Another Step to Sainthood

By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
Mother Marianne Cope, a Sister of St. Francis, prime foundress of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse and parishioner of St. Joseph’s Parish in Utica, professed her final vows in 1863 at Assumption Church in Syracuse. Mother Marianne spent the next 20 years serving in the Syracuse Diocese before responding to the call of King Kalakaua and the government of the Hawaiian Islands to care for its sick and poor, especially victims of leprosy. One hundred and twenty two years after leaving Syracuse and months before being elevated to becoming Blessed, Mother Marianne is coming home.

As required for her anticipated beatification, the body of the revered sister is being removed from its resting place in Kalaupapa, Molokai at the end of January and transported to a permanent shrine at the Franciscan Motherhouse on Court Street in Syracuse. Mother Marianne’s ties to Syracuse are strong and significant. In 1864 and 1865, Mother Marianne served as vicaria of St. Francis Convent at Assumption as well as principal of Assumption Girl’s School. In 1866, she was appointed temporary superior at Immaculate Conception Convent and then served as teacher and principal at St. Mary’s School and St. Peter’s School in Rome, N.Y. Prior to her pioneer work in the health profession, she also served as mother superior and principal at the new mission school in Oswego, N.Y. While Mother Marianne served as teacher and administrator at many schools throughout the diocese, she is most remembered for her making a success of Syracuse’s first hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital.

In 1872 Mother Marianne arranged for Syracuse University Medical students to be admitted to St. Joseph’s Hospital for clinical instruction. It was during her time of leadership that the College of Medicine in Geneva, N.Y. moved to the fledgling Syracuse University to become the College of Physicians and Surgeons, thus starting a new arena of medicine for the upstate New York area. Mother Marianne continued making innovative advances in the medical community for several years, including the expansion of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Utica in 1878.

In 1883, Mother Marianne chose six other Franciscan sisters to travel with her to Hawaii to establish a hospital nursing system, especially for leprosy patients. There she met Father Damien De Veuster, who was already at work caring for the sick at Kaluapapa Molauki. Her devotion to St. Francis of Assisi, who cared deeply for the sick and poor, together with special compassion for those with leprosy, gave Mother Marianne and her colleagues the courage and fortitude to introduce new medical practices and higher health standards to the leper hospital in Honolulu, where she worked for five years caring for patients before being free to go to Molauki.

In 1884, at the request of the Hawaiian government, Mother Marianne took time from her duties to set up Malulani Hospital, the first general hospital on the island of Maui. Father Damien was diagnosed with leprosy in 1886. Mother Marianne consoled him with her promise that she would care for the orphans in his charge. Father Damien died from the disease in 1889. The Franciscans continued their tireless work caring for the leprosy patients and running hospitals, orphanages and schools in the Hawaiian Islands. There is still a strong presence of Franciscan nuns on the islands, providing a wide-range of health care services, working in schools and ministering to parishioners. The Franciscan Order continues to perpetuate Mother Marianne’s legacy. The sisters in the Syracuse Diocese run medical centers, teach, minister to the poor and serve in many ministerial areas. However, one of the most important causes the Franciscan community is committed to is the canonization of Mother Marianne. The Franciscans began collecting data on Mother Marianne as early as the 1920s, with the hope of future canonization. Within the next 40 years, documentation and testimonials were collected and the first biography of Mother Marianne was written.

For more than two decades, Sister Mary Laurence Hanley, OSF, who was appointed by Mother Viola Kiernan, OSF to take up the cause, devoted herself to the canonization of Mother Marianne. In 1983, Mother Marianne’s cause was officially registered at the Congregation for the Cause of Saints at the Vatican. The inquiry stage, headed by Most. Rev. John Scanlan, Bishop of Honolulu, involved preliminary research by four historians and ten consultants. Twenty-seven volumes of authenticated research were presented to Rev. Ernesto Piacentini, OFM. Conv., Cause Postulator for transfer to the Congregation in Rome. “The postulator has to have seen promise that Mother Marianne was a person of heroic virtue,” said Sister Mary Laurence. “Acknowledgement of heroic virtue is the most important. If a person is heroically virtuous, they have the makings of a saint.” The inquiry stage was completed in 1988.

From 1989 to 1995, Father Peter Gumpel, S.J. Vatican examiner and judge, officially called a relator, worked in collaboration with Sister Mary Laurence to advise about the compilation and the writing of the official Positio –– a three-volume synthesis of documentation complete with historical settings of each issue and phase of Mother Marianne’s life. “Relators are men with special qualities and training in theology, andcanon law and who must speak and read many languages,” said Sister Mary Laurence. In Oct. 2003, theologians of Congregation for Causes for Saints unanimously affirmed Mother Marianne’s heroic virtue and in Jan. 2004, cardinals and bishops of the congregation also unanimously affirmed it. Pope John Paul II raised her to venerable status in April 2004. The next step in the process of canonization is the documentation of a miracle. Between January 2004 and July 2004, a medical board and theologians unanimously approved the miracle case presented to them. On Dec. 20, Pope John II officially approved a Miracle Decree.

Approximately 12 years ago, a girl was suffering from multiple organ failure and was being kept alive only through mechanical support. A friend of the family, who was devoted to Mother Marianne, called the Motherhouse appealing for prayers. “A group of sisters took this on wholeheartedly,” said Sister Mary Laurence. “Notes were tacked up around our convent about the girl, which resulted in a multitude of prayers being sent to Mother Marianne requesting her intervention. The parents called and said she was changing,” said Sister Mary Laurence. “The prayers of so many people devoted to Mother Marianne changed her condition. She is a healthy young woman today.” Sister Grace Anne Dillenschneider, OSF, has given great support to Sister Mary Laurence’s efforts of the cause. She feels that Mother Marianne’s strong connection with God and her deep spiritual life lead people to pray to her. “Her spirituality is recognized by many people who knew her, and later knew of her story,” said Sister Grace Anne. “I think there was a great admiration for what she was able to do as a woman of her day.”

Mother Marianne put her talents, ability and charm to the most admirable use when caring for the poorest of the poor and those afflicted with a disease that people feared. She did it cheerfully and was an inspiring example to others. “She must have been a very persevering young woman to have taken on all that she did,” said Sister Eloise Emm, OSF. Sister Eloise was instrumental in the first official steps of the process of elevating Mother Marianne to sainthood. She has continued her work and support of the cause. “This is so exciting –– not just for our congregation, but for the diocesan community as a whole. Just think. She lived where we live. She walked the halls and the streets where we walk,” said Sister Eloise.

“To say that we are excited is an understatement,” added Sister Grace Anne. “Everyone is so pleased that this has finally come to be. It’s a confirmation and a blessing of what we [Franciscans] have done. It seems like this is a gift from God to us –– affirming that this is the way we were meant to go. This has great significance –– that this is happening during this year of formation of a new Franciscan community.”

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