Mother Marianne, far, right, led a group of six volunteers from the Sisters of St. Francis to Hawaii to combat the health care crisis there. Their help was so welcome the Hawaiian government awarded her a medal. Behind them stands Prime Minister of the Hawaiian Kingdom.
An American health care pioneer will receive the Roman Catholic Church’s highest honor this weekend.
On Sunday, Mother Marianne Cope — along with another North American, Kateri Tekakwitha — will become a saint, a designation so difficult to achieve that only 10 other Americans have been canonized before her.
Saint Marianne Cope, as she will soon be known, may be best remembered for her work with patients suffering from Hansen’s disease — or lepers, as they were called at the time.
In Hawaii in the late 1800s, people were so afraid of the disease that even those with simple, unrelated rashes were often banished to the remote island of Molokai. They remained at this leper colony for the rest of their lives, far away from family and friends. Their children became orphans.
An island priest who was worried about this health crisis wrote to nearly 50 different religious congregations asking for help. But the work was perceived as so dangerous that only Mother Marianne responded. Before she made her long journey to the remote islands, though, she radically changed medical practices on the mainland.