne Cope joined the Sisters of St. Francis in 1862 from her home parish of St. Joseph’s. A natural leader, as a member of the governing board of the Sisters of St. Francis, she participated during the 1860s in the establishment of two of the first Catholic hospitals in the central New York area, St. Elizabeth’s in Utica (1866) and St. Joseph’s in Syracuse (1869).

Graced with a heart of compassion for the outcasts of society, in 1883 she was the only one of 50 religious superiors to say “yes” in response to a plea from Hawaiian officials for sisters to provide care to people with Hansen’s disease (leprosy) in Hawaii.

Immersed in the ministry of caring for the patients suffering with leprosy, she spent 35 years in Hawaii, first serving as head of a hospital for leprosy patients in the Honolulu area where she established an orphanage and school for their children. Her legacy includes founding of the first general hospital on the island of Maui in 1884.

She extended the Franciscan sisters’ mission in Hawaii to Kalaupapa, Molokai in 1888, where she established a home for female patients.  “We will cheerfully accept the work . . .,” she courageously responded, and after the death of Father Damien DeVeuster (now saint) in 1889 she took over the home he had established for men and boys.

As Mother Marianne cared for patients in a clean and safe environment, she was known to be far ahead of her time. For example, at Kalaupapa, she brought joy to patients as she instructed them in the activities of color harmony, needlework and landscaping.  In addition, no Franciscan sister ever contracted Hansen’s disease while caring for patients.

Today, the legacy of Mother Marianne continues its far-reaching effects in health care and education in many ways. In Syracuse and Utica, N.Y. St. Joseph and St. Elizabeth Hospitals, sponsored ministries of the Sisters of St. Francis, continue to provide holistic care to community residents.

In Hawaii, sisters offer faith-based medical care to meet the growing needs of Hawaii’s senior population at St. Francis Healthcare System in Honolulu. Meanwhile, a well-educated and caring faculty at St. Francis School in Honolulu provides quality Catholic education to students from preschool to grade 12. Both are sponsored ministries of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities. At Kalaupapa, Molokai, the sisters maintain the continuity of their comforting presence to the few patients with Hansen’s disease who are living there.

In 2003, Pope John Paul II issued the decree naming Mother Marianne venerable. A year later, he ordered a decree to be issued authenticating a miracle attributed to Mother Marianne’s intercession. On May 14, 2005 she was beatified. The verification of a second miracle attributed to the intercession of Mother Marianne occurred in 2011 along with an announcement by Pope Benedict XVI that she will be proclaimed a saint. A date for the 2012 canonization ceremony is yet to be determined.

Mother Marianne’s earthly remains are located at St. Anthony Convent, 1024 Court Street, Syracuse, N.Y., 13208, where the Shrine and Museum of St. Marianne Cope are also open to the public. For more information, visit www.blessedmariannecope.org or phone 315.422.7999.

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