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Sister Marianne Cope arrived in Honolulu in 1883. Five years later, she moved to Kalaupapa to help Hansen's disease patients who had been exiled there. She died in 1918 at the age of 80.


Mother Marianne is seen here in a wheelchair, surrounded by patients and other nuns, a few days before she died.

Saying goodbye to Mother Marianne



By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer


The last earthly remains of Mother Marianne Cope have rested peacefully on the windswept Kalaupapa Peninsula of Moloka'i for decades, far from her home, yet as close as a whispered prayer to the community of souls she loved so much.


But this 19th-century Catholic nun, a woman who may soon become a saint, is about to be the focus of a gentle marriage of science and religion: Her remains will be exhumed next week, identified by an anthropologist and sent to the Mother House of her religious order, the Sisters of St. Francis, in upstate New York.

The move is a necessary step on the path to sainthood, although it is sure to be a bittersweet event for the dwindling community of Hansen's disease patients living their final years at Kalaupapa. Twenty-five patients still live there. For them, her grave is a physical connection to Cope's legacy.

Cope spent 30 years caring for the needs of the patients who had been banished to the Moloka'i outpost because they suffered from the disease once known as leprosy.

Her faith in them kept her there until she died in 1918. A tall white monument marks her shaded grave.

Last month, the Vatican accepted a miracle attributed to Cope's intercession, clearing the way for beatification. The church must accept a second miracle before Cope could be named as a saint.



The exhumation will be done by a volunteer team of forensic experts from the Pentagon's premier identification lab on O'ahu and witnessed by three Franciscan nuns from Syracuse, N.Y., and several church officials from Honolulu.


"Mother Marianne is going back to her roots," said DeMare, 63. "I'm pleased to be a direct viewer of history."

The task is expected to last three to four days, followed by a farewell service for the residents, said Sister Marion Kikukawa, the Big Island nun who has helped oversee the order's Hawai'i efforts to get Cope canonized. A second ceremony will be held on O'ahu.

"I think it is very important," Kikukawa said. "Mother Marianne has been in their midst since 1888. We are trying to be very attentive in this process to the feelings that the patients have and especially for the great love they have for Mother Marianne."

Hope for the exiled

Cope arrived in Hawai'i from Syracuse in 1883. She had agreed to help the Hawaiian government run the Kaka'ako Branch Hospital, which served as a receiving station for Hansen's disease patients.


Sister Marianne Cope arrived in Honolulu in 1883. Five years later, she moved to Kalaupapa to help Hansen's disease patients who had been exiled there. She died in 1918 at the age of 80.
Five years later, she moved to Kalaupapa and helped establish Bishop Home for more than a hundred homeless girls who had been sent there without their families.

If Hawai'i was a pinpoint in the Pacific, then Kalaupapa — isolated and barren — was the head of a pin. Hansen's disease was considered incurable at the time and it was reaching epidemic proportions in Honolulu. The kingdom exiled its unfortunate victims to Kalaupapa to die.

Cope brought meaning to their lives, taught them to sew and play in a band. She worked to erase the stain of being discarded.

She was far from home, though, and always longed to return to Syracuse. Instead she died of natural causes on Moloka'i. She was 80. The patients there carried her wooden coffin to the grave.

"Mother Marianne's desire was always to do the will of God," Kikukawa said. "And as it worked out in her life, she was called to stay with the people of Kalaupapa until she died."

To Be enshrined

Church law states that a person who is beatified or canonized cannot be reburied in a cemetery but must be enshrined in a place that followers can visit. The Franciscan sisters plan to place Cope's remains in their chapel until they decide on a permanent setting. An official beatification ceremony is expected this year.

The sisters visited the tiny community to explain the move to the residents, said 84-year-old Nellie McCarthy, a Catholic and patient who was sent to live at Kalaupapa in 1941. Everyone agreed that the move made sense, she said.

"We don't have any feelings about it," McCarthy said. "We're all for it. We're looking forward to it."

But what will actually be moved remains unknown. There is a lot of uncertainty about what will be found in Cope's grave.

The sisters hope to find Cope's bones and what they call "second-class relics" — items that the nun would have worn or touched in life. They would like to leave one behind for worshippers at Kalaupapa.

Unearthing history

Vince Sava, a Catholic and civilian anthropologist at the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, Central Identification Laboratory, will supervise the exhumation. Sava studied the soil and said it was not overly acidic, which leads him to think he'll find skeletal remains.


Vince Sava, who works for the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, Central Identification Laboratory and is a member of St. Jude's Church in Makakilo, will oversee the recovery of Mother Marianne's remains.
NEugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

"In the relative scheme of things, this should not be that difficult," said Sava, who is using vacation time for the job. "But one of the challenges we face is you never know what you are going to find until you actually get down there and find it."

His team will start slowly, scraping away a few inches of dirt with hand trowels and sifting it through screens. After probing the grave with a pole in November, he determined that any remains are somewhere between 2 feet and 4 feet below the surface. The soil has reclaimed Cope's coffin, however.

Whatever is found will be taken to a nearby convent run by the nuns and examined in a makeshift lab.

"We are striving for circumstantial identification," Sava said.

State Health Department records indicate Cope was buried in the grave, but Sava will want to confirm that. A trained observer can determine race, sex and approximate age of death by looking at bones, Sava said.

This kind of work is so demanding, so focused, that Sava, a member of St. Jude Church in Makakilo, doubts he'll be thinking about whom he holds in his hands until the end of the day. But the mission, like the quiet peninsula, moves him.

"I have very deep feelings about this project," he said. "I think I've probably put a little more time into it than I would any other comparable project. Whether you are religious or not, you have to realize this person was a great humanitarian and a great historical figure."

When Sava's team is finished, Cope's remains will be sealed in a metal container that will then be soldered shut — a church requirement to prevent someone from tampering with or stealing future religious relics.

Hope lives on

The exhumation holds special meaning for Sister Mary Laurence Hanley, the Syracuse-based director of the order's effort to canonize Cope. She will fly to Hawai'i and make the white-knuckle landing at the short Kalaupapa airstrip.

Hanley has researched Cope's life and virtues since 1973 and co-wrote Cope's biography — "A Song of Pilgrimage and Exile" — with O.A. Bushnell.

More importantly, she has witnessed the power of Cope's intercession — the miracle.

In 1992, a 14-year-old girl in Syracuse suffered multiple organ failure while undergoing chemotherapy. Her family asked Hanley and her sisters to pray to Cope for help. Hanley often gets requests like this, but she was struck by the urgency of the case.

"It was so hopeless," Hanley said. "She was on machines. There wasn't one vital organ that was working correctly. I said prayers to Mother Marianne."

Hanley also visited the girl and held against her forehead a piece of a bookmark that once belonged to Cope.

Cope had written "Sweet Jesus Mercy" on the bookmark, Hanley said.

The girl recovered completely.

Hanley remembers wondering if she should be surprised.

"When you see how sick someone is and it is hopeless and she is dying, you could say: What is the sense of doing things?" she said. "But that is what miracles are all about."

And faith, as well.

Seen at http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2005/Jan/18/ln/ln03p.html




Cross-posted to abouthawaii

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