By Connie Berry
In the oft-locally repeated words of Pope John Paul II, it looks like “We will have a Saint for Syracuse.”
The Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities revealed in an announcement made Dec. 6, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes for Saints confirmed the medical and theological decisions regarding the second miracle necessary for the canonization of Bl. Mother Marianne Cope. All that is necessary now is the Holy Father’s approval and a date to be set for the canonization.
The news came at a painful time for the sisters as the cause director for the past 37 years, Sister Mary Laurence Hanley, OSF, died just days before the decision from the Vatican. She was a Sister of St. Francis for 67 years. Sister Mary Laurence’s life’s work was Mother Marianne’s cause for sainthood. As a young girl she had read a biography of Mother Marianne and it was what led her to a vocation as a woman religious in the tradition of St. Francis.
Sister Patricia Burkard, OSF, current general minister of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities, said the sisters were thrilled with the news from the Vatican.
“Some sisters went directly to the chapel to pray,” she explained. “It was bittersweet because of the passing of our Sister Mary Laurence on Dec. 2.”
Now, with the possibility of sainthood becoming a closer reality, Sister Patricia said, “This allows us to share her with the world.”
Barbara Koob, born in Germany on Jan. 23, 1838, would move to Utica as a child with her family and then join the young Franciscan community in Syracuse in 1862 where she would become known first as Sister Mary Anna Cope. She would soon after be referred to as Sister Marianna and then finally Sister Marianne. She was the second mother provincial of the Franciscan community at Syracuse. They had only recently formed from the Franciscan Sisters from Philadelphia.
It was a written invitation from missionary Father Leonor Fouesnel which first intrigued Mother Marianne. The priest had been assigned the task of finding sisters to work at the hospitals in Hawaii. He wouldn’t tell her until later about the poor people suffering from leprosy, or Hansen’s disease there. The priest sent the letter to 50 religious communities in the U.S. and Canada. Only Mother Marianne’s response gave him hope.
Mother Marianne and six sisters chosen from volunteers at the St. Anthony Motherhouse and St. Joseph’s Hospital set off for Hawaii in 1883. It was a long, difficult journey to make in those days. But Mother Marianne had already helped found two hospitals, St. Elizabeth’s in Utica and St. Joseph’s in Syracuse. Her skill as an administrator and her proven leadership after 17 years in the community likely served her well as she began her new ministry. She would spend the rest of her life caring for the suffering people, young and old, with Hansen’s disease in Kalaupapa, Molokai.
Mother Marianne’s compassion and dedication amid all the obstacles she faced serves as a model to her community, Sister Patricia explained. “It was very primitive there,” Sister Patricia said. “It was her intention to come back, to take the other sisters there to get settled and then return. She ended up staying. She returned when we brought her back in 2005. This is a joy for us. She is a model of virtue and holiness.”
Retired Bishop James Moynihan was in office when the first miracle was authenticated leading to Mother Marianne’s beatification. It was during one of his ad limina visits to Rome that Bishop Moynihan first brought up Mother Marianne’s cause to Pope John Paul II over a luncheon with other New York bishops.
“I explained to him everything she did in Molokai, and that she had founded hospitals and so on,” Bishop Moynihan recalled. “He was very interested. He said that her work with the lepers must have been similar to those who work with AIDS. As we were leaving the luncheon, and I was walking right ahead of him, he tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘We will have a Saint for Syracuse.’”
Bishop Moynihan also noted how Mother Marianne gave up everything to serve “the least of the least.”
“She had everything here. She was the provincial of her order. She had founded those hospitals, and yet she gave it all up. Just like the Apostles who dropped their nets and followed Jesus,” Bishop Moynihan said.
It was the miracle recovery of then 14-year-old Kate Mahoney that served as the first miracle attributed to Mother Marianne. Mahoney is in her early 30s now and said Mother Marianne has always been a “saint” to her.
“I always pray to Mother Marianne. She’s my person. I guess she’s my go-to person,” Mahoney explained. “I grew up in a very open, spiritually-aware Catholic family. Since I was an infant, religion, spirituality and prayer have been part of my life.”
She considers Mother Marianne a remarkable, incredible woman and said, “Sister Mary Laurence would kill me for this, but there are some things so similar between her and Mother Marianne. We could learn a lesson in perseverance and patience from them. There is a powerful sense of faith in both of them. Sister Mary Laurence did all that work on the cause, 18 hours a day, seven days a week, without ever meeting Mother Marianne, and Mother Marianne answered a letter on faith. Society needs tangible things and there is nothing tangible about the path either of those women took.”