2012 will prove to be a big year for Catholics in Upstate NY. This fall Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate World Mission Sunday by declaring seven new saints, two of which are women who hail from Upstate NY. Both Kateri Tekekwitha, known as ‘The Lily of the Mohawks’ (Fonda, NY) and Blessed Marianne Cope (Syracuse, NY) had their sainthood causes advanced in December of 2011, and the ceremony on October 21 will forever mark the day when both women are fully recognized as Saints. In the Catholic Church, there is a strict process for proving and overseeing the proof that exemplifies the quality of life that one lived. During the course of the review, the individual will become known as each of the following, 1. The Servant of God, 2. Declaration ‘Non Cultus’, 3. Venerable, 4. Blessed (the seven saints mentioned above are currently in this stage), and then finally, 5. Saint. To be designated a Saint, one must have performed two miracles after death. Blessed Marianne Cope’s second miracle was accepted by the Pope last December.
There are only a few saints with ties to the Upstate NY area, so visiting the Shrine of Blessed Marianne Cope was a no brainer–it was one of the original places we put on our “Needs to Happen” list. For Catholics, it’s been a sacred place for years and years, and within just a couple months, the legacy that Marianne Cope has left will be known worldwide. We actually made a full day out of our trip to Syracuse and went to see a whole bunch of places, a few of them you won’t hear about since they are secular, but there are a few others that will pop up in later blog entries.
The shrine and museum are located at the St. Anthony Convent of the Sisters of St. Francis of Neumann Communities so there are a couple entrances to the property where the museum and shrine are. Once we finally found the right one, a security guard guided us to a parking spot and then directed us where to go. The main entrance leads you in to the chapel at Motherhouse, and a few people were scattered around–a few saying prayers silently by themselves, and a few that were part of a tour group listening to a guide telling stories. The chapel is simple overall, but had a few specific pieces that stood out. Directly across the chapel from the entrance is the reliquary where the remains of Saint Marianne Cope have been since their arrival on January 23, 2009–her feast day. To the rear of the chapel there is a long hallway leading to the museum lined with photos of the history of the monastery and a large painted mural depicting the works of St. Marianne in Hawaii.
The museum exists within a number of different rooms in the monastery that are now open to the public. We went in to the main display room where a few other people were mingling around on what seemed like a guided tour. The room is small, so our entrance was obvious. Jean Anne, who is not a nun but has committed herself to a life following in the order, greeted us and went on explaining the things that everyone was looking at. Like usual Luke and I ended up asking way more questions than anyone else, and Jean Anne seemed interested in the fact that we wanted to know as much as possible and everyone else slowly lost interest and filtered out of the room to leave the three of us to talk. She began telling us much of the story of Marianne Cope’s life and pointing out things around the room of interest. The room is filled with artifacts and relics and photos and letters all relating to the life and legacy of Saint Marianne Cope. We spent some time in this room chatting with Jean Anne before moving on to checkout the other rooms. They have a “Communications” room with a movie and some photos, a “Hawaiin Islands” room that also includes some relics of Father Damien’s life, a “Community Origins” room that displays the history of their efforts in CNY.
Marianne Cope was born Maria Anna Barbara Coob (I can’t seem to find when or why the last name was changed, but I presume that like many immigrants, it was changed to water down their ethnicity in hopes to blend in easier) on January 23, 1838 in what later became part of Germany. At only a year old, she was brought here to the U.S. when her family settled in Utica. When her father died in 1862, she pursued a religious calling that she had long felt and joined the Sisters of the Third Order Regular of Saint Francis located in nearby Syracuse, NY.
There are a number of women from Upstate NY that lived during that time period that are well known for their work in promoting civil rights, but Marianne Cope may be one of the lesser known despite having had a tremendous impact. She quickly became involved in the direction and leadership of the Franciscan Sisters and by 1870 had already been instrumental in the planning and opening of the first two hospitals in central NY. Her order was adamant that top level medical care be provided to all regardless of their race, creed, religion or gender. In 1883, after King Kalakaua of Hawaii had already been denied by 50 other religious organizations, Mother Marianne Cope responded to his plea for help in carrying for the leper colony with a letter that read, “I am hungry for the work and I wish with all my heart to be one of the chosen Ones, whose privilege it will be, to sacrifice themselves for the salvation of the souls of the poor Islanders… I am not afraid of any disease, hence it would be my greatest delight even to minister to the abandoned ‘lepers.’ Within just months of answering the cry for help, Mother Marianne and six other nuns made the trek across the U.S. where they would then endure days of further travel by boat to HI until they finally arrived on November 8, 1883.
Mother Marianne Cope and her team from Syracuse set up a number of establishments in multiple islands in Hawaii to manage general practice medicine and specific programs to assist and care for the lepers of Hawaii. Within just a couple of years they had created Kakaʻako Branch Hospital in Oahu, the Malulani Hospital in Maui, the Kapiolani Home (orphanage for children of leprosy patients) and championed the efforts of the government to weed out hospital administrators found to be abusing leprosy patients. The King was so grateful for the efforts and realized that her role was so integral to the continued success of the programs that Mother Cope was given full oversight to the hospital in Oahu.
Though most had turned down the call for help, the Franciscan Sisters weren’t the only ones in the area who had arrived to assist. Father Damien (currently Saint Father Damien of Molokai, originally of Belgium) had already begun working and caring for the individuals with leprosy kept in quarantine on the remote island of Molokai. After 16 years of caring for patients, Fr. Damien himself contracted the disease and fell ill, Mother Marianne Cope moved her efforts to the island to care for him in his last days. After his passing, Mother Marianne Cope doubled her efforts to carry the workload that he had been tending to for years. Father Damien received his Sainthood status in 2009 and continues to be revered by many–even Gandhi has claimed to have been inspired by the works of Father Damien. Mother Marianne Cope continued tirelessly to care for the lepers in the Molokai colony without ever having contracted the disease until her death on August 9, 1918.
Since that time her story has received a lot of attention and countless numbers of people have made the pilgrimage to the Shrine and Museum to be in the presence of the renowned healing qualities that Saint Marianne Cope is known to bestow upon believers. Between the cheery, outgoing nuns and volunteers, surrounded by more relics in one place than we’ve yet to see since we started this journey and a legacy dedicated to healing and serving others known worldwide, the entire place had a feeling of peace and reverence. In the next few months leading up to October 21 there will likely be a lot of energy and events going on at the shrine–we strongly recommend you go check out one of the most sacred places in Upstate NY.