Embracing a Call

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Did you know that Pope Benedict XVI canonized seven new saints on October 21, 2012?  During his homily he introduced each new saint, one by one.  Of the American saint we celebrate today, he said:

“I now turn to Marianne Cope, born in 1838 in Heppenheim, Germany.  Only one year old when taken to the United States, in 1862 she entered the Third Order Regular of Saint Francis at Syracuse, New York.  Later, as Superior General of her congregation, Mother Marianne willingly embraced a call to care for the lepers of Hawaii, after many others had refused.  She personally went, with six of her fellow sisters, to manage a hospital on Oahu, later founding Malulani Hospital on Maui and opening a home for girls whose parents were lepers.  Five years after that she accept the invitation to open a home for women and girls on the island of Molokai itself, bravely going there herself and effectively ending her contact with the outside world.  There she looked after Father Damien, already famous for his heroic work among the lepers, nursed him as he died and took over his work among male lepers.  At a time when little could be done for those suffering from this terrible disease, Marianne Cope showed the highest love, courage and enthusiasm.  She is a shining example of the best of the tradition of Catholic nursing sisters and the spirit of her beloved Saint Francis.”

Marianne Cope, born January 23, 1838, first entered the Sisters of St. Francis with a desire to teach.  She served as both a teacher and a principal for many years throughout the state of New York.  Her work was recognized and she began to do administrative work for the congregation, eventually working her way up to the governing boards.

She was a part of the opening of two hospitals in central New York and became the administrator of St. Joseph’s Hospital (Syracuse, NY) in 1870.  While there, she became a forerunner in hospital administration.  She advocated for important cleanliness measures, such as washing hands, before such practices were considered important; she helped begin a new era of medicine by allowing medical students to come into the hospital for clinical instruction; she was an advocate of patient’s rights for all of her patients, even the “outcasts”; and, she worked and trained alongside the doctors of hospital, gaining much medical information long before the start of nursing schools in the United States.

When a letter from Hawaii arrived, asking for help with their hospitals and schools, Mother Marianne did not hesitate.  On November 8, 1883, she arrived in Honolulu with six of her sisters to begin working.  Within the first year, she was put in charge of Branch Hospital, near Honolulu.  Her next achievement was the opening Kapiolani Home, which housed the children of leprosy patients, who otherwise would have become orphaned.

She also worked closely with Fr. (now Saint) Damien DeVeuster.  Fr. Damien was known as the “Apostle to the Lepers.”  In the course of his ministry, Fr. Damien contracted leprosy himself.  Mother Marianne made sure he was well cared for the rest of his days.  She continued to work, and remained in Hawaii until her own death on August 19, 1918.

Mother Marianne never backed down from a challenge.  Thanks to her work and dedication, the treatment of lepers in Hawaii was revolutionized; truly, her views of medicine and patients were ahead of her time.  Today, her legacy lives on both in New York and Hawaii.  The Sisters of St. Francis continue their work in both places.  The nature of their work may have changed with time, but their dedication and caring continues on.


 To learn more about St. Marianne Cope and the path to her canonization, click here.

To learn more about St. Damien DeVeuster, click here.

To read all of Pope Benedict’s homily from October 21, 2012, click here.