Home Catechetical Corner Our Lenten Journey, March 13: St. Marianne of Molokai

Our Lenten Journey, March 13: St. Marianne of Molokai


Most Catholics have heard of Father Damien of Molokai and his work with the lepers in Hawaii. But did you also know about his counterpart, St. Marianne of Molokai?

Born in Duchy of Hesse (now part of Germany) on Jan. 23, 1838 as Maria Anna Barbara Koob, Marianne’s family emigrated to Utica, N.Y. when she was very young, and anglicized their name to “Cope.” She became a naturalized citizen when her parents became citizens.

A young Mother Marianne Cope (Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain)

Marianne’s father became and invalid when she was in the eighth grade, so she left school to work in a factory to help support her family. After her father’s death in 1862, she decided to fulfill her dream of becoming a religious and joined the Sisters of the Third Order Regular of Saint Francis in Syracuse, New York. She took the name Marianne as a religious.

Mother Marianne’s early work was in education; she worked as a teacher and principal, primarily with children of German immigrants. She later worked in health care and founded two hospitals in central New York. She was also named a part of the order’s governing council.

In 1883, she received a request for help from King Kalākaua of Hawaii to care for people suffering from Hansen’s Disease, or as it is better known, leprosy. Fifty religious orders before her had turned him down because of the contagious and incurable nature of the disease.But Mother Marianne said “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.”

She and six other sisters sailed for Hawaii and began their work with the lepers. At first, they managed the  Kakaʻako Branch Hospital on Oʻahu, which was the receiving station for patients from all of the islands. In 1884, the sisters set up Malulani Hospital, the first hospital on Maui. More hospitals and homes followed. In 1886, Mother Marianne was awarded the Cross of a Companion of the Royal Order of Kapiolani by King Kalākaua for her service. In 1885, she opened the Kapiolani Home to shelter homeless female children of leprosy patients. Hawaiian businessman Henry Perrine Baldwin donated money for the sisters to open a new girls’ school, which the sisters named in his honor.

Mother Marianne was a contemporary of Father DamienSS.CC. and cared for him in the last days of his life. He died from the disease that ravaged the people he helped. After his death, she took on caring for the boys Fr. Damien had helped on Kalaupapa.

In 1895 the Brothers of the Sacred Heart arrived in Hawaii, and Mother Marianne and the sisters moved their work to the Bishop Home.

As she aged, she eventually needed use of a wheelchair, but despite the health issues that come with age, she never developed Hansen’s disease, which some people regarded as a miracle.

Mother Marianne died on Aug. 9, 1918 at Bishop Home and was interred there. Her remains were moved to the Syracuse motherhouse, but in 2014, she returned to Hawaii, and is now buried at the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Honolulu.

Her legacy in Hawaii went on after her death. In 1927 St. Francis Hospital in Honolulu was founded in her memory; nurses who worked with Hansen’s disease patients were trained there. The Saint Francis School for girls was founded in her honor in 1924. Her community still serves Hansen’s disease patients in Hawaii to this day.

Cardinal Martins, who presided at Sister Marianne’s beatification Mass called her life “a wonderful work of divine grace.” Speaking of her special love for persons suffering from leprosy, he said, “She saw in them the suffering face of Jesus. Like the Good Samaritan, she became their mother.” She was canonized on Oct. 21, 2012 by Pope Benedict. She is the 11th American to be named a saint.

Her feast day in the Catholic Church is Jan. 23; in the Episcopal Church she shares an April 15 feast with St. Damien.

Read her biography at Franciscan Media here: https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-marianne-cope/

Here is her official biography from the Vatican website: http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/saints/ns_lit_doc_20050514_molokai_en.html

And who would have thought that a saint would be on the National Park Service website? Read about it here: https://www.nps.gov/kala/learn/historyculture/marianne.htm

A Syracuse, NY, website devoted to her life. https://www.saintmarianne.org/her-story.html

Not many saints have their own gift shop: https://saintmarianneshrineandmuseum.org/

Mother Marianne was recognized by the secular world by being chosen for the National Women’s Hall of Fame.