Retracing a Journey

March 3-9, 2005
Retracing a Journey
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
More than 100 Sisters of St. Francis from the Syracuse, Albany, Utica and Williamsville Dioceses were joined by about 900 people on Sunday, Feb. 27 at a Mass to welcome Mother Marianne Cope back to the Syracuse Diocese and to Assumption Church –– the parish in which she professed her final vows and served as principal at the school. Bishop James Moynihan was the principal celebrant with Bishop Thomas Costello, Father Justin Biase, OFM Conv. and Father Robert Amrheim, OFM Conv. concelebrating. More than a dozen priests and 30 Knights of Columbus participated in the procession, as did a large contingent of Knights and Dames of Malta.

In his homily, Bishop Moynihan talked about the stigma leprosy patients faced and their isolation from society. Reading excerpts from Sister Mary Laurence Hanley’s book on Mother Marianne entitled A Song of Pilgrimage and Exile, Bishop Moynihan quoted: “Then, for the first time, the Sisters of St. Francis saw the lepers. Mr. Gibson (president of the Board of Health) must have winced at the prospect before them –– and groaned at the thought of what he was asking these gentle women to do. He must have turned to Mother Marianne, sitting beside him in the carriage to see how she would respond to the ugliness before them. But she did not shrink back. She looked fully into the face of horror that day, and she did not turn away.”

Bishop Moynihan also addressed the similarities of Jesus Christ and Mother Marianne’s work with the lepers. “In Jesus’ time, lepers were the outcasts of society, yet He went among them and healed them of their leprosy,” said Bishop Moynihan. “Mother Marianne lived among the lepers for 35 years and befriended them and cared for them and loved them. Jesus allowed Himself to be touched by a known prostitute and reached out to another woman taken in the act of adultery. Mother Marianne and her Sisters learned very quickly that lepers judged the quality of a clean person’s character by testing that person’s willingness to shake their hands.”

That strength and compassion has made Mother Marianne a woman worthy of sainthood, as so many people both on Kaluapapa and in Syracuse are quick to recognize. “Many people who went to school here at Assumption lived with the story of Mother Marianne,” said Father Biase, rector of Assumption Church. “They knew very deeply what she was about. The Sisters talked about her all the time. She became a legend. So for them to see her recognized and having her remains brought back to where she was during the early part of her life is very exciting.”

Bertha Jaworski, a parishioner at Holy Trinity Church in Utica, traveled to Syracuse to attend the Mass. A member of Divine Mercy prayer group at St. Joseph/St. Patrick’s, the parish Mother Marianne attended during her youth, Jaworski said she has been praying to her for 15 years. “I think it’s wonderful that we will have a saint in New York,” said Jaworski. “I’m not surprised by the number of people here today.” Jaworski said she lives on Walnut Street –– very close to where Mother Marianne grew up. “This has very special meaning to me because of that,” she said.

Flora Johnson, a parishioner of St. John the Baptist Church in Syracuse, said that this was her second time paying respects to Mother Marianne since her remains arrived in Syracuse. “I went to the Motherhouse to pay my respects,” said Johnson. “And I came today because I have a petition I would like her to answer. I’ve been praying to her since her notoriety began.”

“It takes a long time to become Blessed,” said Bishop Moynihan. “It takes about just as long to be recognized. The process started 30 years ago and has finally been concluded.” Bishop Moynihan said how delighted he was that so many people with Franciscan connections could be present at the Mass. “We are grateful to God for this special day and especially to the Franciscans who labored long and diligently in the Hawaiian Islands and here in Syracuse.”

“The nuns worked very hard for this,” agreed Delores Abt, a parishioner of Assumption Church for more than 60 years. “We are very happy Mother Marianne has come back to Assumption; to have this beautiful thing happen. “

As a witness to the Aloha Mass on Kalaupapa where several dozen patients, residents and visitors gathered to say goodbye to Mother Marianne, one can only marvel at the reception she has received in the Syracuse Diocese. Sister Mary Laurence said that more than 2,000 people a day have come to pay their respects at the Motherhouse on Court Street.

Kalaupapan patients Paul and Winnie Harada had made peace with the fact that Mother Marianne left Kalaupapa. “I’m not sad,” said Paul. I’ve been to Syracuse. I’ve seen the convent. I’ve wanted to see her go long before this. She’d be lonesome here.

“She will be happy in her new place,” added Winnie. “Her work is not done.”

At the end of Mass as a small crowd gathered around Mother Marianne’s casket. Each person placed on hand on the casket and their other hand on a woman who appeared to be suffering from an illness. For a long time, the group stood quietly and reverently in prayer. And one could only agree with Winnie Harada. Mother Marianne’s work is not done. It has just begun.

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