By Connie Berry
Visitors traveled to Syracuse recently to honor Bl. Mother Marianne Cope with one of Hawaii’s highest symbols of respect – feather kahilis. The kahilis, pronounced kah-HEE-lee, are composed of 10,000 feathers representing 10,000 prayers to Mother Marianne. They were made in Hawaii by a group of volunteers and shipped to Syracuse where they now stand on either side of the reliquary at her shrine in the chapel at the Franciscan sisters’ motherhouse on Court Street. The kahilis were reserved for royalty in Hawaii and made of red and yellow feathers now gathered from a variety birds. Feathers must be sorted, clustered and attached taking many hours of labor. The kahilis were officially placed during a procession at a special Mass celebrated by Bishop Robert Cunningham and concelebrated by Father Lane Kaino from Wakiki on June 30.
Mother Marianne grew up in Utica and entered the Sisters of St. Francis community in Syracuse in 1862. She was instrumental in opening both St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Utica and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse. The bishop of Hawaii sent letters to religious communities asking for help to serve the lepers there and Mother Marianne was the only one who answered replying, “I am hungry for the work, and I wish with all my heart to be one of the chosen ones whose privilege it will be to sacrifice themselves for the salvation of the souls of the poor islanders …. I am not afraid of any disease, hence, it would be my greatest delight even to minister to the abandoned ‘lepers.’”
She set off with six other sisters in 1883. Amazingly, there were actually 35 sisters who volunteered to go with Mother Marianne. They arrived, and at first, took care of the lepers confined at the hospital in Honolulu for five years. This was a sort of holding center for those thought to have the disease. They stayed there until their official diagnosis then they were sent to Molokai where they would remain in exile. The sisters went to Molokai in 1888 and Mother Marianne would remain there until her death in 1918.
Her legacy in Hawaii is broad with 48 Sisters of St. Francis serving there today. The Sisters of St. Francis founded a hospital, schools, a hospice center and senior housing in Hawaii. Sister Patricia Burkhard, OSF, is general minister of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities and she recently traveled to Hawaii for a similar kahili ceremony there with Bishop Larry Silva. While in Hawaii, Sister Patricia spoke at schools and parishes about Mother Marianne’s life and work.
“Mother Marianne and the sisters were well received by the royal family in Hawaii. They were grateful to her and the sisters,” Sister Patricia said. “She remains for us a model of risk-taking, courage and dedication. We hold her up as a woman of compassion and generosity and model our lives after her.”
Sister Patricia explained that Mother Marianne’s insistence on cleanliness may have been a product of the era. The Civil War had brought an awareness to hygienic methods and she may very well have built upon lessons from the war. Mother Marianne insisted on hand-washing and other sanitary measures and assured the sisters that if they followed her direction, they would not contract leprosy while working with the residents. None of them after 127 years, ever has, Sister Patricia said.
Sister Patricia also talked about another aspect of the sisters’ life in Hawaii not often realized. They loved and nurtured the female healthy children of the leprosy patients. The babies of the lepers living on the island would be taken from them at birth so that they would not contract the disease. This is how the sisters founded the Bishop Home on the Molokai. While they cared for the female children, St. Damien de Veuster cared for the male children, educating them in various trades on their portion of the island. The sisters educated the girls and taught them sewing and music lessons. When the children came of age, they left for the mainland.
“The child and the parents could visit,” Sister Patricia explained. “There were screens in place and they could talk to each other but not touch.”
News arrived from the Vatican on June 16 of this year. A group of physicians there gave an affirmative vote that the second proposed healing attributed to Mother Marianne’s intercession cannot be scientifically explained. This is a significant step in her cause for sainthood. Sister Mary Laurence Hanley, OSF, director of Mother Marianne’s cause, said this means there are still two more crucial stages that need to take place before the pope makes the final determination for her sainthood.
“The case next goes to theologians so they can determine if there’s a relationship between the alleged miraculous healing and intercession of the candidate for sainthood,” Sister Mary Laurence said. “If the theologians are positive in voting, it will go to the cardinals and bishops of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints for a vote, and then if their decision is positive they’ll pass it onto the Holy Father, who can make a decree that the miraculous healing was a result of the intercession of Bl. Marianne Cope. Then, a canonization can take place.”
Presently, she explained, the case’s representative at the Vatican is preparing a book called a “Positio” with all the required information necessary for the theologians to study the case. Meanwhile, Sister Mary Laurence said, “Prayer is needed all the way through the whole process and not taking it for granted all stages will pass the voters.”
Anyone who wants to learn more about Bl. Mother Marianne can visit the chapel and museum at the St. Anthony Convent Motherhouse, 1024 Court St., Syracuse. Both are open Wednesdays and Saturdays 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. with sisters and volunteers available to provide information and assistance. Appointments can be made for those from out of town who may not be able to make it those days. Groups are also welcome to visit. Call (315) 422-7999 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.