January 23: Saint Marianne Cope, Virgin—USA Optional Memorial
Patron Saint of lepers, outcasts, those with HIV/AIDS, Hawaii
Canonized October 21, 2012, by Pope Benedict XVI
Liturgical Color: White
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.” ~Letter of Mother Marianne Cope
Born in Germany, Barbara Koob was brought to the United States by her parents before the age of one. The immigrant family settled in Utica, New York, and joined Saint Joseph Parish where Barbara later attended grade school. After grade school, Barbara began working in a textile factory to support the family after her father became too ill to work. Despite her longing to enter religious life, Barbara continued to financially support her family for the next nine years.
In 1862, at the age of twenty-four, Barbara finally realized her desire for religious life by entering the Sisters of Saint Francis in Syracuse, New York. Upon receiving the religious habit, she took the name Sister Marianne. For the next twenty-one years, she served as a teacher, principal, mother superior, provincial superior, hospital founder, and administrator. She was a trailblazer who specialized in caring for the outcasts of society with love and affection. Although this caused some to look down on her, Barbara’s care for society’s outcasts also won her much love and admiration from the German-speaking Catholics of central New York.
In 1883, now the Mother Provincial of her order, Mother Marianne’s life would change forever. She received a request from the government in Hawaii asking her to send sisters to care for those suffering from the dreaded disease of leprosy. With joy and enthusiasm that would have delighted Saint Francis, her order’s founder, she responded “Yes!” “I am hungry for the work…” Her heart was flooded with desire as she saw the great privilege of leaving home and family to care for these poor souls who suffered so greatly. At that time, more than fifty religious orders had already turned down the same request out of fear of their members contracting the disease. Mother Marianne responded in haste, going herself with six of her sisters. Though she did not realize it at the time, she would never return to New York. Instead, she spent the next thirty-five years exercising the great privilege of caring for the bodies, minds, and souls of God’s precious outcasts with Hansen’s Disease (leprosy).
Upon arriving in Hawaii, Mother Marianne and her sisters went right to work, cooperating with the Church and the government to better the lives of these poor ones of God. Mother Marianne and her sisters helped those with leprosy, despite their fatal condition, to live dignified lives—teaching them, having fun with them, praying with them, and caring for their physical needs. Mother Marianne’s administrative skills were of great use when she was called upon to open new homes, establish a residence and school for the children of those with leprosy, correct government abuses of her poor ones, and consolidate facilities as needed.
In 1884, Mother Marianne met the future Saint Damien de Veuster who devoted his life to the care of those with leprosy on the isolated island of Molokai. Two years after their meeting, Father Damien contracted leprosy himself. In 1888, Mother Marianne went to Molokai to care for him during his last year of life, since he was now an outcast too. She pledged to continue his good work, and with his passing, took over the home for boys he had established.
For twenty-seven more years after Father Damien’s death, Mother Marianne cared for the outcasts and their families. She often said to her sisters that it was their duty and privilege “to make life as pleasant and as comfortable as possible for those of our fellow creatures whom God has chosen to afflict with this terrible disease…” Mother Marianne died of natural causes at the age of eighty, never contracting the disease herself.
Two days after her death, one Honolulu newspaper wrote, “Throughout the Islands, the memory of Mother Marianne is revered, particularly among the Hawaiians in whose cause she has shown such martyr-like devotion…she was a woman of splendid accomplishments, and had fine executive ability. She impressed everyone as a real ‘mother’ to those who stood so sorely in need of ‘mothering.’”
As we honor Saint Marianne Cope, consider the quality of your affection and sincere concern toward society’s “outcasts.” The alcoholic, addict, criminal, impoverished, foreigner, and sinner are all images of Jesus waiting for your love. Allow this holy woman to inspire you to always see it as a privilege to love those most in need.
Saint Marianne, you were a martyr in spirit, laying down your life for those in need of your love and affection. You embraced the outcast wholeheartedly with joy and gratitude. Please pray for me, that I may also seek out the outcasts in our world and help them come to know the love and mercy of our glorious God. Saint Marianne, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.
missionary to leprosy patients
Barbara Koob (now officially “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 found a home in Utica, in the State of New York, where they became members of St Joseph’s Parish and where the children attended the parish school.
Sisters of St Francis
Although Barbara felt called to Religious life at an early age, her vocation was delayed for nine years because of family obligations. As 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.
Finally, in the summer of 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 serving as a teacher and principal in several elementary schools in New York State.
She joined the Order in Syracuse with the intention of teaching, but her life soon became a series of administrative appointments.
God had other plans
As a member of the governing boards of her Religious Community in the 1860s, she participated in the establishment of two of the first hospitals in the central New York area.
In 1870, she began a new ministry as a nurse-administrator at St Joseph’s in Syracuse, N.Y., where she served as head administrator for six years. During this time she put her gifts of intelligence and people skills to good use as a facilitator, demonstrating the energy of a woman motivated by God alone.
Although Mother Marianne was often criticized for accepting for treatment “outcast” patients such as alcoholics, she became well-known and loved in the central New York area for her kindness, wisdom and down-to-earth practicality.
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, and mainly to work with leprosy patients. The letter touched Mother Marianne’s heart and she enthusiastically responded: “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'”.
A mother to the 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.
Bl. Damien and Mother Marianne
Mother Marianne met Fr Damien de Veuster (today Blessed Damien is known as the “Apostle to Lepers”) for the first time in January 1884, when he was in apparent good health. 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 again 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.
Optimism, serenity, trust in God
Together the three Sisters ran the Bishop Home for 103 Girls and the Home for Boys. The workload was extreme and the burden at times seemed overwhelming. In moments of despair, Sr Leopoldina reflected: “How long, O Lord, must I see only those who are sick and covered with leprosy?”.
Mother Marianne’s invaluable example of never-failing optimism, serenity and trust in God inspired hope in those around her and allayed the Sisters’ fear of catching leprosy. She taught her Sisters that their primary duty was “to make life as pleasant and as comfortable as possible for those of our fellow creatures whom God has chosen to afflict with this terrible disease…”.
Mother Marianne never returned to Syracuse. She died in Hawaii on 9 August 1918 of natural causes and was buried on the grounds of Bishop Home.