Blessed Marianne Cope

Blessed Marianne Cope

October 15, 2012

Blessed Marianne Cope, as the head of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities in Syracuse, N.Y., led the first group of sisters to the Hawaiian Islands in 1883 to establish a system of nursing care for leprosy patients.

Of 50 religious superiors in the United States, Canada and Europe who were asked for help, she was the only one to accept the challenge.

When she died in 1918 on the island of Molokai, 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 in all that time, faced everything with unflinching courage and smiled sweetly through it all."

Cope was born Barbara Koob Jan. 23, 1838, in Heppenheim, Germany. She was not yet two when her parents brought her and her three siblings to the United States and settled in Utica, N.Y. The family later Americanized their surname as Cope.

"Barbara wrote of experiencing a call to religious life at an early age," says a biography posted on her order's website, but family obligations delayed her vocation nine years.

"As the oldest child at home, and after completing an eighth-grade education, she went to work in a factory to support the family when her father became an invalid," it said.

In 1862, Cope joined the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis in Syracuse, taking Marianne as her religious name. She taught at a parish school and later became a hospital administrator, where she learned much about nursing.

What she learned about various hospital systems, nursing and pharmacy procedures "she later put to good use in Hawaii," her biography says.


In 1877, Cope was elected mother general of her order. Six years later, she responded to the Hawaiian government's appeal for health care workers to care for patients with leprosy, now called Hansen's disease, in Honolulu.

She arrived in Hawaii Nov. 8, 1883, at age 45, with six other Franciscan sisters. They first worked at a hospital in Honolulu. Then she opened Kapiolani Home for the daughters of leprosy patients and also founded the first general hospital on the island of Maui.


Mother Marianne arrived at the Kalaupapa leprosy settlement on Molokai in 1888, a few months before the death of St. Damien de Veuster, a Belgian Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary missionary who was legendary for his ministry to Hawaiian leprosy patients.

She succeeded the priest as the settlement's guiding force and took over the home that he had run for men and boys. She and two of her sisters later opened a home for women and girls who suffered from the disease.

Her work was celebrated in honours bestowed by the Hawaiian government and in a poem written by Robert Louis Stevenson. She died on the island Aug. 9, 1918, of natural causes. She was 80.