Jan 11, 2016

Saint Marianne Cope dedicated to the lepers of Molakai

Years ago when I read James Mitchner’s “Hawaii” I was impressed
by the part that dealt with the leper colony which was contagious. Today, Hansen’s Disease, as the preferred name, is curable. So great was the fear of contraction Hansen’s Disease that, in Hawaii, those with the disease were sent to Kalaupapa on the Hawaiian
island of Moloka’i. Kalaupapa was isolated as it was a projection of land bounded by a high sea cliff and the pounding ocean thus making it nearly inaccessible. When I was on Molokai I did not visit Kalaupapa, now a National Park, and now wish I had.  There are two ways to get there, on a prearranged tour down a 3.5-mile treacherous trail on a mule or flying in but that costs several hundred dollars. Guess that’s why John and I didn’t go. I contented myself to looking down on the settlement and reading the sign boards atop the sea cliffs.

Saint Marianne Cope of the Order of St. Francis is also known as
Saint Marianne of Moloka’i.  I recently visited the Saint Marianne Cope Shrine and Museum in Syracuse where I learned about her dedication to those banished to Kalaupapa. In 1883, Sister Cope received a plea for help caring for the leprosy sufferers from King Kalakaua. More than 50 religious groups had declined but not Cope . She replied, “I am not afraid of any disease, hence it would be my greatest delight even to minster to the abandoned lepers.” In October of that year Cope and six sisters left Syracuse for Hawai’i. One was Sister Leopoldina who chronicled their time helping lepers.  Not one of the sisters contracted leprosy. 

The sisters took the train to California then a week-long sea trip to Hawaii. Sr. Marianne was very seasick, which is probably the reason she never left the islands. In Maui she founded St. Anthony’s Schools and the island’s first hospital. It must have come naturally because she was instrumental in opening two of the first Catholic hospitals in Central New York: St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Utica and St. Joseph Hospital Health Center in Syracuse. 

In 1888 the sisters moved to Kalaupapa to care for those with
Hansen’s disease. In addition to bringing professional hospital care she sought to improve the patients’ quality of life by treating them with dignity and respect. The Saint Marianne Cope Shrine and Museum has excellent displays dealing with her life, her time in Hawaii and her road to sainthood.  Displays included her trunk, desk and Sister Leopoldina’s journal relating their time at Kalaupapa. She took charge of the home Father Damien had established for men and boys.  She introduced cleanliness, pride and fun for the people.  Bright scarves and pretty dresses for the women and games for the children was part of her approach. Today there are only a few permanent residents.

Her life is inspirational.  I am in awe of anyone who dedicates their life to a cause that benefits mankind.  She said, “Let us make the very best use of the precious moments…” and “What little good we can do in this world to help and comfort the suffering, we wish to do it quietly and so far as possible unnoticed and unknown.”  Her work did not go unnoticed or unknown. Marianne Cope died in 1918 and was beatified in 2005 and canonized in 2012. Her reliquary at the shrine is flanked by feathered standards of honor reserved for Hawaiian royalty.