Mother Marianne Cope, shown here in 1886, came to Hawaii in 1883 to care for those suffering the devastating effects of Hansen's disease.
Kalaupapa nun reaches
first step to sainthood
Mother Marianne Cope ministered
to leprosy patients for 30 years
A Roman Catholic nun who dedicated her life to leprosy patients in Kalaupapa was named venerable yesterday, the first of three steps toward sainthood.
A Vatican panel of cardinals and bishops unanimously voted to affirm that Mother Marianne Cope demonstrated "heroic virtue" in her 30 years of ministering to the patients, according to Sister Mary Laurence Hanley, director of the nun's canonization cause for the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis in Syracuse, N.Y. The affirmation by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints now goes to Pope John Paul II for approval.
The pope has already elevated Father Damien DeVeuster to the second sainthood step, beatification, for his 16-year ministry in Kalaupapa. Cope brought Franciscan nurses to the Molokai settlement in 1888, the year before DeVeuster died of the disease, and she continued to work there until her death in 1918.
An official with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints said he could not comment on her case and refused to confirm the decision. But he did not dispute the Franciscan sisters' account.
"I think it's the biggest deal," said Hanley, who co-authored "Pilgrimage and Exile: Mother Marianne of Molokai." "This will be a big step in justice to have her life and virtue recognized."
Members of Cope's order in Hawaii were enthusiastic about the news. "We have more than our foot in the door," said Sister William Marie Eleniki, the regional administrator of Franciscans who work in island schools and St. Francis Medical Center. "We continue to pray that the process continues."
Sister Francine Gries, executive director of St. Francis Hospice, said the story of Cope's work in Hawaii, told by a teacher when she was a schoolgirl in Ohio, led her to join the Franciscan order and volunteer for Hawaii service.
"I spent seven years at Kalaupapa, an experience I wouldn't trade for anything," Gries said.
Sister Richard Marie Toal, 87, who retired after 36 years as a nurse at Kalaupapa, said: "I prayed for this every day. I hope the pope will make her a saint in my lifetime." The New Jersey native also was inspired by Cope's story to join the order and seek service in Kalaupapa.
Cope's Kalaupapa gravesite is on the grounds of a convent that is home to two Franciscans still serving as nurses to the dwindling population of patients. More than 50 island women are in the religious order, including Molokai-born Sister Marion Kikukawa, who is vice postulator for the Cope cause in Rome.
While the Vatican decision was cheered by supporters, sainthood is not necessarily near. The canonization cause was launched nearly 21 years ago. In 1996, Vatican historians approved the accuracy of information prepared, but it wasn't until last October that theologians in Rome gave their approval, as well.
Validation of one miracle attributed to Cope is required for beatification, the second step to canonization. Another verified miracle is required for sainthood. A mainland teenage girl's unexpected recovery, attributed to others' prayers to Cope, will be submitted to the Vatican for consideration as a miracle, Hanley said.
The Vatican is now reviewing a second miracle attributed to Damien that could qualify him for sainthood.
Born Barbara Koob in Germany in 1838, Cope joined the Franciscan sisters in 1862. She came to Hawaii in 1883, caring for leprosy patients at the Kakaako Branch Hospital for five years until volunteering to supervise a new home for girls in Kalaupapa. She eventually took over Kalaupapa's home for boys, too.
She was known for brightening the days of her young patients on the isolated Molokai peninsula, sewing them clothes, taking them on picnics, planting trees and flowers, and playing piano as they sang.
A third person, a layman known as Brother Joseph Dutton, served 44 years at Kalaupapa, but is not a candidate for sainthood.
Star-Bulletin reporter Mary Adamski and the Associated Press contributed to this report.