Canonization ceremony set for nun who cared for Molokai Hansen’s Disease patients


The Vatican announced this week that Blessed Marianne Cope — a Roman Catholic nun who cared for Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) patients on Molokai for three decades beginning in the late 1880s — will be named as a saint during a canonization ceremony set for Sun. Oct. 21.

The ceremony at the Vatican in Rome will mark completion of the canonization process for Mother Marianne, who will be venerated as a saint in the Catholic Church. Also, a special day on the annual church calendar, Jan. 23 (Blessed Marianne’s birthday), will be designated as her “feast day,” according to a news release issued by the Syracuse N.Y.-based Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities.

“Learning the date for the canonization ceremonies completes the cycle of 37 years of efforts to get us to this moment,” Sister Patricia Burkard, general minister of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities, said in the release.

The Sisters of St. Francis petitioned Pope Paul VI to open the cause for Mother Marianne’s canonization in 1974. Nine years later, an official registration took place, which then led to the titles of venerable, blessed and, now, saint. Canonization is conferred when the Vatican attributes two cases of miracles to a candidate for sainthood. In 2004 and 2011, Vatican officials ruled that cases of inexplicable medical recovery were due to Mother Marianne’s intercession.  

Barbara Koob (now officially “Cope”) was born on Jan. 23 1838 in West Germany. The next year, her family moved to the United States and settled in Utica, N.Y. At age 24, Barbara entered the Sisters of St Francis in Syracuse, N.Y., where she received the religious habit, the name “Sister Marianne” and began working as a teacher and principal in several elementary schools in New York state.Hawaii_Honolulu_Molokai_saint

In 1883, when an emissary from Hawaii sent letters seeking Catholic sisters to provide health care on the Hawaiian Islands, especially to patients with Hansen’s Disease, Mother Marianne was the only religious leader — out of 50 contacted — to respond positively.

She reportedly wrote to the emissary: “I am not afraid of any disease, hence, it would be my greatest delight even to minister to the abandoned “lepers.'”

More than 10 years earlier, thousands of Hansen’s Disease patients throughout the Islands had been sent by government order to Molokai’s isolated Kalaupapa peninsula. In 1873, Father Damien de Veuster moved to the island to live among the patients and minister to them. (Saint Damien was canonized in 2009.)

Mother Marianne first met Father Damien in January 1884, when he was in apparent good health. Two years later, in 1886, after he had been diagnosed with Hansen’s Disease, Mother Marianne was reportedly the only religious leader to offer hospitality to the priest. (His illness made him an unwelcome visitor to church and government leaders in Honolulu.)

Several months before Father Damien’s death in 1889, at age 49, Mother Marianne agreed to provide care for the patients at the Boys’ Home at Kalawao that he had founded. Subsequently, Mother Marianne, along with two other nuns, ran the Bishop Home (for girls) and the Home for Boys at Kalawao.

Mother Marianne never returned to Syracuse, and neither she nor the two nuns she worked with contracted Hansen’s Disease. Mother Marianne died on Aug. 9, 1918 in Hawaii and was buried on the grounds of Bishop Home.

For more information about Blessed Marianne Cope’s work in the Islands, click here.

Categories: Molokaʻi