Who was Marianne?

Published: Oct. 10, 2012 at 3:00 PM HST
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(HawaiiNewsNow) - Blessed Marianne Cope gave up everything to help Hansen's patents in Hawaii at a time when everyone dreaded catching the disease. Father Damien had, but the "beloved mother of the outcasts" showed no fear and never wavered answering the call of Kalaupapa. Out of 50 pleas from King Kalakaua for help, only Mother Marianne of Syracuse said yes. In 1883, she wrote back, "I am not afraid of any disease. I feel an irresistible force drawing me to follow this call."

Born Barbara Koob on January 23rd, 1838 in Heppenheim, Germany, she moved to New York when she was 2 years old. She entered the sisters of Saint Francis in Syracuse in 1862. That was the same year Joseph de Veuster of Belgium entered the priesthood and took the name Damien.

Marianne oversaw the start of several hospitals, including the first in Syracuse and on Maui. She brought cleanliness and compassion to places that had been thought of as just a bed to lie and die in.

At one point, Mother Marianne almost never made it to Kalaupapa because of an administrator's abuse of patients at the branch hospital in Kaka'ako. That's where her statue stands today. She made an ultimatum to the government, either the administrator goes, or the sisters do. Once he left, things changed and patients were treated like people, not just patients left there to die. Mother Marianne made sure music was always playing and taught patients to garden and sew. She did anything to brighten their day, especially on Christmas, when she saw to it that every girl had a new dress.

Robert Louis Stevensen praised mother Marianne in a poem written after Father Damien's death, but Mother Marianne shied away from any publicity. She didn't work for the glory, she did it because she saw the patients as people who just needed to be helped.

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