Monday, August 10, 1998

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Monsignor Robert Sarno and Sister Mary Laurence Hanley
with a portrait of Mother Marianne Cope, who succeeded
Father Damien in caring for leprosy victims in
Kalaupapa and on Oahu.

Mother Cope
many feel she
merits sainthood

The 80th anniversary of
the nun's death is marked
at her Kalaupapa grave

By Mary Adamski


A joyous crowd gathered at a Molokai grave site yesterday to remember a woman whose name is still a household world in her community, 80 years after she died.

The crowd of Kalaupapa residents and Franciscan nuns want Mother Marianne Cope to gain worldwide recognition for the work she did in caring for leprosy patients as successor to Father Damien DeVeuster.

Cope's modern-day fans believe she deserves to be designated a saint by the Catholic Church, meeting the requirement of "heroic virtue" by caring for the spiritual and physical needs of residents at the remote settlement while it was a place of banishment for victims of the disease.

Father Damien has already passed two of the church's three-

step path to sainthood.

Among the guests yesterday - the anniversary of Cope's death - was Sister Mary Laurence Hanley, who has directed the cause for sainthood since 1974. It was a return visit for Hanley, 73, a former literature teacher who works out of the religious order's Syracuse, N.Y., headquarters. When she began her research more than two decades ago, she interviewed Kalaupapa patients who knew Mother Marianne before her death in 1918.

The celebrant of the Mass was Monsignor Robert J. Sarno, an official of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome. The Brooklyn priest has been with the Vatican agency for 16 years and also teaches procedural law at the Pontifical Gregorian University. His doctoral dissertation is used in Catholic dioceses worldwide as the guide for inquiries made in causes for sainthood.

Sarno said there are about 1,800 active causes, ranging from the beginning stage of a local fact-fathering commission through beatification. The cause for Damien, who was declared "blessed" or beatified in 1995, is at the last step, awaiting a verified miracle to qualify for canonization.

Some 260 cases are at the same phase as the Cope cause, he said, waiting to be judged by theologians at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Two years ago, Congregation historians found the research sufficient for their unanimous acceptance. If all goes well, the cardinals who lead the department would recommend to the pope that he declare the nun "venerable."

"The goal is to get to the truth," said Sarno, one of the Vatican officials interviewed about the sainthood process in "It Only Takes a Miracle," broadcast on ABC earlier this year.

It is a process that has evolved over the centuries of the church's existence, he said. Catholics name their children and their churches after saints and honor them with designated feast days throughout the liturgical year.

"We believe . . . we are a family, those who are here on Earth and those who have gone back to God," said Sarno. "We talk to each other, we help each other out in times of difficulty. God raises up individuals who are outstanding, either because they died the death of a martyr or lived a life of heroic virtue.

"Saints are signposts along the road," he said. "They have followed Christ closely and they show the way to us. Every time the church proclaims a saint, it is proclaiming its holiness.

"With canonization, the church declares that someone is in heaven with God. (The saint) is a model, is in a privileged position and has intercessory power." Catholics do not worship saints, but may ask for their intercession or help when praying to God.

The process requires proof of two miracles attributable to the candidate's intercession. An incident being examined in the Syracuse diocese involves a 14-year-old girl, expected to die after multiple organ failure, who recovered completely after her mother and others invoked Mother Marianne's help. Hanley brought a relic and touched it to the unconscious girl.

"I never experienced anything like this before," said Hanley. The critical care unit doctor is among witnesses who made statements in the 1992 incident.

At this point, the Cope cause exists as a position document in three volumes thicker than phone books. It's the condensation of research that filled 29 volumes.

For Hanley, it's still as real as the beginning of her quest when she read anecdotes from the 15 handwritten notebooks of Sister Leopoldina Burns, one of the early Franciscans. Along the way Hanley collaborated with Hawaii author O.A. Bushnell on a Cope biography, "Song of Pilgrimage and Exile."

"One of the first things (Cope) did at Kalaupapa was insist on Board of Health rules to require that children be brought to the sisters," she said.

"Children would disappear," held by adults who wanted their rations or forced them into work or immoral activities. "Some didn't want supervision; they were like wildcats.

"Sister Leopoldina told about a child who came to them badly beaten. She said she doesn't believe that the man who claims to be her father really is her father. Leopoldina writes that they took her in, but she never got over the habit of looking behind her, fearing retribution," Hanley recalled.

"One of the girls came and told that there was a plot to kill Mother. The girls all got weapons; they were sharpening hatches and gathering stones. Mother just said, 'I hope no one gets hurt.' The plot was apparently dropped."

Hanley said photographs were taken of the nuns when they left Syracuse.

"None of the sisters looked the same in later photos. All their physical beauty was faded. They looked worn out."

Cope in Hawaii

Key events in Mother Marianne Cope's time in Hawaii:

bullet November 1883: Cope brings six Franciscan nuns to Hawaii in response to pleas from the Kingdom of Hawaii and local church officials for help with victims of leprosy.

bullet 1883-1887: Additional nuns arrive as Cope, a nurse, responds to Board of Health needs, operating the Kakaako facility for leprosy victims and opening a hospital on Maui.

bullet 1885: Cope opens Kapiolani home on Oahu for children of patients.

bullet November 1888: Less than a year before Damien dies of the disease, she brings the sisters to Kalaupapa. They operate the infirmary, open a home for unprotected women and girls and a home for boys.

bullet November 1895: As the level of care expands, four religious brothers of the Sacred Hearts order respond to Cope's request to come to teach farming and carpentry to boys at the settlement.

bullet Aug. 9, 1918: Mother Marianne Cope dies at 80 and is buried at Kalaupapa.

Actress portraying Cope
calls her 'exceptional'

By Mary Adamski


Actress Alice Krige, in Kalaupapa last week to play Mother Marianne Cope in the "Father Damien" movie being filmed there, said the nun "would be remarkable if she were alive now, and she was exceptional for her time."

"She was the senior person in Syracuse, superintendent of a hospital and mother superior of a convent . . . at the top of a hierarchy," Krige said. "In coming to the islands, she relinquished that power because it was infinitely more important to serve the poor than it was to be in top power."

The actress spent time at the Franciscan headquarters in Syracuse, N.Y., to research the part, and came away a fan of the woman who died 80 years ago after more than three decades of service to leprosy victims.

"I do research as part of the process of finding the person. You set that person growing inside of you," she said. "I was so embraced by the nuns at Syracuse. I was given access to so much information, to her desk, her actual letters and journals."

Krige, a South African who works mostly in England, has been seen in America in "Star Trek: First Contact," "Sleepwalkers" and several made-for-television movies, including "The Truth About Ed Brannigan," which aired last year. She co-stars with Tom Beringer in "The Agency," which will be seen on the Showtime cable channel later this year.

"I've seen letters that Marianne wrote to Damien, originals in her own hand, two really cordial letters. She said: 'We are sending a child who has been torn from us. It was like having a limb torn from us.'

"She took her vows of poverty, humility and obedience with great seriousness and was bound to do what her superiors desired of her," said Krige.

The sisters' service in Hawaii was affected by government power shifts during King Kalakaua's reign so Cope "had to thread her way through a political quagmire. She had a complicated path to pursue. She was in a different position from Damien: She was responsible for her nuns, their safety and security."

"She was the kindest of human beings, with tremendous courage," Krige said.

"She was also a very strict person, very firm, and I understand she was as strict on herself as on others. She had a deep commitment to a moral code, to the precepts that you follow as a Christian. She repeatedly writes, 'We have so little time to do our work for the glory of God.' "

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