Here in upstate New York you will find the shrine of one of our many courageous religious: Saint Marianne Cope. Her work with the lepers on the island of Molokai, Hawaii, was both heroic and inspirational.
Born in Germany in 1838, she was one of ten children. Her family emigrated to the U.S. when she was one year old and settled in Utica, New York, where they became members of Saint Joseph's Parish. Although she felt called to the religious life from an early age she delayed entering the convent for 9 years in order to take care of her father. In 1862 she entered the order of the Sisters of Saint Francis in Syracuse, New York. She began serving as a teacher and principal in several elementary schools as well as participating in the establishment of the first two hospitals in the area. In 1870 she became the nurse-administrator for Saint Joseph's Hospital in Syracuse, where she served on the board for six years. She gained a reputation for serving "outcast" patients that others refused to treat.
Mother Marianne and six other Sisters of St. Francis arrived in Honolulu on November 8, 1883. The first task was to establish order at Branch Hospital at Kakaako, Oahu, which was a receiving station for patients with leprosy gathered from all over the islands. Nearby at Kewal Basin there is a statue erected and blessed in 2010 in honor of the 125th anniversary of her arrival. By 1885 the Sisters' hard work resulted in major improvements to the living conditions of the patients and in November of that year Mother Marianne led the founding of the Kapiolani Home inside the hospital for the healthy daughters of leprosy patients at Kakaako and Kalawao.
In 1883 Mother Marianne, now the Provincial Mother in Syracuse, received a letter from Fr. Leonore Fousnel, a priest emissary charged by the King and Queen of Hawaii, asking for the sisters to help in establishing a nursing system, in particular one for leprosy patients in the Sandwich Islands (now known as the Hawaiian Islands). She enthusiastically responded: " I am hungry for the work...I am not afraid of any disease; hence it would be my greatest delight even to minister to the abandoned lepers".
Mother Marianne met Fr. Damien de Veuster for the first time in 1884. In 1887 a new government took charge of the islands and closed the Oahu hospital and receiving station, thereby reinforcing the policy of isolating patients at Molokai. After an offer from the Bishop to provide funds for establishment for the now-homeless women and girls at the Molokai settlement, the government asked for Mother Marianne's help. Her eager acceptance took her to Molokai just several months before the death of Father Damien. After his death Blessed Marianne took charge of the Boys Home at Kalawao for 5 years until the arrival of the Sacred Heart Brothers.
She spent the rest of her life caring for the lepers and of natural causes in 1918 at the age of 80. She was buried on the grounds of the Bishop Home until her remains were exhumed in 2005, shortly before her Beatification and brought to Saint Anthony's Convent and Mother House Chapel in Syracuse.
Mother Marianne Cope became Saint Marianne Cope on October 21, 2012.
Sources: The above information and photograph provided courtesy of The Shrine of Blessed Marianne Cope, Syracuse, New York.