Mother Marianne Cope joins Father Damien de Veuster as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church. The two are also joined in their service to Hawaii, caring for victims of Hansen’s disease (leprosy).Mother Marianne Cope in 1883, the same year she arrived in Honolulu.

Mother Marianne came to Hawaii in response to a letter asking for someone to take charge of hospitals and minister to the sick of Hawaii. The letter was sent to many medical or nursing groups but Mother Marianne was the only one to respond favorably. She chose six women from 35 volunteers in her community of Franciscan sisters in Syracuse, New York. They arrived at Honolulu Harbor on Nov. 8, 1883 to the ringing of bells from Our Lady of Peace Cathedral.

Mother Marianne established Malulani Hospital on Maui, the first general hospital on that island and took over operation of a hospital at Kakaako, which was then an area adjoining Honolulu. She also founded a home for the female children of parents with Hansen’s disease, allowing them to live in the Kapiolani Home on the same grounds as the hospital for their parents. At that time, there was a hospital and receiving station on Oahu for those with Hansen’s disease – not all new patients were sent to Molokai. However, that changed in 1887, and Mother Marianne moved with her patients to the small island, founding a home for women and children at the Kalaupapa settlement.Mother Marianne will be recognized as a saint later this year.

Mother Marianne had first met Father Damien (now known as Saint Damien of Molokai) when he visited Oahu shortly after her arrival in Hawaii. Her move to Molokai came several months before his death in 1889. She took over as his successor at the Boy’s Home, building a new facility and then handing over its administration to Brothers of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. She dedicated the rest of her life to patients at Kalaupapa, dying there of natural causes in 1918. Members of her order continue the service. As she promised, none of them has contracted the disease. More than 60 Sisters of St. Francis serve today in schools, parishes and health care facilities on four islands of Hawaii.

Mother Marianne was awarded the medal of the Royal Order of Kapiolani by King Kalakaua for her service to the Kingdom. She also is the subject of a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson, who learned of her work during a visit to Hawaii in 1885. She will be elevated to saint on Oct. 21, 2012, along with Kateri Tekakwitha. (Both women had earlier been elevated to “blessed” status.) They are among seven who will be canonized on that date. It is the first time that two Americans will be canonized at the same time, and Blessed Kateri will become the first Native American Saint.

Photo Credit: Sisters of Saint Francis of the Neumann Communities

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