- The Washington Times - Friday, March 25, 2005

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The Sisters of St. Francis are waiting for a miracle.

That’s what it will take to bring sainthood to Franciscan Mother Marianne Cope, who abandoned the comfort of her Roman Catholic convent in upstate New York more than a century ago to help Hawaii’s lepers, and left a legacy of schools, orphanages and hospitals.

“We can wait,” said Sister Grace Anne Dillenschneider, assistant general minister of the Sisters of St. Francis. “We’ve waited all this time. We believe it’s only a matter of time.”

In December, Pope John Paul II accepted a report of one miracle attributed to the intervention of Mother Marianne. The case involved a Syracuse teenager who had suffered multiple organ failure and recovered after she was touched by a relic of Mother Marianne and prayers were offered seeking the nun’s intercession on the girl’s behalf. Mother Marianne is expected to be beatified as “Blessed Mother Marianne” in a May 15 Mass in St. Peter’s Square.

A second miracle attributed to her intercession is required for her to be canonized.

Mother Marianne was born Jan. 23, 1838, as Barbara Koob in Heppenheim, Germany, and moved to Utica, N.Y., in 1840. Her father supported the family of nine as a laborer. After eighth grade, Barbara was sent to work in a factory 12 hours a day. She also helped care for her ailing father and younger siblings, according to Sister Mary Laurence Hanley, who has written several books on Mother Marianne, who took religious vows in 1863 with Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis.

Before her work with Hawaii’s lepers, Mother Marianne established a legacy in New York. She helped found St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Utica in 1866, and three years later helped form Syracuse’s first hospital — now St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center. In 1877, she was elected provincial superior of her religious community.

Halfway around the globe, the Hawaiian government was confronted with a leprosy epidemic brought on by the mingling of outsiders with island natives.

Leprosy — also known as Hansen’s disease — was a mystery then to medical practitioners, who knew it was contagious but did not know how it was contracted. Lepers were routinely refused treatment, shunned and isolated in leper colonies.

Hawaiian officials exiled them to a peninsula on Molokai island where the Pacific Ocean and sheer, towering cliffs formed a natural prison. The lepers were left to fend for themselves. Women and children were frequently abused by the men, who spent their days drinking and gambling in filth and squalor.

In June 1883, the Rev. Leonor Fouesnel, a missionary in Hawaii, sought help managing hospitals and schools on the islands, but religious communities refused when they learned it was lepers who needed care.

Mother Marianne, however, volunteered.

“I am hungry for the work and I wish with all my heart to be one of the chosen ones, whose privilege it will be, to sacrifice themselves for the salvation of the souls of the poor islanders …,” she wrote. She and six other sisters arrived in Hawaii in November 1883 and within two years had greatly improved the living conditions and treatment for the 200 patients at the Kaka’ako Branch Hospital on Oahu.

After expanding the efforts of the Franciscan sisters throughout the islands, Mother Marianne and two other sisters went to Molokai. There, they helped the Rev. Damian DeVeuster, a Belgian missionary who also is a candidate for sainthood, run the Home for Boys at Kalowao, and start the Bishop Home for girls in Kalaupapa.

She had planned to stay only a few weeks but remained for 35 years, dying in Hawaii in 1918 at age 80.

“It’s just amazing someone so seemingly ordinary could accomplish something so wonderful and enduring,” said Sister Mary Eloise Emm, the community’s vicar for religious education.

The nun’s work in Hawaii inspired Robert Louis Stevenson, author of “Treasure Island” and other classics, to write a poem in tribute to Mother Marianne, heralding the “beauty, springing from the breast of pain!” that her work evoked.

The original handwritten poem is on display at the Motherhouse, where the sisters have set aside four rooms as a small museum honoring Mother Marianne.

It has been more than eight decades since the Franciscan nuns in Syracuse began compiling the historical record of inquiry that would be needed for Mother Marianne’s beatification.

As part of the process, Mother Marianne’s remains had to be exhumed and identified, and now her casket is in the convent’s chapel until the sisters can erect a permanent shrine. Visitors leave prayer requests in a basket nearby.

“To think that a saint in the making is in our midst is just powerful,” said Pat Perry, one of the first visitors.

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