HONOLULU — In life, Mother Marianne Cope was known for her strength and kindness, battling bureaucrats in Hawaii as she led a group of fellow Franciscan nuns to care for leprosy patients in the islands.
And since her death 100 years ago, she has been credited with helping cure two people.
Today, Mother Marianne will be declared a saint, with the Vatican formally recognizing what her supporters have long believed in their hearts: She is in Heaven and that through her intercession, two people miraculously were cured of ailments that should have killed them.
At the ceremony presided over by Pope Benedict XVI, the church will also canonize six others, including Kateri Tekakwitha, a 17th-century Mohawk Indian who spent most of her life in what now is upstate New York.
Mother Marianne is being canonized after the church determined that through her intercession, two people were miraculously cured.
Teenager Kate Mahoney’s medically inexplicable recovery from multiple organ failure in 1993 paved the way for her beatification in 2005. Sharon Smith’s successful 2005 fight against an infection that tore a hole between her intestines and stomach was the miracle needed for her to be canonized. They were cured after friends and family prayed to Mother Marianne. In Smith’s case, a sister pinned a bag of soil containing some of Mother Marianne’s bone fragments to her hospital gown.
Bishop Larry Silva of the Honolulu diocese said the church canonizes people so adherents can be inspired by their example to go to Heaven and become saints themselves.
“Our ultimate goal is to be in Heaven and we know the journey there is not always easy. So we need role models, people who can inspire us through by their lives to do the same,” he said.
The event comes nearly a century after Mother Marianne’s 1918 death at Kalaupapa, an isolated peninsula on Molokai Island where Hawaii governments forcibly exiled leprosy patients for decades.
Mother Marianne heard the call to come to Hawaii from New York state in 1883 when she was 45. She was the only religious leader in the U.S. and Europe — of 50 asked — who agreed to a request by Hawaii’s king and queen to come to the islands to help leprosy patients.
At the time, there was widespread fear of the disfiguring disease, which can cause skin lesions, mangled fingers and toes and lead to blindness.
The Hawaiian kingdom began exiling patients to Kalaupapa in 1866 to control the disease, a policy that remained in place until a century later even though new drugs in the 1940s made it curable.
Shortly after her arrival from Syracuse, N.Y., she had learned that a government-appointed administrator was abusing patients at Branch Hospital in Honolulu.
Mother Marianne threatened to leave with the six sisters that accompanied her unless the government removed the official. The government soon gave her full oversight of the hospital.
Mother Marianne looked after the material well-being of patients by doing things like planting flowers and making clothes for children born to them. She looked after the children with particular care because the disease prevented them from touching their own mothers and fathers.
All the while, she was addressing the fear that some of the sisters had of leprosy. She had them wash their hands before they took care of patients and returned to their quarters.