A saint among us


MOTHERMThe Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities prepare for the canonization of Blessed Marianne Cope

By Katherine Long
Sun associate editor

There’s a reverent hush about the St. Anthony Convent in Syracuse. A woman offers a prayer in the dim chapel before Bl. Marianne Cope’s reliquary. As she leaves, she kisses her hand and presses it lovingly to the carved wood. Down a long hall at the back of the chapel, visitors walk softly through the museum dedicated to the soon-to-be-saint. Surrounded by the artifacts of her incredible work ministering to the sick in Central New York and Hawaii, all seem quieted by the presence of the hometown holy woman.

   But there’s something bubbling beneath the solemn surface: Excitement. Joy. Anticipation.

   In just three months, Bl. Marianne will be canonized in Rome, the thrilling realization of a dream long held by the Sisters of St. Francis and the Catholic community.

   Born in Germany in 1838, Bl. Marianne (then Barbara Koob) emigrated with her family to Utica in 1839. She entered the Sisters of St. Francis in Syracuse in 1862 and was given the name Marianne. She first served as a teacher and went on to help establish St. Elizabeth Hospital in Utica and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse. She is perhaps best known, though, for answering the call to minister to those suffering from Hansen’s disease (leprosy) in Hawaii. From 1883 until her death in 1918, Bl. Marianne cared for the sick on the islands. She was declared venerable in 2004 and beatified in 2005. Pope Benedict XVI affirmed Bl. Marianne for canonization in December 2011.

   “It really was a wonderful, wonderful moment,” said Sister Grace Anne Dillenschneider, OSF, Vice Postulator for the Cause for the Diocese of Syracuse, of the December announcement that Bl. Marianne would be elevated to sainthood. “We thought, ‘It’s finally here, after all this time, after talking about it for so long and not really thinking it would happen in our lifetime.’ It was a great moment.”

   Since the announcement, the community has thrown itself into preparations for the Oct. 21 canonization day and beyond. Among the myriad tasks, the community is coordinating its pilgrimage to Italy, organizing participation in the Mass at which the canonization will occur and considering how to best preserve and showcase Bl. Marianne’s legacy in the shrine and museum.

   Sister Patricia Burkard, OSF, current General Minister of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities, said committees have been established to organize the numerous moving parts of the process and that the wisdom of many is keeping the preparations on target.

   “There’s no manual for this,” she laughed.

   Sister Patricia said a group of sisters, Franciscan associates, family members and friends of the community will travel to Rome as part of the Sisters’ congregational contingent. Pilgrimage groups led by Bishop Robert Cunningham, Bishop Clarence Silva of Hawaii and the Franciscan Church of the Assumption in Syracuse will also journey to Rome. Sister Patricia said the group will spend at least one day in Assisi, a special kind of “homecoming” to the birthplace of Ss. Francis and Clare, before attending the canonization in Rome.

    The community has been working with the Vatican to coordinate participation in the Mass at which the canonization ceremony will take place. Bl. Marianne is one of seven people who will be canonized during the Mass; a certain number of representatives for each Blessed are able to participate. Bishop Cunningham and Bishop Silva will concelebrate with Pope Benedict, as will several priests from the dioceses of Syracuse and Hawaii. Representatives for Bl. Marianne will also help bring forward the gifts at Communion and present her relic.

   “Participants in the Mass will be those who have been active in the cause,” said Sister Grace Anne, including members of the community’s leadership, former Hansen’s patients from Hawaii and Sharon Smith, the Chittenango woman whose healing was the miracle that lead to Bl. Marianne’s sainthood. Banners and gifts to be presented during the ceremony are also being procured.

   The Sisters expect the shrine and museum to attract many more visitors and pilgrims following the canonization. Filling four rooms in the motherhouse, the museum illustrates Bl. Marianne’s life and work and displays many of her personal items — including her desk, prayer book and an original, handwritten poem presented to her by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1889.

   Already “there has been a big increase [in visitors] since December,” said Darlene Yamrose, office coordinator of the shrine and museum. One day brought two tours totaling 180 people to the museum — quite an uptick from the handful of visitors the museum would see on visiting days before the announcement. School groups from the area have visited, as have people from as far away as Canada, North Carolina and Nebraska. In addition to recent media coverage, Sister Grace Anne credits recommendations from visitors for the surge in interest.

   “It’s people talking to people,” she said. “Many times people call and want to visit or ask to be sent information because someone told them about Mother Marianne and how wonderful it was to come [to the shrine and museum]. It’s a lot of word of mouth.”

   The Sisters know that enhancements to the shrine and museum will be necessary in order to accommodate increasing numbers of visitors — including more space, parking and restrooms — and best display Bl. Marianne’s precious artifacts. Sister Patricia said no official plans have been made yet, but that a committee is currently “envisioning the components of what we’d like to see” in preparation for future meetings with curators, architects or other experts. A cataloging of the museum’s collection is currently underway by Sara Belisle, a museum studies student at Syracuse University and an intern at West Lake Conservators.

   Of course, pilgrimages, preparations and plans cost money, and the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities Mission Advancement team is working to ensure needs are met. The community has planned for the costs associated with the canonization, but contributions from friends and supporters can help defray those costs. For example, for $3,500 a donor can sponsor a sister to attend the canonization ($5,500 for a sister from Hawaii); gifts of all sizes are welcome. Donations can also help support efforts to raise awareness and educate the public about Bl. Marianne. Greg Griffin, Congregational Director of Mission Advancement, said opportunities to contribute to the continued enhancement of the shrine and museum will be available once project plans are developed and finalized.

   As the big day draws closer, Sister Patricia expects the community’s excitement, sustained throughout the planning, to increase even further. For her, the joy comes from knowing that Bl. Marianne will come to be known around the world.

   “To take this woman from among us and share her with the universal Church — her legacy, her life, her example,” said Sister Patricia, “is such a wonderful thing.”

   For more information on Bl. Marianne Cope, her cause, the shrine and museum dedicated to her or to learn about how you can volunteer there, visit www.saintmariannecope.com. To learn more about the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities and support their efforts for the canonization of Bl. Marianne, visit www.sosf.org.

Remembering Sister Mary Laurence Hanley, OSF
   “One thing that was bittersweet was that Sister Mary Laurence, who had shepherded Mother Marianne’s cause from 1972 unofficially and from 1974 officially, had died just a short time before the announcement was made,” recalled Sister Grace Anne. Sister Mary Laurence knew the announcement would happen soon and she was very comfortable with that in her last days, Sister Grace Anne said. “She said to the sisters that were with her that her work was done… We just felt she was in heaven with Mother Marianne rejoicing with her there.”

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