Remembering Saint Marianne Cope

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Photo: Roman Catholic Diocese of Honolulu

On this day in 1883, Saint Marianne Cope arrived in Hawaii to take care of people with Hansen’s disease — more commonly known as leprosy — at Kalaupapa on Moloka’i. The day was heralded as “Landing of the Sisters Day” in Honolulu.

Born in Germany and raised in New York, Cope went to work in a textile factory as a young girl to help support her family. She became a Sister in the Order of St. Francis in 1862, and began teaching in schools established for German immigrants and later founded two hospitals in New York.

She later was later appointed as the head of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse. She was an innovative hospital administrator. She helped students at what would end up becoming the College of Medicine at Syracuse University, but also allowed hospital patients to decline treatment from medical students if they preferred a full-fledged doctor. She also developed a reputation for helping patients considered outcasts; she was one of the first to admit alcoholics, which was shunned by medical professionals at the time.

But in June of 1883, Cope received a letter from King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani asking her to leave her prestigious position in New York to come to Hawaii and care for sufferers of Hansen’s disease. She replied enthusiastically and arrived with six other Sisters in a matter of weeks.

At first she supervised the Kaka’ako Branch Hospital on Oahu, which admitted Hansen’s patients from across the islands. After a brief stint on Maui where she established Malulani Hospital, the island’s first general hospital, she went back

On this day in 1883, Saint Marianne Cope arrived in Hawaii to take care of people with Hansen’s disease — more commonly known as leprosy — at Kalaupapa on Moloka’i. The day was heralded as “Landing of the Sisters Day” in Honolulu.

Born in Germany and raised in New York, Cope went to work in a textile factory as a young girl to help support her family. She became a Sister in the Order of St. Francis in 1862, and began teaching in schools established for German immigrants and later founded two hospitals in New York.

She later was later appointed as the head of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse. She was an innovative hospital administrator. She helped students at what would end up becoming the College of Medicine at Syracuse University, but also allowed hospital patients to decline treatment from medical students if they preferred a full-fledged doctor. She also developed a reputation for helping patients considered outcasts; she was one of the first to admit alcoholics, which was shunned by medical professionals at the time.

But in June of 1883, Cope received a letter from King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani asking her to leave her prestigious position in New York to come to Hawaii and care for sufferers of Hansen’s disease. The Hawaiian monarchs had sent similar pleas to over 50 religious leaders across America, but she was the only one who answered the call. She replied enthusiastically and arrived with six other Sisters in a matter of weeks.

At first she supervised the Kaka’ako Branch Hospital on Oahu, which admitted Hansen’s patients from across the islands. After a brief stint on Maui where she established Malulani Hospital, the island’s first general hospital, she went back to Oahu and set up the Kapiolani Home, which provided shelter to young homeless girls and Hansen’s sufferers. Due to its success, Cope was asked to replicate her efforts at Kalaupapa on Moloka’i, and she accepted.

She worked with Father Damien, overseeing the women at the colony while he oversaw the men. She took care of him as his health started to decline, and shortly after his death, she was given charge over the male residents for six years until four Brothers of the Sacred Heart arrived in 1895. She continued to care for Hansen’s patients at Kalaupapa until her death in 1918.

She was beatified in 2005, and was canonized as a Saint in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI.

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