Saint Marianne Cope of Molokai domain

Many of us have heard of Saint Damien of Molokai, the heroic missionary priest who gave his life working amongst the lepers in Hawaii. But there is a female version, celebrated today, Saint Marianne Cope (1838 – 1918), a religious sister, who, with six companions, also offered themselves to the same mission. Sister Marianne assisted Father Damian, as he lay dying of the disease he had contracted from those for whom he had labored, and for which he gave his life. For whatever reason, the Sisters never contracted leprosy.

Barbara Koob – her last name was anglicized to Cope by her family, and her first name changed to Marianne by her entrance into religious life – was born on January 23rd, 1838 in Germany, and her family emigrated to America when she was a child. Upon her father’s death in 1862, Barbara entered the local Franciscan Sisters, and learned much that was practical beyond the spiritual formation, including much in the nursing and medical arts. She helped found the first two Catholic hospitals in New York.

It was in 1883 that the king of Hawaii – this was before it was a U.S. State, and still a monarchy – put out a call for some Catholic apostolate to help with the lepers, who were left abandoned and uncared for. Fifty religious orders said no – the fear of contagion so great – but Marianne and her sisters swiftly agreed.

It was there that Sister Marianne spent the rest of her life, ‘committing her way to the Lord’, and not looking back, with complete truth, in faith:

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

We could use a bit more parrhesia in the Church.

Sister Marianne did much to alleviate the plight of the lepers, offering them solace in this life, and hope for the next. She died, full of good works, on August 9th, 1918, with her feast kept on January 23rd, the day of her birth. She was both the first person beatified, as well as the last person canonized, under the reign of Pope Benedict XVI, on May 14th, 2005 and October 21st, 2012 respectively. This seems fitting, as he too had to face the spiritual leprosy infecting the Church, now reaching its metastatic phase. But we know by Faith that beneath that façade, Christ’s bride is ‘without spot or wrinkle’, as we journey towards the perfection and culmination of all things.

On the way, in this perilous vale of tears, may Saint Marianne Cope intercede for all of us, as we pray to Christ as the leper did, ‘Domine, si vis, potes me mundare!’ – ‘Lord, if you are able, you can make me clean!’.

He can. And He will.