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Biography of St. Marianne Cope

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Family and Early Life

Mother Marianne, formerly Barbara Koob (variants: Kob, Kopp, and now officially Cope) was born January 23, 1838 and baptized the following day in what is now Hessen, West Germany. She was the daughter of farmer, Peter Koob and Barbara Witzenbacher Koob, his second wife. Peter Koob's first wife had nine children before she died, only two of whom reached adulthood. Peter and Barbara Koob had five children born in Germany, and five born in the United States. In 1839, the year following Barbara's birth, the family emigrated to the United States to seek a new start in the land of opportunity.

Peter Koob became a naturalized citizen in the 1850s as did his children, including Barbara, who were minors at the time.

The Koob family became members of St. Joseph's Parish in Utica, N.Y., where the children, including Barbara, attended the parish school. Barbara received her first holy communion and was confirmed at St. John's Parish in Utica. It was the practice at that time for the bishop of the diocese to come to the largest church in the area to administer these two sacraments at the same time.

Barbara wrote of experiencing a call to religious life at an early age. However, the desire to follow her vocation was delayed nine years because of family obligations. As the oldest child at home, and after completing an eighth grade education, she went to work in a factory to support the family when her father became an invalid. Only when her younger siblings could care for themselves did Barbara feel free to enter the convent. She did so one month after her father's death in the summer of 1862. She was 24 years of age.

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Religious Life

Barbara entered the Sisters of Saint Francis in Syracuse, N.Y. on November 19, 1862. She was invested at the Church of the Assumption and given the name Sister Marianne. One year later, at the same church, Sister Marianne professed her vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as a Sister of St. Francis. When she entered the congregation, it was her desire to teach. She did this for a period of time serving as teacher and principal in several schools in New York State. Sister Marianne's gifts and talents were soon recognized and she held several administrative positions in the congregation.

As a member of the governing boards of her religious community, she participated in the establishment of two of the first hospitals in the central New York area, St. Elizabeth Hospital in Utica (1866) and St. Joseph's Hospital in Syracuse (1869). Both hospitals begun by the Franciscan sisters had unique charters for their time. They were open to caring for the sick without distinction as to a person's nationality, religion or color. These two hospitals were among the first 50 general hospitals in the entire U.S.



Leader in the Field of Medicine

Sister Marianne began her new career as administrator at St. Joseph's Hospital in Syracuse, N.Y. in 1870 where she served as head administrator for six of the hospital's first seven years. Her leadership in health care came about because of a need for someone with unique abilities and talents. It was often said that no challenge ever seemed too much for her. She possessed the intelligence and charisma of a facilitator and the energies of a woman motivated by God alone.

St. Joseph's, the first hospital opened to the public in the city of Syracuse, owes much to Sister Marianne for its establishment as well as its survival. Sister Marianne became an innovator in hospital management in order to provide better service to patients. Long before the importance of cleanliness measures was known or practiced in caring for the sick, she strictly advocated practices such as simply washing ones hands properly before ministering to the patients.

During Sister Marianne's leadership, the College of Medicine in Geneva, N.Y. moved to the fledgling Syracuse University to become the College of Physicians and Surgeons, thus starting a new era of medicine for the central New York area. This college chose to move to Syracuse because of Sister Marianne's willingness to accept its medical students for clinical instruction at St. Joseph's Hospital. She was also far ahead of her time in furthering patients' rights. In a letter of negotiations with the Medical College she stated that it was the right of the patient in each and every case to decide whether or not the patient wished to be seen by medical students. Often she was criticized for treating "outcast" patients such as patients suffering from alcoholism, an affliction frowned upon for hospital admittance by the medical profession at that time. Unsurprisingly, she became known and loved in the central New York area for her kindness, wisdom and down to earth practicality.

Before the advent of nursing schools in the U.S., Sister Marianne worked by the side of doctors in Syracuse from one of the country's most progressive medical colleges. Thus, this dedicated woman of God was in a position to gain the practical information regarding various hospital systems, nursing and pharmacy procedures which she later put to good use in Hawaii.

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Call to Hawaii

In 1883 the U.S. was still the land of the pioneer. Religious communities serving the immigrants and others had their hands full, including the Franciscan sisters in Syracuse, N.Y. Priorities of needs were difficult to determine. Yet at the time when Mother Marianne was mother general of her congregation, she received a letter from the faraway Sandwich Islands (now known as Hawaii) with a request for a capable leader to take charge of "our hospitals and even our schools, if it were possible. …Have pity…on our poor sick, help us" However, Mother Marianne grasped this as the most pressing need of her time. She gave her complete affirmation to his request when she learned that the main work was to minister to people with Hansen's disease (leprosy). "I am not afraid of any disease…" was her response to such a perilous invitation. Her devotion to St. Francis of Assisi who deeply cared for the sick poor, together with a special concern for those with leprosy, confirmed her resolve that the call to Hawaii was God's will.

Six sisters were chosen from among the 35 volunteers from the congregation and Mother Marianne accompanied them to the islands to help them get settled in their assignments.

On November 8, 1883, as the SS Mariposa entered the harbor of Honolulu, the bells of Our Lady of Peace Cathedral rang and crowds gathered on the wharf to see the sisters. No one was ever disappointed at the great expectations their coming promised. Having accomplished so much good in her first two years on the island, Mother Marianne was decorated by King Kalakaua of Hawaii with the medal of the Royal Order of Kapiolani for the acts of benevolence she planned and developed to help the suffering people of the kingdom.

These early years were replete with trials and tribulations. In 1884, at the request of the government, she established Malulani Hospital, the first general hospital on the island of Maui. She was quickly called back to Oahu to deal with a government appointed administrator's abuse of leprosy patients at Branch Hospital at Kaka´ako, an area adjoining Honolulu. Mother Marianne demanded the government to choose between the administrator's removal or the sisters return to Syracuse. This demand resulted in her being given full charge of the overcrowded hospital. Furthermore, her expectation to return to Syracuse was delayed when the government and church authority declared her leadership to be essential to the success of the mission.

As the work kept increasing, another pressing need was fulfilled a year later. In November 1885, after she convinced the government there was a vital need to save the homeless female children of patients with Hansen's disease, the Kapiolani Home was opened. The unusual choice was made for these well children to live in a home on the premises of the hospital for patients with Hansen's disease. This was done because no one other than the sisters could be found to care for those so closely related to people with the dreaded disease.

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Renewed Call to Molokai

St. Damien DeVeuster rightfully is viewed as the "Apostles to Lepers." Yet, this good priest did not act alone particularly in regard to providing care, protection or shelter for people with Hansen's disease. Besides her own agenda, Mother Marianne is known to have brought to fruition many programs Father Damien only envisioned.

Mother Marianne met Father Damien for the first time in January 1884, when in apparent good health, he came to Oahu to attend the opening and dedication of a chapel at the hospital she was to administer. Two years later, in 1886, Father Damien was 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. Mother Marianne arranged for his care with sensitivity to his feelings and made sure he was treated well during his short stay on Oahu. The example of her care turned leaders to his favor especially after a visit by royalty took place at the hospital.

Soon afterwards, the situation for the care of patients with Hansen's disease began to change. Most new patients had not been sent into exile at Molokai for a number of years. However, 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 was who would care for the sick who once again would be sent to the settlement for exiles on the Kalaupapa peninsula on the island of Molokai.

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Mother of Outcasts

Mother Marianne again responded to the plea for help she received from the new Hawaiian government leadership in 1888. Her positive response would take her into a lifetime of exile together with those she served.

Because her presence was the necessary agent for the success of the mission, she considered whether by accepting the challenge she would ever be able to return to see her beloved family and friends again.

Again, she followed the path of sacrifice. "We will cheerfully accept the work…" she courageously responded to an official appeal from government asking for someone to found a new home for women and girls with leprosy at the Kalaupapa settlement. "Our hearts are bleeding to see them shipped off," she wrote to Father Damien at Molokai. In a letter sent home to Syracuse she explained that it had been her intent from the beginning to set up a mission at Molokai in order to give needed care to exiled patients. It was clear to her to follow God's will regardless of her personal losses.

Mother Marianne arrived at Kalaupapa several months before Father Damien's death. With two youthful assistants she was able to console the ailing priest by assuring him that she would provide care for the patients at Boy's Home at Kalawao, located at the opposite end of the settlement he established.

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. She set about building up an entirely new home, which the government renamed in honor of Henry P. Baldwin, its chief benefactor. After its completion, she suggested that the Brothers of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary be invited to work at the home. On the day of their arrival in 1895, she withdrew the sisters who were working at Baldwin Home under her supervision, to assist her at the needy Bishop Home for women and girls. Brother Joseph Dutton, who once assisted Father Damien and who later had become her assistant, was placed in charge of Baldwin Home by the government.

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Heroine of Molokai

Mother Marianne's treatment of patients was far ahead of her time. She never forgot the value of education and thus sponsored or advocated programs or classes in collaboration with hospitals in Syracuse, Honolulu and Kalaupapa. Mindful of the need for beauty, she encouraged an interest in color harmony, needlework and landscaping. Attentive to spiritual needs, she invited the pastor of St. Francis Church in Kalaupapa to provide religious education to patients in their homes, and non-Catholics were free to see their pastors.

The legacy of Mother Marianne continues its far-reaching effects in health care and education in many ways. The Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities are sponsors of St. Joseph Hospital Health Center in Syracuse, N.Y., St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Utica, N.Y. and St. Francis Hospital and Health Centers in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. In Hawaii, the sisters are well-known for founding St. Francis Hospital in 1927 which expanded into two medical centers. Following the transfer of these centers to Hawaii Medical Center in 2007, the sisters remain sponsors of St. Francis Healthcare System. Their focus, however, has shifted from acute care to meeting the growing needs of Hawaii's senior adult population. At Kalaupapa, Molokai, the sisters maintain their comforting presence with a small group of people with Hansen's disease who live there today. In addition, the sisters minister at several schools and parishes on the islands.

The story of compassionate care brought to others by Mother Marianne is her most precious gift. This legacy of caring continues today in the lives and ministries of the Sisters of St. Francis.

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Mother Marianne Cope's Journey Toward Sainthood

The Sisters of St. Francis began collecting materials soon after Mother Marianne's death for her eventual canonization.

• October 24, 2003, theologians, cardinals and bishops at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints declared her heroically virtuous.

• April 19, 2004, Pope John Paul II issued the decree officially naming her Venerable.

• December 20, 2004, after receiving the unanimous affirmation of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Pope John Paul II ordered a decree to be issued authenticating a miracle attributed to Mother Marianne's intercession.

• May 14, 2005, Venerable Marianne Cope was beatified. Another verified miracle happening after her status of Blessed would lead to her canonization.

• June 16, 2011, Vatican Medical Board rules unanimously that a second miracle case is an inexplicable medical recovery.

• October 8, 2011, theologians rule unanimously that the second miracle case was due to the intercession of Blessed Marianne Cope.

• December 6, 2011, the Congregation for Causes of Saints affirms Blessed Marianne for canonization.

• 2011, Pope Benedict XVI affirms Blessed Marianne for canonization.

• October 21, 2012, canonization of Mother Marianne Cope.

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