Blessed Marianne worked with lepers

Editor’s note: This is another in a series of stories on important women in American history, in celebration of March as National Women’s History Month. Information was provided by members of the Kaua‘i County Committee on the Status of Women. For more information, or to inquire about joining the committee, call Pat Hunter-Williams, 639-0888, or the Office of the Mayor, 241-6300.

Though leprosy scared off most people in 19th-century Hawai‘i, that disease sparked great generosity in the woman who came to be known as Mother Marianne Cope.

Born Barbara Koob in Heppenheim, Germany in 1838, her family emigrated to the United States when she was 2 years old, and settled in Utica, N.Y. At age 24 she entered the Sisters of Third Order of St. Francis in Syracuse, N.Y., and took the name Marianne.

She came to Hawai‘i in 1883, when leaders of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i sought help caring for those with Hansen’s disease.

Arriving with six Sisters of St. Francis, she transformed the branch hospital of Kaka‘ako, which served as a receiving station for Hansen’s disease patients gathered from all over the islands, from an institution that was unsanitary and plagued by vermin, into a hospital compound with beautiful grounds where people were treated with dignity.

In 1888 she arrived at the leprosy settlement on remote Kalaupapa, Moloka‘i, where individuals had been shipped from Kaka‘ako and had been abandoned by society.

Her work there lasted twice as long as Father Damien’s, helping to transform the settlement into a community of hope and dignity by seeing value in every individual and working tirelessly to provide equal access to health care.

She worked on Moloka‘i for 30 years until her death in 1918 at age 80, and was buried on the grounds of Bishop Home. In 1983, a push for sainthood was formally launched, and in 2005 Mother Marianne was honored with the title “Blessed.”

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