Pope clears for sainthood nun who cared for Hansen’s Disease patients on Molokai


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 — soon after the death of Hawaii’s Saint Damien — will be canonized as a saint during 2012.

In a news release issued yesterday by the Diocese of Honolulu, Bishop Larry Silva said: “We are twice blessed in Hawaii with the recent canonization of St. Damien (2009) and now with the canonization of this woman of great intelligence, dedication and love.”

Following a Dec. 6 ruling by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes for Saints that a second miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Marianne Cope was an inexplicable medical recovery, Pope Benedict XVI yesterday proclaimed Blessed Marianne Cope a saint. (To become a saint, you need to instigate two miracles.) A date for the 2012 canonization ceremony is yet to be determined. 
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 and the name “Sr Marianne” and began working as a teacher and principal in several elementary schools in New York state.

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 sole 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.'”Hawaii_Molokai_saint

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 (today Blessed Damien is known as the “Apostle to Lepers”) moved to the island to live among the patients and minister to them.

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 reportedly 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