By Dyann Nashton
Sun contributing writer
UTICA — A collective sigh of relief and joy was heard Sept. 15 at St. Joseph’s-St. Patrick’s Church in Utica. A Mass was celebrated in honor of the soon-to-be canonized Bl. Marianne Cope, at the end of which a draped sculpture of her was finally unveiled. Piotr Michalek of Poland sculpted the work before its overseas trip to Central New York. The community had been eagerly anticipating the its arrival for days, as well as the completion of another important acquisition commemorating her life.
According to Project Coordinator Ellen Benton, the purchase of the nearby Schuyler Street property where Bl. Marianne grew up and lived was finalized the day before the event. This was key to Saturday’s events, as a procession to the property was planned at the conclusion of the Mass.
“Today’s events are geared around the groups from our area that will be leaving for the canonization in the coming weeks,” said John Pletl, chairman of the St. Marianne Cope Committee and parish trustee. Additionally, Sisters of St. Francis from Hawaii will be stopping in Utica en route to Italy. The canonization will take place Oct. 21 at the Vatican. Another celebration in Syracuse will follow the canonization, Pletl said.
Bl. Marianne started her spiritual journey in Utica as a parishioner of St. Joseph’s Church and continued it as a Sister of St. Francis who was instrumental in organizing hospitals throughout Central New York. Her ministry later took her to Hawaii where she cared for patients with Hansen’s disease [leprosy] and started orphanages and hospitals.
“That’s the point of this whole thing. It all started here in Utica and we can help usher in the next phase of the process,” Pletl said.
The Mass began with a call to worship on a conch shell by Sister Edward Marie Seubert, OSF, followed by Sister Michaeleen Cabral, OSF, singing in Hawaiian. She also performed a Hawaiian liturgical movement piece set to the hymn to Blessed Marianne for the Communion meditation.
In his greeting to the congregation, Pletl said Mother Marianne “walked our streets, went to church with us and worked in our mills.” He was not the only participant who noted that the would-be saint arose from common people in regular place.
Father Richard Dellos, pastor of St. Joseph’s-St. Patrick’s, noted the surprising fact that today’s neighborhood of the popular Saranac Thursdays, complete with music and beer, had produced a saint.
“Utica has always been on the map for its food,” said Father Dellos, “but now for its spiritual wisdom and the wisdom of Bl. Marianne … What a joy it is to be a part of history in the making!”
The statue of Bl. Marianne was unveiled by Sister Elizabeth Frank, OSF. Then, Sister Grace Anne Dillenschneider, OSF, presented a first-class relic of Bl. Marianne to the parish. The Utica Maennerchor, a German American choral singing group, provided prelude music and offertory songs.
A procession with the statue from the parish’s Columbia Street address was led by celebrants, the Knights of Columbus and dignitaries. The Red Band, a group of Utica musicians of Italian heritage, followed. The band is known for its devotion to patron saints. The procession traveled two blocks along old trolley tracks to the newly acquired lot and the site of Bl. Marianne’s home.
Sister Grace Anne thanked those who helped work toward the canonization process and planned the festivities of the day.
“Mother Marianne believed in collaboration with others,” she said. “You did that here by working as a unit, as friends, as a city.”
Father Raynald Yudin, OFM Conv., who was pastor at St. Joseph’s Church in the 1980s, said help was sought for people with Hansen’s disease at a place that historians referred to as “Hawaii’s Little Hell.” When Mother Marianne volunteered to go there to care for those in it, he said, “the place was given a light from the hell.” During his time at St. Joseph’s Church, Father Yudin said he suggested the purchase of the site of Mother Marianne’s home.
New York State Senator Joseph Griffo said, “Its an extraordinary day to come together to celebrate an extraordinary person.” He added that he hoped that Utica “would become a destination for those who want to pay homage to Bl. Marianne Cope.”
Pletl said the committee would ultimately like to put a visitor center on the Schuyler Street property. He envisions it as a place to learn about Mother Marianne, Utica and daily life in the period from 1840 through 1870s. “It will be her life but also ‘a day in the life’ of that historical time period,” he said.
Festivities will continue in Utica on Sunday, Oct. 24. Mayor Robert Palmieri presented Father Dellos a proclamation naming the day as St. Marianne Cope Day in the City of Utica.