20 October 2012

A Life of Pono: The Mother of Outcasts

In just a few hours' time, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI will canonize seven Saints for the Universal Church, two of whom are Americans.

Over the past several months the Catholic press has rightly given great attention to one of these: Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the Lily of the Mohawks.  Her cause has had great popular support and appeal over the years because of her status as the first Native American to be declared Blessed, and tomorrow the first to be declared a Saint.

But of the other American soon-to-be-saint the Catholic press - and even the blogosphere - has given precious little attention.  Perhaps this is best since it was this courageous woman who said, "I do not think of reward; I am working for God and do so cheerfully."  Though much of the world has either forgotten or largely ignored the merits of this faithful soul, God has not forgotten her efforts and her cooperation with his grace.

Born 23 January 1838 in Heppenheim, Germany, Barbara Cope immigrated with her family to Uttica, New York.  She entered the Franciscan Sisters of Syracuse in 1862 and received the name Marianne.  Recognizing her skillful administration, her Sisters elected her as superior general in 1877.

It was to her that Father Leonor Fouesnel, SS.CC, Provincial of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, to whom mission of the Sandwich Islands (now known as Hawaii) had been entrusted, wrote in June of 1883.  For years, Saint Damien de Vuester, the Leper Priest, requested Sisters who would not only work with him in the care of the lepers, but who would also continue his ministry after him.

Mother Marianne was the only religious superior to respond to Father Leonor's request for a group of Sisters to serve the lepers and run the Kaka'ako Branch Hospital on Oahu.  It was from Kaka'ako that the lepers were sent to the settlement at Kalaupapa.  Writing to Father Leonor, Mother Marianne wrote:
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 arrived in Honolulu with six Sisters in November of 1883 and diligently saw to the needs of the patients, placing a particular emphasis of cleanliness.

After Father Damien was diagnosed with leprosy in 1886, Mother Marianne said, "We are not only willing but anxious to go and care for the poor outcasts" at Kalaupapa, which she did extremely well.

After the Sisters arrived at Moloka'i, Father Damien said, "I can die now.  You will continue to carry on the work even better than I could do."  Such was his confidence in Mother Marianne.

Several days before his death, Father Damien said to Father Conrardy, "How good God is to have made me live long enough to see at this moment two priests at my side and the Franciscan Sisters at the Settlement!  I can sing Nunc Dimittis, the work for the lepers is in good hands; and I, I am no longer necessary; I am going to Heaven."

After his death, Mother Marianne carried on his work with great skill and love, reminding her Sisters, "What little good we can do in this world to help and comfort the suffering, we wish to do it quietly and so far as possible unnoticed and unknown."  Hers truly was a life of pono, a life of righteousness.

Mother Marianne died on 9 August 1918 and is now buried in Syracuse, New York.

Mother Marianne, pray for us!

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