Cope, Mother Marianne (1838–1918)

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Cope, Mother Marianne (1838–1918)

German-born American member of the Third Order of St. Francis who ministered to the lepers of Hawaii for more than 35 years. Name variations: Barbara Koob; Sister Mary Anna Cope; Marianna; Mother Cope; Mother Marianne of Molokai. Born Barbara Koob in Germany on January 23, 1838; died in Hawaii on August 9, 1918; daughter of Peter (a farmer) and Barbara (Witzenbacher) Koob; attended St. Joseph's Parish School.

Relocated from Germany to Utica, New York (1839); invested in the habit of a novice (November 9, 1862), becoming Sister Mary Anna; pronounced her vows (November 19, 1863); appointed temporary superior for the Immaculate Conception Convent in Rome, New York (1866), then superior of St. Teresa's and principal of St. Peter's School in Oswego, New York; appointed superior of St. Joseph's Hospital in Syracuse (June 1870); elected second provincial superior of the Sisters of St. Francis (December 1877); arrived in Hawaii (November 8, 1883); the Kapiolani Home for Girls at Kakaako opened (November 1885); arrived in Kalaupapa to live among a thousand lepers (November 1888).

Mother Marianne Cope dedicated more than 35 years of her life to helping the sufferers in Hawaii's leper colonies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Born on a farm in Germany, she was baptized Barbara Koob in Heppenheim, in the Grand Duchy of Hesse-Darmstadt. In search of a prosperous life, her parents, Barbara Witzenbacher Koob and Peter Koob, brought their nine surviving children, of whom Barbara was the fifth, to America in 1839. The family took up residence in the growing city of Utica, New York, which had many Germanspeaking Catholics and a "German Church," St. Joseph's, where the services were conducted in German. There, ten-year-old Barbara received the Sacrament of Confirmation and Holy Communion. It is assumed that she attended local schools before completing St. Joseph's Parish School in 1851. Bilingual, she spoke in English at school and German at home. According to Utica's census records, Barbara was working "in factory," and it is likely that she was employed at the Utica Steam Woolen Mills located across the street from her home. In addition to caring for her younger siblings and executing household tasks, she worked for nine years, supplementing the family income.

She was about 15 when she came under the spell of St. Francis' maxim: "I am not here to be served, but to serve." Sister Bernardina , a sister of the Third Order of St. Francis, established a convent in Utica and counseled young Barbara: "Hope for God's reward when He is ready to grant it." Following the death of her father in July 1862, Barbara requested admittance to the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis. Accepted, she was sent to Syracuse where she trained at the St. Francis Convent and was invested with the habit of a novice on November 19, 1862. She took the name Sister Mary Anna (Mary for the Virgin and Anna for Sister Bernardina whose name had been Anna before she became a nun). On November 18, 1863, she renounced all her worldly possessions, and the following day, November 19, she pronounced her vows. With the Americanized version of the German Koob, she signed her name Sister Mary Anna Cope. Various spellings of her names were used, and in the German community the name became Marianna, then Marianne, the latter of which she used by 1871 almost exclusively.

Now dedicated to the Third Order of St. Francis, Marianne Cope first served as a teacher before becoming an administrator in 1866 when she became temporary superior for the Immaculate Conception Convent in Rome, New York. She was then appointed superior of St. Teresa's and principal of St. Peter's School (Oswego, New York). In June 1870, she was appointed superior of St. Joseph's Hospital in Syracuse, a newly opened facility, the running of which was entirely under her wing. When elected second provincial superior of the Sisters of St. Francis, she succeeded Mother Bernardina and supervised 62 sisters, nine school missions, and two hospitals.

In June 1883, public concern about the spread of leprosy in the Kingdom of Hawaii, as well as demand for containment of the disease and for the government to provide for the lepers, prompted Father Leonor Fouesnel, who was assigned to the Catholic Mission in Hawaii, to request that Sisters of Charity come to "take charge of our hospitals" in Hawaii. Mother Marianne replied to his letter: "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.'"

Selected to lead the mission, she chose six sisters to accompany her to Hawaii (Sister M. Bonaventure Caraher, Sister M. Crescentia Eilers, Sister M. Renata Nash, Sister M. Rosalia McLaughlin, Sister M. Ludovica Gibbons, and Sister M. Antonella Murphy ). On November 8, 1883, they arrived in Hawaii aboard the Mariposa. As they were taken in five carriages provided for by King Kalakaua to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace, bells rang out to welcome them.

Horrible health conditions greeted Mother Marianne when she toured the Branch Hospital at Kakaako, Oahu; the hospital served as a "receiving station" for individuals who were suspected of having leprosy. When the Act to Prevent the Spread of Leprosy (or the Segregation Law) went into effect in 1866, a leprosarium had been established at Kalawao on the island of Molokai, and it was to this facility that those diagnosed with the disease at the Branch Hospital were removed. At the hospital, Mother Marianne met with "the ravaged mutilated bodies of the patients far advanced in the disease; the blinded eyes, the parts of faces eaten away, leaving gaping holes where the noses had been, lost fingers and toes, hands contracted into claws, legs ending in stumps." These horrors, however, in no way deterred her from her sense of purpose. On January 3, 1884, she and the sisters who accompanied her were moved from temporary housing into a two-story convent that had been constructed for them near the hospital compound. Sister M. Ludovica Gibbons was assigned by Mother Marianne to remain at the convent and prepare the food for the sisters, a careful task because it was known that leprosy might be contracted by way of mouth. Their mission, the Convent of St. Francis, was the first Franciscan mission in Hawaii; it was also the first mission, independent of affiliation with a European community, that was established outside the United States by women.

Among Mother Marianne's projects was the Kapiolani Home for Girls at Kakaako, a home for healthy girls whose parents suffered from leprosy. She worked with Queen Kapiolani (1834–1899) to establish the home, and it opened in November 1885. Mother Marianne and her charges worked their way through the Kakaako hospital's cookhouse, dining room, and patients' cottages to clean away the filth. With compassion, they dressed the sores of the lepers whose beds and clothing they cleaned. Asked to travel to Wailuku, Maui, to prepare a newly built government hospital for opening, Mother Marianne accepted the task. She purchased supplies and saw the hospital to a general state of readiness at which time Queen Liliuokalani came to inspect the facility, requesting Mother Marianne as her guide. When Mother Marianne asked the queen to name the hospital, Liliuokalani gave it the name "Malulani," meaning "under the protection of Heaven." After Mother Marianne's return to the hospital at Kakaako, Franciscan sisters would continue to run the Malulani Hospital until 1929.

Mother Marianne had arrived in Hawaii in 1883 with the intent of returning to Syracuse after seeing the other sisters established in their headquarters, but in 1885, after more than 20 months, she decided to remain. She and her sisters would be paid $20 a month from the years 1883 to 1917, the year in which their pay would double. At Kakaako, she asked the Board of Health to remove the superintendent of the hospital, Henry Van Giesen, who had brutalized the patients, and she was placed in control. During July 11–16, 1886, Mother Marianne was visited by Father Damien; he had contracted the disease after working with the lepers on Molokai and wanted to know more about a new form of treatment that involved bathing in hot water with herbs and minerals. He requested Mother Marianne's assistance on Molokai, fearing what might happen to the lepers there after his death. Accompanied by only Sister Leopoldina and Sister Vincent, Mother Marianne, now 50 years old, traveled to Kalaupapa to live among a thousand lepers; there, she would feel her life fulfilled.

She took over the running of the Bishop Home, a home for women and girls, and lived in a tiny convent, St. Elizabeth's. Mother Marianne planned new housing facilities, kept health records, ordered supplies, and tended to the patients. The sisters did their own laundry, as well as that of the patients, in the stream, and planned surprises for the children. Mother Marianne also made dresses for the girls who in 1905 numbered 80 and were all dressed in wine-colored uniforms. She also worked in a garden, growing fruits and vegetables for use in the two cookhouses, and she was pleased when asked for plants by patients who wished to start their own gardens. Robert Louis Stevenson visited Mother Marianne in May 1889 and lived in the settlement's guest cottage for a week. He composed a poem to Mother Marianne, the last two lines of which show his impression of the work at the leper settlement: "He marks the sisters on the painful shores, and even a fool is silent and adores." When Stevenson returned to Honolulu, he sent a piano to Kalaupapa. Mother Marianne spent 30 years at this settlement and helped to establish a new convent at Kalawao called the Convent of Our Lady of Mercy. A home for boys, later called the Baldwin Home, was also built at Kalawao.

During her 35 years of working with lepers, Mother Marianne did not contract the disease, nor did any of the sisters in her charge. In 1917, the director of the Royal Hawaiian Band, Henry Berger, composed his "An Ode to St. Anne" to honor her. Mother Marianne Cope died at age 80 and was buried at Kalaupapa, on a hillside beneath orange trees she had planted. A monument stands nearby to commemorate her.


Petersen, Barbara Bennett, ed. Notable Women of Hawaii.
Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1984.