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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Kalaupapa nun a step closer to sainthood

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

The Vatican formally acknowledged yesterday what everyone in tiny, wind-swept Kalaupapa has been saying since 1983: Mother Marianne Cope is worthy of sainthood.

Mother Marianne, a Roman Catholic nun who toiled for 30 years to improve the lives of Hansen's disease patients at Kalaupapa, Moloka'i, was cleared for beatification by the Vatican.

Beatification is the last step of canonization before someone can be declared a saint. Efforts to have her canonized began 21 years ago.

A formal ceremony expected next year will bestow upon her the title of Blessed Marianne Cope, said Sister Marion Kikukawa of St. Joseph Convent in Hilo, Hawai'i.

The announcement "wasn't a surprise, but one always has to wait until the action really happens to breathe a sigh of relief and rejoice," Kikukawa said.

"Having this happen just before Christmas is a great gift not only to our congregation but to our church — and especially to the people of Kalaupapa and Hawai'i."

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. Candidates advance from the title "Servant of God" to "Venerable," then "Blessed," before a candidate finally obtains the title of "Saint."

The Vatican's decision yesterday — which was spread by e-mail and cell phone and word of mouth from Rome to Moloka'i — hinged on a miracle.

Word came at midday and spread quickly through the small Moloka'i community of about 100 people.

"I'm just so excited about the whole thing," said Sister Frances Cabrini Morishige, who has been at Kalaupapa for a year. "It gives you goose pimples. This doesn't happen in one's lifetime."

Mother Marianne's legacy — her hard work and her simple life — inspires those who work at Kalaupapa.

"It is a momentous occasion for us to be in this place," said Sister Frances Therese Souza, who has worked at Kalaupapa since 1989. "We are living and walking on the grounds that this tremendous person has lived on."

In Honolulu at the Third Order of St. Francis Convent, Mother Marianne's devotion to the Kalaupapa patients also was warmly remembered yesterday.

"They talk so much about other people who have done things, but she had done it in a very quiet way in a very little place," said Sister Agnes Vera. "And those people needed her just as much. She brought life to them which they didn't have."

Vera said Mother Marianne made dresses for the girls, taught them to sew and started a band.

"She was always there to help them and make life better for them," Vera said. "They didn't feel like they were just a castaway."

Yesterday's announcement stemmed from Vatican approval of a miracle that church officials attributed to Mother Marianne's intercession, Kikukawa said. A tribunal of medical experts, theologians and church officials received supporting evidence for the miracle three years ago, she said, adding that it was quickly approved.

The miracle presented to the church occurred in 1992 in New York.

"I can just tell you that it was the healing of an adolescent girl who had multiple organ failure," Kikukawa said. "Her condition was critical."

The family of the 13-year-old girl prayed to Mother Marianne to render a cure. Even a relative of Mother Marianne was brought to the girl.

"Shortly thereafter, she started to recover," Kikukawa said. "Now she is a young woman of her 20s."

The woman, now a college graduate, does not remember anything about her brush with death. She has said her recovery took place because so many people prayed on her behalf.

This will be the second beatification to come from the work done at Kalaupapa. Father Damien De Veuster was the resident priest there and his many years on Moloka'i and devotion to the Kalaupapa patients ultimately led to his beatification in 1995.

For two people from the same small place to be candidates for sainthood is both special and amazing, Kikukawa said.

"It is a great thing for the church in Hawai'i," she said.

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

She arrived in Hawai'i in 1883 when the Hawaiian government was looking for people to run the Kaka'ako Branch Hospital, which served as a receiving station for Hansen's disease 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.

Hundreds of homeless girls had been sent to the isolated outpost without their families, and Mother Marianne agreed to supervise the home.

She remained at Kalaupapa until she died in 1918 at the age of 80.

The next official step in the beatification process will come Jan. 24 when the Roman Catholic Church in Hawai'i exhumes Mother Marianne's body from its grave on Moloka'i, Kikukawa said. This has to be done to be sure that Mother Marianne is buried there.

She is buried in a simple wooden coffin at the edge of the lawn of the home where she cared for the girls. But after the exhumation, she will be buried at the home of the order in Syracuse, N.Y., Kikukawa said.

"We are taking her home," Kikukawa said. "She always said she would go home."

Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon @honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8012.

• • •

The process of canonization:

Here are the steps a candidate for sainthood must pass.

• 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 begin. This is meant to allow for greater balance and objectivity in evaluating a case and to let the emotions of the moment dissipate.

Mother Marianne's cause officially began in 1983, 65 years after her death.

• A 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.

In Mother Marianne's case, Franciscan sisters in 1988 researched and put together 27 volumes of information, including Mother Marianne'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 receives from the Pope the title of "Venerable."

Both historical documents and documentation of Mother Marianne's life and virtue was collected. In January 2004, a key Vatican committee unanimously voted to affirm the heroic virtue of Mother Marianne. Her official designation of "Venerable" was approved by the Vatican April 19.

• For a candidate to receive the title of "Blessed," theologians at the Vatican must confirm that candidate posthumously brought about a miracle.

Mother Marianne's cause has reported a miracle — the purported recovery of a girl who appeared to be near death until her family, friends and sisters of St. Francis prayed for the intercession of Mother Marianne.

In February 2001, a diocesan tribunal in Syracuse, N.Y., completed a two-year study of a miracle attributed to her intercession and sent the results to Rome. The purported miracle involves a 13-year-old girl's complete recovery in 1992 from multiple organ system failure due to chemotherapy.

Mother Marianne became eligible yesterday for beatification by the Vatican.

• For canonization, a second miracle must be confirmed.

— Advertiser Staff

Major points in nun's life

Significant events in the life of Mother Marianne Cope:

1838: Barbara Koob is born in Germany and moves to the United States at age 2.

1862: Koob takes the name Marianne when she joins the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis in New York.

1883: The Hawaiian government begins searching for people to run the Kaka'ako Branch Hospital, which served as a receiving station for Hansen's disease patients. That fall Mother Marianne, then 45, and six other sisters arrive in Honolulu, where they begin tending to 200 patients.

1888: Honolulu banker Charles Bishop presents 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 approaches Mother Marianne and asks her to supervise the new home. She accepts and, along with two other sisters, moves to Kalaupapa to care for more than a hundred homeless girls who had been sent there without families. The sisters eventually took over the Home for Boys at Kalawao, too.

1918: Mother Marianne dies in Kalaupapa at age 80, after 30 years of serving and caring for Hansen's disease patients there. She is buried at the edge of the lawn of the home where she cared for the girls.

— Advertiser Staff