Blessed Mother Marianne Cope, Who Cared for Leprosy Patients on Molokai, One Step Closer to Sainthood

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Rainbow over Kalaupapa, where Fr. Damien and Blessed Mother Marianne lived and worked with leprosy patients

Blessed Mother Marianne Cope, the former leader of Syracuse’s Franciscan sisters known for her work and dedication to leprosy patients in Kalaupapa, Molokai, has been nearly cleared for “sainthood” by the Roman Catholic Church.

Several cardinals and bishops on the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes for Saints today announced the finding by a Vatican medical board there is no medical explanation for a “second miracle” that occurred when Cope healed an unnamed woman who was dying.


This followed her first miracle involved healing a 14-year old with a fatal health condition. According to “In 2004, Vatican officials ruled that a miraculous recovery involving a 14-year-old Syracuse girl in 1993 was the result of Mother Marianne’s intercession. The girl, Kate Mahoney, nearly died from complications after cancer surgery at Crouse Hospital.  Sister Mary Laurence Hanley, a Franciscan nun, visited Mahoney in the hospital and prayed to Mother Marianne to intercede with God on her behalf. Others also prayed for her to Mother Marianne. The Sisters of St. Francis have a shrine to Mother Marianne at their residence on Court Street in Syracuse.”

Fr. Damien, who worked side by side with Cope and other sisters in Molokai, and was known as “The Leper Priest and Hero of Molokai” was declared a saint in 2009. Damien was sent to Honolulu in 1864 and then worked in Big Island missions. In 1873, he volunteered to work in Kalaupapa. In 1885, he was diagnosed with the disease, something he announced proudly because he wanted to experience what his patients did. And he continued to build hospitals, clinics, churches and coffins on the island. His sainthood ceremony was held in Rome on October 11, 2009, with King Albert II of the Belgians, Queen Paola and Belgian Prime Minister in attendance.

The path to sainthood for Cope has also been a long one. She died in 1918 and was buried in Kalaupapa.

Nearly a century later, in 2003 and 2004, the Congregation for the Cause of Saints affirmed her as Venerable Marianne Cope. In 2004, the Vatican Medical Board ruled the girl’s case as an inexplicable medical recovery – a miracle due to the intercession of Cope. She is affirmed as Mother Marianne for beatification. Pope John Paul II confirms the miracle case and Cope is declared blessed. In 2005, she is declared blessed in Rome in St. Peters and in 2011, she is confirmed for canonization. The next and final step is for Pope Benedict XVI to give his approval.

Cope was born in Germany, but her family moved to the United States eventually settling in Utica. After joining the Sisters of St. Francis in Syracuse in 1862, she established two hospitals there.

Always caring for the sick and abandoned, she brought a group of sisters to Hawaii in 1883 to care for those with Hansens disease. When the patients were sent to Kalaupapa, Molokai, in an effort to keep the disease from spreading, she moved there in 1888 and continued to care for the patients for 30 years. She promised the sisters who came with her that none of them would ever contract leprosy and she kept her word.

Cope, who has historical tribute to her work at the Kalaupapa lookout on Molokai, is deemed the “beloved mother of the outcasts.” Her remains were exhumed in 2005 by the church to prepare her for canonization.