Molokai sister’s miracle OK’d, reports on Tekakwitha


SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The path to sainthood for Blessed Marianne Cope of Molokai has been cleared after a Vatican congregation Dec. 6 confirmed a second miracle attributed to her intercession.

The final step for her canonization is approval by Pope Benedict XVI.

The Vatican decision was announced Dec. 6 by the sister’s religious community, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities in Syracuse, N.Y., and by Honolulu Bishop Larry Silva.

The Sisters of St. Francis and Honolulu Bishop Larry Silva said a second miracle has been confirmed in the canonization cause for Blessed Marianne Cope, who is pictured in a colorized black-and-white photo circa 1883. (CNS)

Mother Marianne, who worked as a teacher and hospital administrator in New York, spent the last 30 years of her life ministering on the Hawaiian island of Molokai to those with leprosy. She died on the island in 1918 at age 80.

The Dec. 6 ruling by the Vatican Congregation for Saints’ Causes confirmed recent decisions by a medical board and a group of theologians declaring that a second miracle could be attributed to Mother Marianne’s intercession.

The first miracle required for her beatification was the medically unexplainable recovery of a New York girl who recovered from near death from multiple organ failure after prayers were said to Mother Marianne. The miracle was approved in 2004 by a medical board and a group of theologians. At the end of the year, Pope John Paul II affirmed the case. She was beatified in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican May 14, 2005.

The only known detail about the second miracle is that a woman’s healing was declared inexplicable since doctors had expected her to die and were amazed at her survival. The Sisters of St. Francis will not disclose details of the second miracle until after the pope’s proclamation of Mother Marianne’s sainthood.

The announcement confirming the second miracle could be attributed to Mother Marianne’s intercession was “too good to be true,” said Sister Patricia Burkard, general minister of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities.

She told Catholic News Service Dec. 7 that in the 24 hours since receiving the news, she not only rejoiced with fellow sisters but gave countless interviews about Mother Marianne.

For the religious community, the news also was bittersweet because Sister of St. Francis Mary Laurence Hanley, director of Mother Marianne’s cause, died Dec. 2 at age 86 at the sisters’ regional house in Syracuse.

The funeral for Sister Laurence was scheduled for the evening of Dec. 7. Sister Patricia called it a “wonderful coincidence” so near to the announcement of Mother Marianne because Sister Laurence’s “life’s work was fulfilled.”

Sister Laurence began working on Mother Marianne’s cause in the summer of 1974 as a part-time project while teaching. In 1977, she began full-time work on the cause, which she saw from its beginnings until now.

Sister Laurence worked with “great zest” nearly until the time of her death, said Sister Patricia, noting that just two months ago Sister Laurence’s health declined rapidly and only recently she was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer.

“My work is finished now,” Sister Laurence said in the summer as she put together the last pieces of Mother Marianne’s cause.

Sister Patricia said the sisters find comfort in knowing Sister Laurence is with Mother Marianne and they “probably have much to rejoice in that meeting of one another.”

Sister Patricia said the sisters see Mother Marianne as a “guide for our own dedication and ministry” and they also know they share her with many in Hawaii “where she is beloved.”

She said the nuns view her as “an ordinary person … who knew what was hers to do and did it.”

This past May, Sister Patricia brought a small box holding the reliquary of bone fragments of Mother Marianne’s remains to Hawaii and stopped at all the islands to allow people to venerate the relics, which are on permanent display in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Honolulu.

Honolulu’s Bishop Silva said in his statement that the Vatican announcement caused particular joy in Hawaii because of Mother Marianne’s work there but also because her “example of selfless love can soon be an inspiration to all the world. She was a woman who brought hope and joy to people who had good reason to lose hope and to lament their condition in life.”

“At this time when so many people are losing hope because of our economy and the increased unrest throughout the world, Blessed Marianne inspires us to work simply for the good of others and to allow God to work miracles through the simple things we do. We look forward to honoring this holy woman in our celebrations.”

Mother Marianne, as the head of her religious community in Syracuse, led the first group of Franciscan 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.

Once in Hawaii, she relinquished her leadership position in Syracuse to lead her mission for 35 years, five in Honolulu and the remainder on Molokai.

When she died, 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.”

In other news about U.S. sainthood causes, there have been reports that an announcement will be made in mid December about the approval of a second miracle attributed to Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha’s intercession, which would clear the way for her canonization.

Catholic News Service contacted the Tekakwitha Conference in Great Falls, Mont., for confirmation, but officials there said they could not confirm the reports.

Blessed Kateri, known as “the Lily of the Mohawks,” was born to a Christian Algonquin mother and a Mohawk father in 1656 in upstate New York along the Hudson River. She was baptized by a Jesuit missionary in 1676 when she was 20 and she died four years later.

Her sainthood cause opened in 1932, and she was declared venerable in 1943. In June 1980, she became the first Native American to be beatified.

Contributing to this report was Carol Zimmermann in Washington.