Living Legacy

April 29-May 5, 2004
Living Legacy
By Kristen Fox / SUN  Staff Writer
Mother Marianne Cope of Molokai Declared ‘Venerable’ in Major Step Toward Sainthood

Mother Marianne Cope, OSF, Central New York’s closest candidate to sainthood, is now a step closer to being declared a saint. On April 19, Pope John Paul II signed the decree recognizing the Heroic Virtue of Mother Marianne, making it official that the Servant of God was a woman of extraordinary holiness. “The Sisters of St. Francis are very happy and excited,” said Sister Grace Anne Dillenschneider, OSF, general minister of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Third Franciscan Order, of the pope’s declaration. “We feel blessed to have Mother Marianne as part of our community.” The status of venerable opens the door to beatification and then sainthood, both of which require documentation of miracles attributed to the intercession of Mother Marianne. Mother Marianne was born Barbara Cope in Germany in 1838. Her family relocated to Utica in 1840 and she attended St. John’s Church in Utica until she joined the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis in 1862 as Sister Marianne. She worked as a teacher and principal and was the head administrator at schools in Syracuse, Rome and Oswego.

Mother Marianne served on the board of directors of sisters who helped open St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse and St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Utica. Her successful leadership in the education field led to her appointment as chief administrator of St. Joseph’s. After becoming second provincial superior in 1877, Mother Marianne, moved by a letter from King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani of Hawaii, decided to leave Central New York to aid the thousands of people afflicted with leprosy in Hawaii. For this work she is most remembered and earned the name Mother Marianne of Molokai. Passing away on Aug. 9, 1918, she spent the last 35 years of her life in Hawaii helping a population that others had abandoned.

Sister Grace Anne praised Mother Marianne for her willingness to go where the need was greatest, even under the most trying circumstances. “My feeling is that Mother Marianne took great risks in the community, even when it was a difficult and long journey,” she said. “She remained open to wherever she was called.” Sister Mary Laurence Hanley, OSF, serves as cause director for Mother Marianne’s sainthood. She has become an expert on the life of Mother Marianne and spent years preparing the detailed Positio, a document that describes the life and times of a person being considered for sainthood. The three-volume set contains more than 2,000 pages. Her work also led to the creation of a four-room museum devoted to Mother Marianne, located at the St. Anthony Motherhouse on Court Street in Syracuse. Sister Mary Laurence believes that Mother Marianne’s legacy of love and service speaks to all Christians. “Today we see people with talent in many different areas, but the talent Mother Marianne had was the most important,” she said. “She always had a spirit of joy. Even the bad things, she accepted with cheerfulness.” The journey to sainthood is a long one. “There are 3,000 cases which have reached the stage of being in Rome. The pope only hears 30 each year,” Sister Mary Laurence said. “Being declared venerable is a promising step.”

Because the Catholic Church at present asks for confirmation from God before a person can be honored as a saint, two authenticated miracles are needed before Mother Marianne’s canonization, one for beatification and another for her canonization. At this point, reports of miracles can be introduced to the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints. In 2001, the Diocesan Tribunal and Medical Expert completed a miracle inquiry of a young woman cured of multiple organ systems failure. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints received the inquiry and it is being investigated by officials in Rome. If the miracle is verified, this would lead to Mother Marianne’s beatification and to the title “Blessed.” “This is a very promising miracle,” said Sister Mary Laurence. She added there are plans to exhume Mother Marianne’s body from its burial site in Kalaupapa, Molokai.

“Because of the rules of the Catholic Church, Mother Marianne’s remains must be exhumed and positively identified,” said Sister Mary Laurence. “A beatified person must have their remains enshrined in a chapel or a church. The sisters believe that her beatification is imminent.” No decision has yet been made to exhume the body. Though Mother Marianne has left the world in body, her spirit of love, compassion and faith has endured. It will be a great blessing and gift to the diocese when she is declared a saint. “One of the most wonderful parts of Mother Marianne’s legacy is that she lived and worked in our diocese,” said Sister Grace Anne.

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