Sisters of St. Francis announce culmination of years of work —Bl. Mother Marianne Cope will be canonized

By Connie Berry
Sun editor

The Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities held a press conference Dec. 20 announcing Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to canonize one of their own, Bl. Mother Marianne Cope. The date for the canonization in Rome has not yet been announced. Pope Benedict also announced the impending canonization of Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha, a native of the Mohawk tribe who converted to Catholicism, along with five others. Bl. Kateri, from the Mohawk River Valley region in New York, will be the first Native American saint.

The Franciscans held the press conference in the chapel at the St. Anthony Motherhouse where Bl. Marianne’s reliquary is located. Sister Lorraine Wesolowski, director of communications for the sisters, welcomed all those in attendance, including Bishop Robert Cunningham and many of the sisters. The woman cured by the second miracle, Sharon Smith, was also there.

The Franciscan sisters explained that the work for Bl. Marianne’s cause for sainthood actually began shortly after her death. The surviving members of her congregation realized Bl. Marianne’s acceptance of her role and the peace with which she lived her life was already an example of heroic virtue.

Sister Grace Anne Dillenschnieder, OSF, Vice Postulator for the Cause for the Diocese of Syracuse, said that 37 years earlier in December, Mother Viola Kiernan had asked Sister Mary Laurence Hanley, OSF, to begin working on the cause for sainthood.

“Her cause has progressed through three stages,” Sister Grace Anne explained. She was declared venerable in 2004, proclaimed blessed in 2005 after the approval of a first miracle due to Bl. Marianne’s intercession, and then in 2011 the Vatican Medical Board ruled a second miracle took place due to her intercession. After careful study of the case by Vatican theologians, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints affirmed her canonization which was then also affirmed by the pope on Dec. 19, 2011.

The steps to sainthood included much work by the diocese and the sisters. The late Msgr. Michael Minehan, Father Clifford Auth, Father Joseph Zareski, Father Andrew Baranski, along with Father Timothy Elmer and assistant chancellor Danielle Cummings, all played important roles in the process. Retired Bishop James Moynihan convened the first Board of Inquiry in the case.

Father Elmer served as Promotor of Justice, a role he described as a sort of “devil’s advocate.”
“The role was to question the validity or the strength of the testimony received from witnesses,” Father Elmer explained. “And so, when interviewing medical experts, for example, I might ask,  ‘Surely, Doctor, in your career, you must have seen a patient recover under similar circumstances?’ or ‘Can you give any medical explanation for the recovery of the patient?’”

Father Elmer also questioned the witnesses regarding the theological aspects of the cause, verifying that they had indeed appealed to Mother Marianne in prayer. “It was awesome to hear many of these doctors, some of whom were people of religious faith, testify that they could not fully explain what had led to the recovery of their patient who was, in each case, given almost no hope of recovery,” Father Elmer said. “It was impressive to hear the testimony of lay and religious witnesses who had no doubts that Mother Marianne had interceded on behalf of the patient.”

Two women from the Syracuse Diocese have attributed miraculous medical recoveries to Mother Marianne’s intercession. Katherine (Kate) Dehlia Mahoney was diagnosed with germ cell ovarian cancer in 1992 at the age of 14. She underwent an operation and follow up chemotherapy. However, her treatment led to severe complications including cardiac arrest. She experienced multiple organ system failure and entered the intensive care unit of Crouse Hospital. Her family and friends began intercessory prayer to Mother Marianne and the late Sister Mary Laurence Hanley, Director of the Cause for Mother Marianne, visited Mahoney praying to Mother Marianne as well. At the request of others, Sister Mary Laurence touched Mahoney with a relic of Mother Marianne. Mahoney’s improvement began just days later. Within weeks, Mahoney’s organs were functioning again. The doctors documented at the time there was no known reason for the improvement.

Sharon Smith’s case was more recent. She was diagnosed with pancreatitis with an extreme infection in April of 2005. The illness was destroying her organs. Smith was a patient at St. Joseph’s Hospital at the time. Smith, who is not a Catholic, came to her miracle in a roundabout way. Someone sitting in a waiting room with a friend of Smith’s suggested they pray to Mother Marianne for Smith. A Eucharistic minister would visit Smith and invited one of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities, Sister Michaeleen Cabral, to visit Smith as well. Sister Michaeleen described Smith as having tubes coming out of every possible location in her body and her own personal belief that Smith was near death. Sister Michaeleen asked Smith if she was praying to Mother Marianne. A very weak Smith replied that someone had given her a prayer card with Mother Marianne on it. Sister Michaeleen brought a small bag of soil from Mother Marianne’s grave and pinned it to Smith’s hospital gown. Friends of Smith and the Sisters of St. Francis continued to pray to Mother Marianne for her intercession. Smith was in the hospital nearly a year finally experiencing the removal of her feeding tube in the fall of 2005. She left the hospital for good at the end of January 2006.

In gratitude, Smith began volunteering at Francis House where Sister Michaeleen met her once again. She could not believe that Smith had recovered. Smith’s inexplicable medical recovery through the intercession of Bl. Marianne Cope was the miracle affirmed by the Vatican’s medical and theological experts and led to the sainthood announcement. Smith, who lives in Chittenango and attends St. Vincent de Paul Church in Syracuse, is 65 and retired from the Navy and as head custodian of a middle school in Oneida. She is soft-spoken and said she feels blessed to have the connection with the Sisters of St. Francis and Mother Marianne.

“This is really Mother Marianne’s day and the Franciscan Sisters’,” Smith said. “I’m just a normal, ordinary person, [the kind] they tell me God and the saints take care of.”


1838 Born Barbara Koob on January 23 in Heppenheim,  Hessen-Darmstadt, Germany.

1839  Koob (later changed to Cope) family emigrates to the U.S.

1840  Family settles in Utica, N.Y. and become parishioners of St. Joseph’s Church.

1855 – 1862 Barbara becomes the main supporter of her family during her  father’s illness.

1862  After her father’s death, Barbara enters convent in Syracuse, N.Y.

1862 – 1863  Sister Marianne professes her vows as a Sister of St. Francis; serves as a member of the leadership group of her religious community and supported the establishment of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Utica in 1866 and was key in establishing St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse in 1869.

1870 – 1877  Sister Marianne becomes superior of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse, and is also elected assistant mother and secretary general  in 1871 (held three positions concurrently).

1877   Sister Marianne is elected mother general of the Franciscan congregation and given the title “mother” as was the custom of the time.

1883  Mother Marianne is the only one of 50 religious leaders to respond positively to an emissary from Hawaii who visits her with a request for Catholic sisters to provide health care on the Hawaiian Islands, especially to patients with Hansen’s disease (leprosy).

1883  November 8 becomes known as “Landing of the Sisters Day” as six Catholic Franciscan sisters led by Mother Marianne arrive in Honolulu, Hawaii.

1884  Franciscan sisters move to a convent within the hospital for patients with Hansen’s disease.

1884  Mother Marianne establishes the first general hospital on the island of Maui.

1888 Franciscan sisters led by Mother Marianne arrive at Kalaupapa, Molokai, to manage Bishop Home for women and girls.

1889 After Father Damien de Veuster’s death, Hawaiian government appoints Mother Marianne in charge of his home for boys at Kalaupapa.

1890 – 1895 New home for boys established at Kalawao under the leadership of Mother Marianne and is renamed Baldwin Home in honor of benefactor.

1918 Mother Marianne dies at Bishop Home and is buried on the grounds.

2003 – 2004 Theologians, cardinals and bishops at Congregation for Causes of Saints unanimously affirm Mother Marianne’s heroic virtue and Mother Marianne becomes Venerable Marianne Cope.

2004 Vatican Medical Board rules unanimously that a miracle case is an inexplicable medical recovery. Theologians rule unanimously that the miracle was due to the intercession of Venerable Marianne Cope.  Pope John Paul II affirms the miracle case, allowing Mother Marianne to be eligible to be declared Blessed.

2005 Mother Marianne’s remains return to Syracuse, N.Y. after being exhumed from gravesite at Kalaupapa, Molokai.

2005 Mother Marianne Cope is proclaimed “Blessed” during a ceremony at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, Italy.  His Holiness Benedict XVI holds audience for pilgrims attending beatification of Blessed Marianne Cope.

2011 Vatican Medical Board rules unanimously that a second miracle case is an inexplicable medical recovery. Theologians rule unanimously that the second miracle case was due to the intercession of Blessed Marianne Cope.  The Congregation for Causes of Saints affirms Blessed Marianne for canonization. Pope Benedict XVI affirms Blessed Marianne for canonization.

2012 Mother Marianne Cope will be canonized.

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