Blessed statue


POSTED: Saturday, January 23, 2010

The statue of Mother Marianne Cope, who served Hansen's disease patients in Hawaii for 35 years, is to be dedicated today at Kewalo Basin Park commemorating her role in Hawaii history.

The Sisters of St. Francis installed the bronze image of Cope, who brought the first Franciscan nuns to Hawaii in 1883 in response to King Kalakaua's call for help in caring for leprosy victims.

The image of a religious woman swathed in full-length habit and veil seems an anomaly in the location frequented by pleasure seekers, lightly clad swimmers, surfers, joggers and fishermen.

Sister William Marie Eleniki said the site is a perfect fit not only because the nuns landed nearby when they arrived on the ship Mariposa, but because Kakaako was the location of the first government hospital opened for leprosy patients when the disease reached epidemic proportions in the late 19th century.

“;When people see this statue, we hope they will understand the unconditional love that Mother Marianne had for those who were shunned from society simply for the misfortune of having Hansen's disease,”; said Eleniki, chief administrator of the St. Francis Healthcare Foundation.

Near the shoreline, the figure faces toward Molokai. Cope and other sisters went to Molokai in 1888 to continue the work of Father Damien De Veuster at the Kalaupapa peninsula settlement, where more than 8,000 patients were isolated during a century of quarantine. She died there in 1918.

The installation needed approval from the Hawaii Community Development Authority. The state board, which regulates all Kakaako development, has approved other memorials in public parks, requiring that they have a link with the area and that the sponsors commit to maintaining them.

“;We thought there was a clear nexus since she served at the Kakaako branch receiving hospital,”; said Executive Director Anthony Ching. “;She was also known to be an avid fisherman and likely fished in the harbor area.”;

Ching added, “;We all recognize that Mother Marianne is a heroic figure with little notoriety who did a great service to the people of Hawaii.”;

There was a delay in the approval process last year after the Citizens Planning Advisory Council for Kakaako objected to the initial site, an area overlooking the Point Panic surfing area. “;The objection was not to the memorial,”; Ching said. “;They objected to the placement,”; which would reduce space in a shady area where surfers gather.

Sister Rosaire Kopczenski of Pittsburgh depicted Cope striding forward, veil swept by the wind, and a foot taller than her 5-foot height. “;She never stood still. Her energy and determination reached out beyond her size,”; said the sculptor, who taught art at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and in Pennsylvania.

Kopczenski said she crafted the statue's hands in “;hula movements, one reaching out and the other touching her heart in empathy,”; based on consultation with a kumu hula during a five-week stay in Hawaii in 2008.

“;Working on the statue was a labor of prayer, a spiritual experience,”; she said. “;I took a lot of contemplative time,”; seeking to capture the depth of the subject and make it “;a spiritual expression of serving God through what a human being can do.”; She visited the site Wednesday as workmen completed the installation while homeless men, outcasts of modern society, watched from nearby shade.

A plaque on the base says, “;This statue serves as an inspiration to never give up caring for those whom society has abandoned.”; It quotes Cope's letter to island officials: “;I am hungry for the work. I am not afraid of any disease, hence it would be my greatest delight even to minister to the abandoned.”;

The Catholic Church is considering a cause for sainthood for the nun because of her 35 years of service to outcasts. Cope was declared “;blessed”; in May 2005, the second step in the canonization process. Pope John Paul II set Jan. 23, her birthday, as her feast day in the Catholic liturgical calendar.