Blessed Marianne Cope

As the Church prepares to welcome seven new saints this month, ZENIT will feature an article, from Oct. 11 -21, on each of these remarkable servants of God.

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ROME, OCT. 11, 2012 ( Barbara Koob – now known as Cope was born on 23 January 1838 in SE Hessen, West Germany. She was one of 10 children born to Peter Koob, a farmer, and Barbara Witzenbacher Koob. The year after Barbara’s birth, the family moved to the United States. 

The Koob family went to Utica, in the State of New York, where they became members of St Joseph’s Parish. 

Barbara felt called to religious life at an early age, but could not follow her vocation for a number of years due to family obligations. Being the oldest child at home, she went to work in a factory after completing eighth grade in order to support her family when her father became ill. 

In 1862 at age 24, Barbara entered the Sisters of St Francis in Syracuse, N.Y. On 19 November 1862 she received the religious habit and the name “Sr. Marianne”, and the following year she made her religious profession and began as a teacher and later principal in several elementary schools in New York State. 

In 1883, Mother Marianne, now the Provincial Mother in Syracuse, received a letter from a Catholic priest asking for help in managing hospitals and schools in the Hawaiian Islands, to work with leprosy patients. 

The letter touched Mother Marianne’s heart and she replied: “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…. I am not afraid of any disease, hence, it would be my greatest delight even to minister to the abandoned “lepers'”.

Working with lepers 

She and six other Sisters of St Francis arrived in Honolulu in November 1883. With Mother Marianne as supervisor, their main task was to manage the Kaka’ako Branch Hospital on Oahu, which served as a receiving station for patients with Hansen’s disease gathered from all over the islands. 

The Sisters quickly set to work cleaning the hospital and tending to its 200 patients. By 1885, they had made major improvements to the living conditions and treatment of the patients. 

In November of that year, they also founded the Kapi’olani Home inside the hospital compound, established to care for the healthy daughters of Hansen’s disease patients at Kaka’ako and Kalawao. The unusual decision to open a home for healthy children on leprosy hospital premises was made because only the Sisters would care for those so closely related to people with the dreaded disease. 

St. Damien and Mother Marianne 

Mother Marianne met Fr Damien de Veuster, now known as St. Damien of Molokai, who was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on October 11, 2009, for the first time in January 1884. Two years later, in 1886, after he had been diagnosed with Hansen’s disease, Mother Marianne alone gave hospitality to the outcast priest upon hearing that his illness made him an unwelcome visitor to Church and Government leaders in Honolulu. 

In 1887, when a new Government took charge in Hawaii, its officials decided to close the Oahu Hospital and receiving station and to reinforce the former alienation policy. The unanswered question:  Who would care for the sick, who once again would be sent to a settlement for exiles on the Kalaupapa Peninsula on the island of Molokai? 

In 1888, Mother Marianne responded to the plea for help and said:  “We will cheerfully accept the work…”. She arrived in Kalaupapa several months before Fr Damien’s death together with Sr. Leopoldina Burns and Sr. Vincentia McCormick, and was able to console the ailing priest by assuring him that she would provide care for the patients at the Boys’ Home at Kalawao that he had founded. 

On April 15, 1889, just two weeks after the death of Father Damien, at a meeting of the board of health in Honolulu, Mother Marianne was officially chosen by the government leadership to be Father Damien’s successor at Boy’s Home. 

Mother Marianne never returned to Syracuse. She died in Hawaii on 9 August 1918 of natural causes.

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