Blessed Mother Marianne Cope

May 26 – June 1, 05
VOL 124 NO. 20
Blessed Mother Marianne Cope
By Father Donald Bourgeois/ SUN episcopal laison
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Native daughter of central new york moves one step closer to sainthood.

“See your people gathered in prayer, open to receive the Spirit’s flame. May it come to rest in our hearts and disperse the divisions of word and tongue. With one voice and one song may we praise your name in joy and thanksgiving.”

These words of the opening prayer from the Mass for the Vigil of Pentecost served as the theme of the celebration for the beatification of Mother Marianne Cope, of the Franciscan Sisters of Syracuse, and Sister Ascension Nicol Goni, co-founder of the Dominican Missionary Sisters of the Rosary.

The “one voice” which pilgrims of many nationalities understood was the call to holiness to which these newly declared blesseds responded. Laity, religious and clergy from Germany, Brazil, Hawaii, Africa and the continental U.S. joyfully celebrated the last step prior to canonization for the two holy women.

The celebration almost did not take place at this time. Because of the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI, many changes were made to the calendar of events for St. Peter’s Basilica. In numerous letters and emails, Bishop James Moynihan of Syracuse underscored the great financial losses and other hardships pilgrims from New York and Hawaii would endure if the ceremony were put off any length of time.

Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, agreed to move the Mass from its originally scheduled day, Pentecost Sunday, May 15, to 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 14, since St. Peter’s was to be used by the Holy Father for an ordination Mass on Pentecost. The Franciscan Sisters of Syracuse gratefully acknowledged that without the bishop’s intervention the beatification would never have taken place so close to its original time. (Several other beatifications scheduled for Pentecost were actually put off to a later date much to the disappointment of some pilgrims who nonetheless shared in the joy of the other celebrants.)

The process began, said Father Ernesto Piacentini, OFM, Cap., the postulator for Mother Marianne’s cause, in 1976, when he made the first of three trips to Hawaii. Recounting his initial voyage to the islands, he recalled the sign in front of the convent. It read in Pidgin English style, “Smile, it no break you face.”

“I knew,” Father Piacentini said, “that all would be well because I was there to learn about the smiling sister. She went to smile on the lepers, to give them food, medicine and hygiene, all the extras to the lepers and to all those who need.” His investigation filled 23 volumes on the life and holiness of Mother Marianne. These reports were the basis for the request for beatification made by Bishop Moynihan just prior to the chanting of the Gloria in the Mass. The bishop’s text began with a quote from Mother Marianne, “I am hungry for the work….I am not afraid of any disease. It will be my greatest delight to minister to the abandoned ‘leper.’”

The bishop’s petition, read in English, described Mother Marianne as “a born leader” who was “instrumental in the founding of several schools for immigrants and two of her nation’s first 50 general hospitals, which were open to people of all faiths, races and nationalities.”

Through her work in the Syracuse Diocese, the bishop added, “She learned much that would be useful during her years in Hawaii and became known in particular for her cheerfulness, administrative ability and kindness to outcasts.” The statement went on to say that six years after her election in 1877 as provincial of her order, Mother Marianne “gave up her position … to take charge of a hospital in Honolulu for abandoned leprosy patients.”

Bishop Moynihan concluded, “In 1888 she took her mission from Honolulu to the island of Molokai where she began a home for leprous women and girls. After the death of Blessed Damien De Veuster several months later, Mother Marianne took charge of Father Damien’s home for boys. The valiant woman of God died at Kalaupapa, Molokai, revered by all, on August 9, 1918.”

Usually the date of one’s entry into eternal life is the designated feast day for a blessed or a saint. But because the day of Mother Marianne’s death is the feast day of St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), the new blessed has been assigned her earthly birthday, January 23, as her feast, according to Sister Mary Lawrence Hanley, OSF, diretor of the Office of Cause of Mother Marianne.

Other unique highlights of the beatification Mass, which was concelebrated by more than 80 archbishops, bishops and priests, including Father Andrew Baranski, Bishop Moynihan’s secretary and several other Syracuse priests, included the presentation of the relics of Mother Marianne. The reliquary containing the bones of Mother Marianne was brought forward by Sister Davilyn Ah Chick, OSF. Also, as with other parts of the Mass, the Prayer of the Faithful was read in English and in Spanish by members of the communities of the newly blessed.

In the English portion of his homily, Cardinal Martins described Mother Marianne as one “Who heard the voice of Christ in the invitation of the Bishop of Honolulu….Like Isaiah, she did not hesitate to answer: ‘Here I am. Send me!’ (Is. 6:8) She left everything, and abandoned herself completely to the will of God, to the call of the Church and to the demands of her new brothers and sisters. She put her own health and life at risk. For 35 years…Blessed Marianne loved those suffering from leprosy more than she loved her very self. She served them, educated them, and guided them with wisdom, love and strength. She saw in them the suffering face of Jesus.”

The Cardinal concluded by citing her humility and quoting from Mother Marianne herself: “She did not seek earthly honors or approval. She wrote: ‘I do not expect a high place in heaven. I will be very grateful to have a little corner where I can love God for all eternity.’”

The significance and joy of the special day could be seen in the faces and heard in the voices of those who traveled to Rome to participate.

Sister Mary Lawrence said, “We are so very, very proud of Mother Marianne. She has made it to the altars of the Church.”

At an informal get-together later in the evening, Bishop James Moynihan, although not overlooking the importance of the day for all the people of the Diocese of Syracuse, said, “It was a great day for the Sisters. I’m very happy for them.”

Sister Davilyn, who was present at the exhumation of Mother Marianne’s remains earlier this year, said, “It’s more than a blessing for us Franciscans. It’s a special blessing for the universal Church. Now we can use her name in petitions and prayers.”

Also among those in attendance was Father Nevin Hammon, OFM Conv., who was taught by the Franciscan Sisters at Assumption Parish in Syracuse. He has served in Rome as a canon lawyer and is currently a confessor at St. Peter’s Basilica. He was also taught in Pittsfield, Mass., by Sister Mary Sylvester, OSF, the last of the sisters who personally knew Mother Marianne.

Even Mother Marianne’s native Germany was represented among the pilgrims. Father Herman Josef Herd, pastor and dean of St. Peter’s Church in Heppenheim, Mother Marianne’s baptismal parish, and Father Herbert Schega, a priest of the same diocese were present as were parishioners Else and Klaus Adler.

Joining the pilgrims by way of Milwaukee was Sister Mary Anne Heenan, CSJ, the former Superintendent of Schools of the Syracuse Diocese. Although she is a Sister of St. Joseph rather than a Franciscan, Sister Mary Anne said she came because of special friendships she has with some sisters in Syracuse and because she is a native of Utica, Mother Marianne’s first home in the U.S. She also pointed out the new blessed is her namesake. Also crossing over religious community boundaries, Dominican Sister Malia Dominica Wong, OP, who works with the Franciscan Sisters in Hawaii, joyfully proclaimed, “words cannot express what the Spirit can do.”

The Syracusans present, many of whom were on a pilgrimage led by Father Charles Vavonese of Syracuse, included Tina Dyer, executive secretary of the Diocesan Pastoral Council, who was at the beatification with her sister and brother-in-law Joan and Bob Lewis. Dyer said, “They’ve always wanted to come to Rome and although I’ve been here before, I can think of no better reason to come than this beatification and the papal audience to follow on Monday.”

The special papal audience was scheduled for Monday, May 16 at 11:30 a.m. Many of the staff at St. Peter’s did not even know of the audience because it was created only for the pilgrims there for the beatifications.

While waiting for the Holy Father, the religious sisters in the audience alternately serenaded each other with hymns in Hawaiian, English, Portuguese and Spanish. When Pope Benedict XVI arrived, he greeted the group, read a prepared text, and accepted gifts from the blesseds’ communities.

To the enthusiasts of Mother Marianne, the new pope said, “It is with great joy that I welcome you to Rome, dear brothers and sisters, for the Beatification of Mother Marianne Cope. I know that your participation in Saturday’s solemn liturgy, so significant for the universal Church, will have been a source of renewed grace and commitment to the exercise of charity which marks the life of every Christian.”

The pontiff, emphasizing Mother Marianne’s courage and faith in God said, “Fifty other congregations received the same plea for assistance [in Hawaii], but only Mother Marianne, in the name of her Sisters, responded positively.”

Near the close of his remarks Pope Benedict used Mother Marianne as a model for Christian vocations: “Undoubtedly the generosity of Mother Marianne was, humanly speaking, exemplary. Good intentions and selflessness alone, however, do not adequately explain her vocation. It is only the perspective of faith which enables us to understand her witness — as a Christian and as a religious — to that sacrificial love which reaches its fullness in Jesus Christ.”

Sister Grace Ann Dillenschneider, OSF, Assistant General Minister of the Sisters of St. Francis, presented a lei and a garland to the Holy Father who smiled broadly and waved enthusiastically as he displayed his pleasure with the items.

Among those in the papal audience was Wallace Lam of Honolulu. He and 22 other members of Star of the Sea Church in Honolulu were on a tour with Father Gregory DeGuzeman of their parish. Their on-again/off-again trip came through at the right time although they did not realize the beatification would be taking place. Lam recalled the “Smile” sign in front of the convent and said the coincidence of being in Rome is a sign that “Good things happen with God.” He also pointed out that his daughter-in-law is a graduate of Syracuse University.

After the 20-minute papal audience, Meg Burnett of Atlanta, great-greatniece of Mother Marianne, making no attempt to hide her pride and excitement, said, “It’s been absolutely wonderful! I can’t believe it’s so emotional. I’ve been waiting 30 years for this. I truly believe she’ll be canonized SOON.”

(The authentication of one more miracle through the intercession of Mother Marianne would mean that Cardinal Martins would petition the pope for the bestowal of sainthood.)

Mother Marianne’s other living descendants, great, great, greatnephew Dr. Paul (and Mrs.) DeMare of Honolulu, and great, great, greatniece Barbara Ames of Utica, were also present.

Throughout the beatification Mass and papal audience, the official portrait of Mother Marianne could be seen in many places. It was painted by Louise Lutz, a laywoman on the committee for the beatification. The Tuly, NY resident began working on the image in early February, 2005.

Using a photo from 1881 when Mother Marianne was elected Mother Provincial for the second time, Lutz created 30 prints before she was satisfied with her efforts. Of her work Lutz said, “The photograph was very faded, but the eyes were clear. I focused on her eyes to bring out her kindness and her beauty.” Lutz also said she was “empowered” by her husband Joseph Zader.

Mother Marianne’s likeness could be seen on the tapestry hanging in the basilica for the Mass, on tote bags distributed by the sisters, on lapel pins worn by the sisters and on a large flag that a sister waved proudly throughout the papal audience.

Blessed Mariane’s picture was also on a key chain. On the reverse of the image is a poem written by Robert Louis Stevenson on May 23, 1889. The poem foreshadows the voice of holiness that was celebrated at the beatification. It is entitled “To Reverend Sister Marianne,” and it reads as follows:

To see the infinite pity of this place,
The mangled limb, the devastated face,
The innocent sufferers smiling at the rod,
A fool were tempted to deny his God.,
He sees, and shrinks; but if he look again,
Lo, beauty springing from the breast of pain!—
He marks the sisters on the painful shores,
And even a fool is silent and adores.

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