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Biography Of Mother Marianne Cope - continued        

Blessed Marianne Cope

Leader in the Field of Medicine

Mother Marianne began her new career as nurse-administrator at St. Joseph’s in Syracuse, N.Y. in 1870, where she served as its head administrator for six of the hospital’s first seven years. Her change in ministry to hospital leadership had come about because a special need for someone with unique abilities and talents arose at St. Joseph’s. No hospital had succeeded in Syracuse before the one begun by the Franciscan Sisters. It often was said that no challenge ever seemed too much for her. She possessed the intelligence and charisma of a facilitator and the energies of a woman motivated by God alone.

St. Joseph’s, the first hospital opened to the public in the city of Syracuse, owed much of its creation to her as well as its survival. She became an innovator in its management in order to provide better service to patients. Long before the importance of cleanliness measures in the care of the sick was known scientifically, she was strict in advocating practices such as simply washing one's hands before ministering to the patients.

It was during her time of leadership that the College of Medicine in Geneva, N.Y. moved to the fledgling Syracuse University to become the College of Physicians and Surgeons, thus starting a new arena of medicine for the upstate centralized New York area. No small reason for this new choice of location for an established college to move to Syracuse was that Mother Marianne had accepted the medical students for clinical instruction at St. Joseph’s. Far ahead of her time in furthering patients’ rights, she stated in a letter of negotiations with the Medical College that it was the right of the patient in each and every case to decide whether or not he or she wished to be brought before medical students. Often she was criticized for accepting for treatment “outcast" patients, such as alcoholics, an affliction which was frowned upon for hospital admittance by the medical profession at the time. Unsurprisingly, she became well known and loved in the central New York area for her kindness, wisdom and down to earth practicality.

Thus, it happened that even before the advent of nursing schools in the United States by her working on the side of doctors in Syracuse from one of the country’s most progressive medical colleges, this dedicated woman of God was in a position to gain the practical information regarding hospital systems, nursing techniques and pharmacy work—all of which she later put to good use in Hawaii.

Call to Hawaii

Mother Marianne was prepared well for the unique call which came to her attention in 1883 when she was opening her mail as Superior General, a position she then had reached in her religious community in Syracuse.

In 1883, the United States was still the land of the pioneer. Religious communities serving the immigrants and others had their hands full, including the Franciscan Sisters of Syracuse, N.Y. Priorities in needs were difficult to determine and understandably the pleas from the faraway Sandwich Islands for a capable leader to begin a system of hospital nursing went unheeded by dozens of religious communities. That is, it did so until it grasped the heart of Mother Marianne as the most pressing need of her time. Her entire personal affirmation in regard to an acceptance of the mission was given when she found out that the main challenge was to minister to leprosy patients. “I am not afraid of any disease…," was her rare response to such a mission. Her devotion to Saint Francis of Assisi who cared for the sick poor confirmed her resolve that the call to Hawaii was God’s Will.

Six sisters were chosen from among the thirty-five volunteers of her community. Mother Marianne accompanied them to the Islands to help them get settled in their assignments.

On November 8, 1883, as the SS Mariposa entered the harbor of Honolulu, the bells of Our Lady of Peace Cathedral rang and crowds gathered on the wharf to see the sisters. No one was ever to be disappointed at the great expectations that their coming promised. Only two years later, so much good had been accomplished that Mother Marianne was decorated by King Kalakaua of Hawaii with the medal of the Royal Order of Kapiolani for acts of benevolence she planned and developed to help the suffering people of the Kingdom.

A series of beginnings replete with trials and tribulations had taken place. In 1884, at the request of the government she set up Malulani Hospital, the first general hospital on the island of Maui. Called back with haste to the hospital in Oahu, she had to deal with a government appointed administrator’s abuse of leprosy patients at the Branch Hospital at Kakaako, an area adjoining Honolulu. Her demand to the government to choose between his dismissal or the sisters’ return to Syracuse resulted in her being given full charge of the overcrowded hospital. Her expected return to Syracuse was then delayed when her leadership was declared by government and church authority to be essential to the success of the mission.

And, the work kept increasing. Another pressing need was fulfilled when a year later, in November 1885, after she convinced the government it was a vital need to save the homeless female children of leprosy patients, the Kapiolani Home was opened. The unusual choice of location for well children to dwell in a Home situated on leprosy hospital premises was made because no one other than the sisters could be found to care for those so closely associated with people with the dreaded disease.

Renewed Call to Molokai

Blessed Damien De Veuster rightfully is viewed as Apostle to Lepers. Yet, this good priest did not act alone particularly in regard to providing care or protection or shelter for leprosy patients. Besides her own agenda, Mother Marianne is known to have brought to fruition many programs which Damien envisioned.

Marianne met Damien for the first time in January 1884, when in apparent good health, he came to Oahu to attend the opening of a chapel dedication at the hospital she was to head. Two years later, in 1886, after which time he had been diagnosed with leprosy, Mother Marianne alone gave hospitality to the outcast priest upon hearing that his illness made him an unwelcome visitor to church and government leaders in Honolulu. She arranged his care with sensitivity to his feelings and made sure he was treated well during his short stay on Oahu. Her caring turned other leaders around to his favor especially after a visit by royalty was arranged to take place at the hospital.

Soon afterwards, the situation for the care of leprosy patients began to change. Most new patients had not been sent into exile at Molokai for a number of years. But, in 1887, when a new government took charge in Hawaii, its officials decided to close the Oahu hospital and to reinforce the former alienation policy. The unanswered question was who would care for the sick who would be sent to the settlement for exiles on the Kalaupapa peninsula on the island of Molokai.

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