Mother Marianne Cope

Saint Marianne Cope, O.S.F.
St. Marianne Cope shortly before her departure for Hawaii (1883)
Virgin, Religious, Missionary to lepers
Born (1838-01-23)January 23, 1838
Heppenheim, Grand Duchy of Hesse
Died August 9, 1918(1918-08-09) (aged 80)
Kalaupapa, Hawaiʻi,
United States
Honored in Roman Catholic Church
(Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities)
Episcopal Church
Beatified May 14, 2005, Saint Peter's Basilica, Vatican City by Pope Benedict XVI
Canonized October 21, 2012, Vatican City by Pope Benedict XVI
Major shrine Shrine of St. Marianne Cope
Motherhouse of the
Sisters of Saint Francis
Syracuse, New York
Feast January 23 (Roman Catholic Church)
April 15 (Episcopal Church (United States))
Patronage lepers, outcasts, those with HIV/AIDS, the Hawaiʻi.

Saint Marianne Cope, O.S.F., also known as the Saint Marianne of Molokaʻi, (January 23, 1838 – August 9, 1918) was a German-born American who was a member of the Sisters of Saint Francis of Syracuse, New York. Known for her charitable works and virtuous deeds, she spent many years caring for lepers on the island of Molokaʻi in Hawaiʻi. Despite direct contact with the patients over many years, Cope was not afflicted by the disease, considered by some faithful to be miraculous.

In 2005, Mother Cope was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI.[1] Cope was declared a saint by the same Pontiff on October 21, 2012, along with the young 17th-century Native American, Kateri Tekawitha.[2] She is only the 11th American citizen to be honored by the Catholic church.[2]


Birth and vocation

Cope was baptized Maria Anna Barbara Koob (later changed to Cope). She was born January 23, 1838, in Heppenheim in the Grand Duchy of Hesse (modern-day Germany) to Peter Koob (1787–1862) and Barbara Witzenbacher (1803–1872). The following year her family emigrated to the United States, settling in Utica, New York. They became parochial members of the Parish of St. Joseph, where Cope attended the parish school. By eighth grade, her father had become an invalid and, as the oldest child in the house, she became a factory worker to help support the family.[3] Her father later became an American citizen, which at the time granted automatic citizenship status to her entire family.

After Peter Cope's death in 1862, at which time her younger siblings were of age to support themselves, she felt sufficiently free of her family responsibilities to leave home and to pursue a religious calling she had long felt. She entered the novitiate of the Sisters of the Third Order Regular of Saint Francis based in Syracuse, New York. At the completion of her year of formation, she received the religious habit of the Franciscan Sisters along with the new name Marianne. Cope then became first a teacher and then a principal in newly established schools for German-speaking immigrants in the region.

By 1870, Cope was a member of the governing council of her congregation. In this office, she was involved in the opening of the first two Catholic hospitals in Central New York. At the time, their charter stipulated that medical care was to be provided to all, regardless of race or creed. She was appointed by the Superior General to govern St. Joseph’s Hospital, the first public hospital in Syracuse, from 1870 to 1877.

During her period of hospital administration, Cope became involved with the move of Geneva Medical College of Hobart College from Geneva, New York to Syracuse, where it became the College of Medicine at Syracuse University. She contracted with the college to accept their students in the treatment of the hospital's patients, to further their medical education. Her stipulation in the contract—again unique for the period—was the right of the patients to refuse care by the students. These experiences helped prepare her for the special ministry that lay ahead of her.[4]

Call to Hawaii

In 1883, Cope, by then herself Superior General of the congregation, received a plea for help in caring for leprosy sufferers from King Kalākaua of Hawaii. More than 50 religious institutes had already declined his request for Sisters to do this. She responded to the letter enthusiastically:

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.’[5]

Cope set out with six other Sisters from Syracuse to travel to Honolulu to answer this call, arriving on November 8, 1883. The bells of Our Lady of Peace Cathedral pealed to welcome their ship, the SS Mariposa, as it entered Honolulu harbor. With Mother Marianne as supervisor, the Sisters' task was to manage Kakaʻako Branch Hospital on Oʻahu, which served as a receiving station for Hansen's disease patients gathered from all over the islands. Here the more severe cases were processed and shipped to the island of Molokaʻi for confinement in the settlement at Kalawao, and then later at Kalaupapa.

The following year, at the request of the government, Cope set up Malulani Hospital, the first general hospital on the island of Maui. Soon, however, she was called back with haste to the hospital in Oahu, where she had to deal with a government-appointed administrator’s abuse of the leprosy patients at the Branch Hospital at Kakaako, an area adjoining Honolulu. Her demand to the government to choose between his dismissal or the Sisters’ return to Syracuse resulted in her being given full charge of the overcrowded hospital. Her own expected return to Syracuse to re-assume governance of the congregation was then delayed when her leadership was declared by both government and church authorities to be essential to the success of the mission.

Two years after the arrival of the Sisters, Cope's accomplishments had so stirred the admiration of the Hawaiian government that the king himself bestowed on Mother Marianne the Cross of a Companion of the Royal Order of Kapiolani for her acts of benevolence to his suffering people.[6]

Yet the work kept increasing. Another pressing need was fulfilled when a year later, in November 1885, after Cope had convinced the government that it was of vital need to save the homeless female children of leprosy patients, the Kapiolani Home was opened. The unusual choice of location for healthy children to dwell in a home situated on the grounds of a leprosy hospital was made because no one other than the sisters could be found to care for those so closely associated with people suffering from the dreaded disease.

A new government took over in 1887, which changed the official policy toward leprosy patients. While new patients had not been forced into exile at Molokai for several years, the new administration decided to end that policy, and closed the hospital built for them in Oahu. A year later, as the consequences of this decision became clear, the authorities pleaded with Cope to establish a new home for women and girls on the Kalaupapa peninsula of Molokai. Though this step meant that she would likely never be able to return to New York and see her family and friends again, she accepted the call. “We will cheerfully accept the work…” was her response.[4]


In November 1888 Cope moved to Kalaupapa, both to care for the dying Father Damien, SS.CC. — who was already known internationally for his heroic care of the leper colony there — and to assume his burdens. She had met him shortly after her arrival in Hawaii, when, while still in good health, Father Damien had gone to Oahu to attend the dedication of the chapel in the hospital she was establishing. After his diagnosis as a leper, he was shunned by both civil and church leaders. It was only Mother Marianne who gave him welcome, even arranging for the king to meet him.

When Father Damien died on April 15, the government officially gave Cope charge for the care of the boys of Kalaupapa, as well as her original commission for the female residents of the colony. A prominent local businessman, Henry P. Baldwin, donated money for the new home. Mother Marianne and two assistants, Sister Leopoldina Burns and Sister Vincentia McCormick, opened and ran a new girls' school, which she named in his honor. At her suggestion, a community of Religious Brothers was sought to come and care for the boys. After the arrival of four Brothers of the Sacred Heart in 1895,[7] she withdrew the Sisters to the Bishop Home for leprous women and girls and "Brother" Joseph Dutton was given charge of the Baldwin House by the government. (He was a veteran of the American Civil War who had left behind in the United States a life broken by alcoholism, and it was he who had been Father Damien's primary assistant.)

Cope died on August 9, 1918, due to natural causes and was buried at the Bishop Home.[8]


  • 1927 — Saint Francis Hospital was founded in Honolulu in her memory as a community hospital and to train nurses to work with Hansen's disease patients.
  • 1957 — St. Francis opened the Child Development Center at the Honolulu Community Church for preschool-aged children who demonstrated emotional problems.
  • 1962 — St. Francis Home Care Services was established, being the first in Hawaii to specialize in home health for the care of Hawaiian people.
  • 2006 — The Sisters of St. Francis chose to divest themselves of acute care facilities and to focus on long term care, thus the two facilities of St. Francis Hospital were handed over to a private board, with the facilities now known as the Hawaii Medical Center East in Liliha, and Hawaii Medical Center West in Ewa.[9] Both hospitals were then shut down at the end of 2011.[10] In August 2012, The Queen’s Health Systems agreed to acquire the former Hawaii Medical Center West and reopen the hospital in the fall of 2013.[11]

Additionally, the Saint Francis School was founded in her honor in 1924, operating as a girls-only school for grades 6-9.[12] The community which Cope founded on Molokai continues to minister to the few patients afflicted with Hansen Disease while the Franciscan Sisters now also work at several schools and minister to parishioners throughout the Hawaiian Islands.

On October 24, 2003, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints declared her to have been "heroically virtuous". In April 19, 2004, Pope John Paul II issued a papal decree declaring her Venerable.


In 1993, Katherine Dehlia Mahoney was allegedly healed from multiple organ failure after praying to Marianne Cope for intercession. On December 20, 2004, after receiving the unanimous affirmation of the Congregation of the Causes of Saints, Pope John Paul II ordered a decree to be issued authenticating this recovery as a miracle to be attributed to the intercession of Mother Marianne. On May 14, 2005, Marianne was beatified in Vatican City by Pope Benedict XVI in his first beatification ceremony as pope.

Over 100 followers from Hawaiʻi attended the beatification ceremony, along with 300 members of Cope's religious congregation in Syracuse. At the ceremony, presided over by Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, C.M.F., the Hawaiian song Makalapua (a favorite of Cope) was sung.[13] Her feast day was established as January 23 and is celebrated by her own religious congregation, the Diocese of Honolulu, and the Diocese of Syracuse.

After the announcement by the Holy See of her impending beatification, during January 2005 Blessed Marianne's remains were moved to the mother house of the congregation in Syracuse. A temporary shrine was established to honor her. By 2009, the erection of a marble sarcophagus in the mother house chapel was complete, and her remains were moved one last time on her feast day of January 23, when she was permanently laid to rest, in a new shrine dedicated to her honor.[14]

In 2007 a statue was erected at St. Joseph's Church in Utica, which she had attended in her childhood and where she had received her education.[15]


On December 6, 2011, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints found that a second miracle could also be attributed to the intercession of Blessed Marianne. This finding was forwarded to Pope Benedict XVI by its Secretary, Cardinal Angelo Amato, for papal approval.[16] On December 19, 2011, Pope Benedict signed and approved the promulgation of the decree for her sainthood and she was canonized on October 21, 2012.

Cope is the second person, after Father Damien, who had served in the Hawaiian Islands to be canonized.

Ecumenical veneration

Cope is honored jointly with Saint Damien of Moloka'i on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA). Their shared feast day is celebrated on April 15.

In arts and media

Father Damien was portrayed in 1999 by Paul Cox in the film Molokai: The Story of Father Damien. Mother Marianne was portrayed by South African actress Alice Krige.[17]

See also

Biography portal
Saints portal


Further reading

External links

  • Find a Grave

Template:National Women's Hall of Fame

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