Saint Marianne Cope

The story of Kalaupapa, Molokai is one of heartbreak as well as heroes. In the late 1800s, Hansen's disease was rampant in Hawaii. A lack of understanding of the disease and other factors led to the forced exile of patients to the secluded peninsula of Kalaupapa. Over the next century, many Congregational ministers, Catholic priests, Mormon elders, as well as family and friends of patients went voluntarily to Molokai to help, and through their efforts, the isolated community slowly transformed from a place to die into a place of healing. Of the many selfless caregivers, Saint Damien and Saint Marianne Cope are remembered as beloved champions of the patients.

Saint Marianne Cope

The religious calling came early to Barbara Cope. Born on January 23, 1838 in what is now Hessen, West Germany, she emigrated with her family to the United States and became a naturalized citizen. At 24, Barbara entered the Sisters of Saint Francis in Syracuse, N.Y. where she was given the name Sister Marianne.

Sister Marianne had a talent for administration. She participated in the establishment of several New York hospitals, and served as the administrator of the St. Joseph's Hospital in Syracuse. Her kindness, wisdom and down to earth personality enabled her to become an effective advocate for patient rights. It was these skills that would make her a pioneer in Hawaii medical history.

In 1883, Mother Marianne and her Franciscan sisters journeyed to Hawaii to care for patients afflicted by Hansen's disease. Even in this remote area of the Pacific, Mother Marianne's talents were recognized. Within a year of her arrival, she established the Malulani Hospital, the first general hospital on Maui. She was given the administration of the Branch Hospital in Kakaako (an area near Honolulu, Oahu), and a few years later, she created the Kapiolani Home for the homeless daughters of Hansen disease patients—people who were exiled on the strikingly beautiful, yet painfully isolated, peninsula of Kalaupapa in northern Molokai.

In 1889, Father Damien had been serving the patients of Kalaupapa for 16 years and had contracted the disease. With months to live, he requested that Mother Marianne and the Fransiscan sisters to join him in tending to the patients and continue his life's work. They sacrificed the hope of returning to New York, and followed him into exile. Mother Marianne continued on as his successor at the Boy's Home, and also established the Bishop Home for women and children. When she died of natural causes in 1918 at the age of 80, she had helped to transform a place of dying into a community of hope. She was buried on the grounds of Bishop Home, and in 2005 her remains were returned to Syracuse, New York. Mother Marianne was canonized into sainthood on October 21, 2012. A statue in her honor stands proudly at Kewalo Basin Park in Honolulu, gazing at the infinite horizon.