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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, August 11, 2001

Marianne Cope nearing sainthood

By Jean Chow
Advertiser Staff Writer

Mother Marianne Cope helped care for patients of Hansen's disease on MolokaÎi.

Advertiser library photo

Mother Marianne Cope, best known for her work with patients of Hansen's disease, also known as leprosy, at Kalaupapa, Moloka'i, is in line to be declared a saint, with her cause at a relatively advanced stage in Rome.

"A saint is a model of Christian virtue. Saints motivate us by their example to love God more fully and to serve our neighbors more unselfishly," said Sister Mary Laurence Hanley, director of Cope's "cause" — the effort to have Cope declared a saint.

"Mother Marianne did ordinary things in extraordinary, kind ways; her whole being was set to serve God and serve others."

Cope and Father Damien de Veuster, now known as Blessed Damien de Veuster, who was a priest at Kalaupapa, are the only two known people with Hawai'i connections being considered for sainthood, said Patrick Downes, editor of the Hawaii Catholic Herald.

Canonization — the confirmation by the Roman Catholic Church that a candidate's holiness is authentic and so outstanding as to be a heroic mode for all Christians — is a long process that can take years and even decades. The case must be evaluated by multiple levels of church officials, advancing from the title "Servant of God" to "Venerable," then "Blessed," before a candidate finally obtains the title of "Saint."

Cope has been already been named a Servant of God and reportedly is close to receiving the title Venerable, said Hanley.

For a candidate to receive the title of Blessed, theologians at the Vatican must confirm that candidate posthumously brought about a miracle. Cope's cause has reported a miracle — the purported recovery of a girl who appeared to be near death until her family prayed to Cope.

"It was called to our attention that many times people got as far as Venerable, but had no miracle case to evaluate," said Hanley, who is part of the Sisters of Saint Francis in Syracuse, N.Y., the convent to which Cope belonged. "Certainly (having a miracle) helps. We were recently informed that Mother Marianne's cause is among the first 150 of over 2,000 causes accepted for study (in Rome)."

Cope, who was born Barbara Koob in Germany in 1838, took the name Marianne in 1862 when she joined the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis in New York.

In 1883, the Hawaiian government began searching for people to run the Kaka'ako Branch Hospital, which served as a receiving station for Hansen's disease patients. That fall, Cope, then 45, and six other sisters arrived in Honolulu, where they began tending to 200 patients.

In 1888, Honolulu banker Charles Bishop presented the Hawaiian government with a donation of $5,000 to establish a home for girls in Kalaupapa, where Father Damien had been serving as resident priest.

The government approached Cope and asked her to supervise the new home. She accepted, and along with two other sisters, moved to Kalaupapa at age 45 to care for more than a hundred homeless girls who had been sent there without families. Following Father Damien's death in 1880, the sisters also took over his duty of managing the Home for Boys at Kalawao.

Cope remained in Kalaupapa, serving and caring for Hansen's disease patients, until she died at age 80 in 1918.

"I think just the mere fact that Mother Marianne took the initiative to come to Hawai'i and help the people here is already a miracle in itself," said Ah Chick.

Process of canonization

Under the Code of Canon Law of 1983, at least five years must pass after the person's death before a candidate's cause can be begun, to allow for greater balance and objectivity in evaluating the case and to let the emotions of the moment dissipate. Cope's cause officially began in 1983, 65 years after her death.

A promoter group wishing to start a cause must ask the bishop of the diocese in which the person died to begin the investigation into the candidate's life. Based on the reputation of the candidate's virtue, the bishop may decide to form a diocesan commission to collect documentation concerning the candidate.

In Cope's case, "we worked diligently in 1988 to research and put together 27 volumes of information," said Sister Davilyn Ah Chick, who belongs to the Hawai'i branch of Franciscan sisters. Material in the volumes include Cope's own writings, newspaper articles and memoirs of her sister companions.

Once the information is collected, a diocesan tribunal examines it and may call in witnesses. If the tribunal accepts everything, the case can proceed to Rome. At this point, the candidate receives the title Servant of God.

Once in Rome, the cause awaits examination by theologians who verify the candidate's heroic virtue. If accepted, the candidate receivesfrom the Pope, the title of Venerable.

In February, a diocesan tribunal in Syracuse completed its two-year study of a miracle attributed to Cope's intercession and has forwarded the results to Rome.

The purported miracle, which took place in New York, involves a 14-year old girl's complete recovery in 1992 from multiple organ system failure due to chemotherapy.

"She was at the brink of death," said Hanley, who visited the girl in the hospital. The girl's parents and relatives prayed to Cope, and today the woman is a healthy college graduate, Hanley said.

The woman, who does not remember anything about the period during which she was sick, believes that the miracle took place because so many people had prayed for her recovery, Hanley said. No other details of the miracle have been released, to protect the privacy of the woman.

For canonization, a second miracle must be confirmed. In Hawai'i, the Franciscan sisters hope to bring awareness to Cope's cause.

"We're working to promote literature on Mother Marianne so that people will get a comprehensive view on her and what's she done, see the life and spirit of who she really was," said Ah Chick. "We hope people will pray (for the cause)."