Sister Marianne Cope (formerly Barbara Koob) was born January 23, 1838 and baptized the following day in what is now Hessen, West Germany. The young Sister Marianne worked as a teacher and hospital administrator in New York. In 1870, she was elected superior of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse. Seven years later she became second Mother Provincial of her order. Just when it seemed that her religious life was planned out, in 1883 she received an unexpected invitation from Fr. Leonor Fouesnel, emissary of the Hawaiian government, to come and help the “afflicted members” of the Kingdom of Hawaii.
She left for Hawaii with six sisters in 1883, planning to get them settled and then return to Syracuse. She ended up spending the rest of her life in Hawaii. After five years managing a hospital in Honolulu, she volunteered to go to Molokai, an isolated peninsula at the base of enormous cliffs to which lepers were condemned for the rest of their days. According to witnesses, Molokai at the time was something like a combination of a graveyard and a prison. The stench was so vile that even Fr. Damien had to smoke a pipe to keep from vomiting.
By frequent hand-washing, keeping the convent off-limits to lepers and refusing food prepared by lepers, Mother Marianne and her sisters managed to spend decades ministering to the physical and emotional needs of lepers in close quarters without ever becoming infected.
The life of Mother Marianne complements the life of St. Damien (1840-1889), beloved for his self-sacrifice for the lepers of Hawaii to the point of contracting the disease himself. Mother Marianne, for her part, decided from the outset to observe certain basic rules to protect herself and her Franciscan sisters from leprosy. She spent the last 30 years of her life ministering on the Hawaiian island of Molokai, working closely with Father Damien and with the outcasts of society as they were abandoned on the shores of the island, never to return to their families. After Fr. Damien had died, Mother Marianne took charge of the refuge had had built for boys. She was about 50 years old when her mission at Molokai began. She died at 80 years old on August 9, 1918 from kidney and heart disease. At her death, a Honolulu newspaper wrote: “Seldom has the opportunity come to a woman to devote every hour of 30 years to the mothering of people isolated by law from the rest of the world. She risked her own life all that time, faced everything with unflinching courage, and was known for her gentle smile.
People of all religions of the islands still honor and revere Father Damien, now St. Damien, and Mother Marianne who brought healing to body and soul. She was beatified at the Vatican on May 14, 2005, one month after the death of Pope John Paul II. With her canonization by Pope Benedict on October 21, 2012 her life is held up before the world as true model of holiness and friend of God.