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Column for 12.21.2011
Whenever I’d write about Mother Marianne of Molokai, something I’ve done many times over the years, I’d call Sister Mary Laurence Hanley in Syracuse. Sister Mary Laurence, a Franciscan, was appointed by the Vatican in 1977 to promote the cause of making Mother Marianne a saint.
But before that could happen, the history of Mother Marianne, also a Franciscan, needed to be documented and at least two miracles needed to be found, miracles directly attributable to Mother Marianne.
Thanks to Sister Mary Laurence, I learned a lot about Barbara Cope, which was Mother Marianne’s name for the first 24 years of her life. Barbara Cope grew up in Utica and lived on Schuyler Street on the west side. She worked at the Utica Steam Woolen Mill and went to St. Joseph’s Church, near her house.
In 1862, she left Utica and went to Syracuse, where the Franciscan’s are based, and became Sister Marianne. In the following years she taught school and was a hospital administrator. In fact, she helped start Utica’s St. Elizabeth Hospital. She also taught at schools in Rome and Oswego before taking charge of Syracuse’s St. Joseph Hospital.
Here is where the story gets interesting. I wrote the following in 1982:
“Then, in 1883, Mother Marianne became the first woman to respond to a desperate plea from the Hawaiian government. Leprosy had reached epidemic proportions. Trained nurses, willing to expose themselves to the disease, were urgently needed.
“Mother Marianne took charge of a Honolulu hospital for lepers and established an institution for the children of lepers. She, and two other nuns, then moved to the isolated Pacific island of Molokai, known as the leper island, 37 miles long by eight miles wide. The leper colony occupied a small portion of one end. Mother Marianne would never leave.
“She joined with the famed Father Damien DeVeuster, who had cared for lepers on the island for 16 years without help. When Mother Marianne got there, Father Damien was building a small church, despite swollen hands which made the work torment. He had leprosy.
Father Damien died in April, 1889. Mother Marianne buried him next to the church and continued his work. She washed the lepers, dressed their sores, made their beds, prepared their medicines, cooked their food and gave hope to the hopeless. She worked everyday. No rest. No vacation.”
That’s what I wrote then. I got the information from Sister Mary Laurence. She was, after all, the expert. Sister Mary Laurence wrote articles and a book and lectured and gave speeches, and spent much time on the telephone with at least one journalist to promote the cause of Mother Marianne.
Father Damien has since become a saint. Now, Mother Marianne, who died in 1918, will join him.
A news report last week said Pope Benedict XVI is expected to bless the canonization of Mother Marianne, increasing to 11 the number of Americans among the Roman Catholic Church’s 10,000 saints.
Think about that for a second. Only 10 in the entire United States and now there will be one more, this one from Oneida and Onondaga counties.
A group of cardinals and bishops earlier this month confirmed a Vatican medical board’s finding that there is no medical explanation for the healing of a woman with fatal health conditions. The church attributes the miracle to prayers to Mother Marianne, and that’s the second miracle.
Sister Patricia Burkard, general minister of the Syracuse-based Sisters of St. Francis, was quoted in the Syracuse Post-Standard. “It is a wonderful thing. To know we have a saint among us is almost indescribable.”
She said the pope could approve Mother Marianne’s canonization by the end of the year, and the canonization ceremony could take place at the Vatican in 2012.
In 2005, Mother Marianne’s remains were exhumed from Kalaupapa, the isolated Hawaiian area where she ministered, and brought to Syracuse. Her remains are in a chapel at the Franciscan campus on Syracuse’s North Side.
The reason Sister Mary Laurence Hanley wasn’t quoted in the Post-Standard article is that she died earlier this month. She was 86. She had worked full-time for 34 years to promote the cause of Mother Marianne.
I remember back in the 1980s, when Mother Marianne was getting little media attention. I remember Sister Mary Laurence Hanley saying how hard she was praying for the cause. Her prayers, and many others, have been answered.
It sounds trite to say I wish Sister Mary Laurence Hanley could have lived to see this, but I wish Sister Mary Laurence Hanley could have lived to see this.