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Blessed marianne legacy

“Father Damien and Mother Marianne knew and esteemed one another and on many occasions the Servant of God helped the new Blessed,  not only in many minor but also in some most serious matters.  In the work for the [leprosy patients] Father Damien did nothing that Mother Marianne did not do likewise,  performing for them with boundless generosity the most humble, repulsive and dangerous service." ….

"My work for the Cause of the latter [Mother Marianne] has inevitably led me to study with great care also the life and Cause of Father Damien…  What ultimately counts are the virtues of the candidate and especially his or her practice of heroic charity.  As far as this question is concerned, I fail to see on what counts it could be asserted that Father Damien practiced this charity in a higher degree than Mother Marianne.

CONGREGATION PRO CAUSIS SANCTORUM REPORT OF THE RELATOR OF THE CAUSE Prof. Dr. Peter Gumpel. S. J. (the examining judge), June 20, 1995.

SHARING -  Well meaning different advocates of Blessed Marianne Cope are giving inaccurate facts to the press and for articles which confuse the public and really cheat her legacy by diminishing it. The sad part is that these remarks are picked up and passed on as solid truth.  We are looking forward for her Cause to advance so we intend to clarify some inaccuracies being passed on.  There are many worst ways of cheating her legacy being taken by those who sensationalize their stories and make up facts,  but we are aiming today to clarify the facts for her true advocates who would not harm her purposely.  Illustratively, below, please take note of a recent example how the wrong information has been picked up:

The Kalaupapa National Historical Park: Newsletter 1:
Inaccuracy:  “Kalaupapa National Historical Park is the site of Father Damien’s renowned work that brought global attention to Hansen’s Disease and its treatment, and inspired Mother Marianne and others to serve the Hansen’s Disease community.”

The Kalaupapa National Park Historical Park: Newsletter 2 Results of Scoping Fall 2009:
"The Director/Historian of the Blessed Marianne Cause noted that it is incorrect to say that Saint Damien's work inspired Mother Marianne to serve the Hansen's Disease community: Mother Marianne wrote that it was St. Francis who inspired her."
Illumination:     Mother’s own words were as follows:  "I hope his good heart (Minister Provincial of Order) will approve my wish to accept this work in the name of the great St. Francis…” July 12, 1883

Invitation:  Mother Marianne responded to the invitation of King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani of Hawaii for nursing sisters to care for those afflicted with leprosy, their hearts being torn by the suffering of their people.  
A government leader conveyed the wishes of royalty in the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaiian Islands) to the Bishop in the Islands.  (Also said was that the government would pay the expenses of an emissary):
I make an appeal, and offer an invitation through you to the sisters of charity of your Church to come to the help of the sick of this country; and I doubt not I may proffer to them in advance the profound obligation and gracious recognition of Their Majesties…”
    “The Bishop responded promptly and favorably.  The Rev. Father Leonor was designated as the agent to go forth on a mission to seek the much needed help:  and His Majesty gave to the Rev. Father (Leonor) a Royal Commission to assist him in his quest.”
  Address by the President of the Board of Health, 1885 in reviewing the invitation for the Sisters to come.  (Mother Marianne received the Royal Medal of Kapiolani from royalty on this occasion, the official opening of the Kapiolani Home.)

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

It also is an inaccurate "legend" claim that our sisters accepted the mission in the Sandwich Islands (now the Hawaiian Islands) because of the illness of Father Damien which false fact is now appearing in articles being currently featured on websites. 

It  is good to clarify by primary documentation how a better understanding of the time sequence of his illness shows that this appeal never was possible.   The Sisters were already in the islands when he became ill.  We aim to tell the story of the Franciscan Mission acceptance to minister to leprosy patients as it happened in real life. 

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How much did Fr. Damien influence Mother Marianne’s acceptance of the Mission in 1883?

Documentation shows that Mother Marianne could not have been inspired by the example of  Father Damien and it is certainly not true that the mission was accepted to assist him.

Mother Marianne may have asked the emissary who visited Syracuse in 1883 if there were a priest at Molokai but, if so, there is no mention of her knowing anything about him before landing in Hawaii in any of the abundant sources still extant. The Sacred Hearts priest,  Fr. Leonor Fouesnel, was sadly not one who appreciated Fr. Damien’s work;  in fact, he was known to be his “antagonist”, and if he mentioned Fr. Damien at all during the visit there is no word that he did so anywhere –

 However, much more solid documentation showing there is no reason to believe Mother Marianne accepted the Mission in connection with Fr. Damien's example or condition is extant.  For instance there is:
  • no mention of Fr. Damien in the original correspondence between Fr. Leonor and Mother Marianne in 1883.
  • no mention of Fr. Damien in the description of  Fr. Leonor’s visit and appeal in Sr. Leopoldina’s Journals – (she was present during the appeal session). 
  • no mention of Fr. Damien in Mother Marianne's own historical account of the acceptance of the Mission 1885. 
  • no mention of Fr. Damien  in a long newspaper account of the visit of Fr. Leonor to Syracuse in 1883.
  • according to Mother Marianne, her first meeting with Fr. Damien was a few months after the sisters' arrival in the Islands when he attended the chapel dedication at the sisters' workplace. She speaks of no prior association. 
  • And what greater proof could there be that Mother Marianne did not accept the mission to aid him than to put forth the point that Fr. Damien’s leprosy was not diagnosed until after the sisters were in Hawaii.   

1883:   Fr. Damien was most active at the time of the sisters’ arrival.  In fact, it appeared to be a complete surprise to the sisters that there was a priest active at Molokai.
Sr. Bonaventure, who at the time was thought to be the head of the Mission, writes in her long Christmas letter home (Dec. 26, 1883) of a welcome presence of a priest at Molokai. She does not refer to Fr. Damien by name so clearly the sisters to whom she is writing at home knew nothing about him or his  good work.

It could hardly be true that  someone unknown to the sisters  could be an  inspiring factor for the acceptance of the mission. Please note the big happy surprise of a zealous priest at Molokai  reported to the sisters at home:


“On that island [Molokai] are about 800 lepers, and a young and talented priest lives there and cares for them spiritually, and in a great measure, temporally.   He had often visited them,  and once, when he accompanied the Bishop (now deceased [sic])  he knelt down at His Lordship’s feet, and to the surprise of all begged to devote himself to the lepers from henceforth.  The Bishop could not refuse his request and there he is as happy as a king…”

                  ~ Sr. Bonaventure, Dec. 26, 1883

As known, the Franciscan sisters arrived on November 8, 1883.
The date of the diagnosis of Fr. Damien's disease was January 1885.

Note the timing and description by his physician at Molokai:

"Damien had complained of pain and loss of sensation in his left foot for several years.  It was attributed to rheumatism.   Absence of facilities for a thorough examination of the priest caused me to advise him to go to Honolulu.  In January 1885 he visited Honolulu, met with an accident, scalded his left foot.  Fr. Leonor the provincial of the Mission phoned for Dr. George Trousseau, whose examination of the priest's foot and leg proved they were devoid of feeling and probably caused by infection with leprosy.  He immediately phoned for Dr. Arning who using a powerful platinum needle and pushed deeply into the flesh of the foot and leg of the priest causing him no pain.  This indicated that the peroneal nerve and its branches were dead, due to leprosy."

Dr. A. Mouritz, resident physician at the settlement at Molokai
A Brief World History of Leprosy, p.85


1883-1888:  Sisters were in Honolulu area and on island of Maui (1884, not on the island of Molokai):
When the Franciscan sisters came to Hawaii in 1883, the policy of sending patients to Molokai, was on hold.  It was being studied where hospitals for patients would be located.  The sisters worked at the Kakaako Hospital (Honolulu area), initiating a Home for female children of patients (1885) and doing other good works such as establishing the first hospital on the island of Maui.

1886:  Fr. Damien did visit Mother Marianne at the Kakaako Hospital and she welcomed him when other places in the Honolulu area would not.  He wished to look into the Goto treatment which brought some relief for those being cared for at Kalawao, Molokai.  It was the visit he received from royalty while staying at Kakaako that placed him in the good graces of his congregation again.  They had not approved of his leaving the island of Molokai once he had the disease.

In hearing of the priest’s dilemma, Mother Marianne said, “Send him here… Do not do anything that can hurt his feelings.  He has suffered more than anyone can imagine.”   ~Testimony of Sr. Elizabeth Gomes, 1938.

Second Appeal to go to Molokai - Five Years after the Sisters' arrival :

1887-1888:  A radical change in government came about and the "shipping" of patients to the settlement at Molokai was begun again.
    The hospital in Honolulu was being closed and Mother Marianne was asked by the new government to take charge of a Home for females at Kalaupapa, Molokai, and she did so.   
    It is a matter of getting the timing straight.  There were two major appeals for help for Molokai, one in 1883 and the second in 1888.
    It is true that Mother Marianne was the successor of Father Damien (now Saint Damien) at Boys' Home at Kalawao, Molokai, and that he was thrilled with this anticipation.   But this happened in 1888, not 1883.
    Mother Marianne had always planned on going to Molokai to minister to those exiled there.  Her words in a letter home to Syracuse in 1887 to the Minister Provincial about the sisters possibly being asked to go to the settlement stress this point:

“You are also aware that from the first, it was expected that we, or rather some of us, go to Molokai to take care of the poor outcasts there.

    The Board of Health hesitated to ask us to undertake the work and on that account our going there has been deferred….He [the Bishop] called … to ascertain our opinion about going to so isolated a place.  I told him exactly how we felt, that the Sisters are not only willing, but even anxious to go.”          ~Mother Marianne, 1887

     But the Board would give no permit and no official invitation was received until nearly a year later when the hospital at Kakaako was to be closed.  This was Mother’s response to an appeal for help when it came on May 25, 1888:

     “…the largest number [of sisters here] including myself, are cheerfully willing to undertake the work, and I am confident that other Sisters of our Order will cheerfully volunteer to come and join us…”

“All depends on the decision of our superiors, and while awaiting their instruction, we will earnestly pray the good God to inspire them to decide in favor of the poor unfortunate Lepers.”      ~Mother Marianne, 1888

Father Damien would have been most pleased: 

   In late 1887, Fr. Damien tells of Mother Marianne's writing to him about the sisters being eager to come to Molokai but there is concern whether or not the new government will request Catholic nuns.   He speaks of a petition for Mother and the sisters to come to the settlement sent to the government signed by several hundred patients, but so far it  has been ignored.   

Fr. Damien's quote of Mother Marianne's note to him: 

"Our hearts are bleeding to see them—[people] shipped off.  If it were the will of God how much we would like to  accompany them but our future looks dark."    ~ Dec.8, 1887, collection of Alexander Meyer.

Father Damien writes his own feelings to the settlement supervisor: 
"If our good sisters were established at Kalawao in the way I have often suggested they would… but it seems useless to argue any more about this matter and our asylum with all its improvements – will never become an exemplary institution for sick people."     ~ Dec.15, 1887 collection of Alexander Meyer
Several other letters of Fr. Damien are hopeful that the sisters will come.


The sisters arrived at Kalaupapa early on November 14, 1888.
"At about eight o'clock Fr. Damien hardly recovered from a fever arrives in a cart from Kalawao.  He had not been at Kalaupapa for six weeks.  But the arrival of the sisters made him forget his suffering, he seemed to revive."     
~ Fr. Matthias Limburg, SS.CC., Origin and History of St. Elizabeth Convent (0riginal journal in Blessed Marianne Cope Archives)

The bishop home for women
The Bishop Home for Women, Kalaupapa, Molokai,

Father damien sick with leprosy
Father Damien sick with leprosy at Kalawao

    The sisters take up residence at Kalaupapa, Molokai.  This is the beginning of C.R. Bishop Home for leprous females.
Mother Marianne maintains a working relationship with the ailing Fr. Damien who lives on the other side of the peninsula at Kalawao.  In the beginning Fr. Damien visits but after a time he no longer can do so and he is visited by the sisters in his last days.  He asks Mother Marianne to take care of his boys which she wishes to do.   However, the decision of leadership will be made by the Board of Health.

1889-1895:  Mother Marianne:  Successor at Damien Boys' Home.   Fr. Damien dies on April 15th, 1889 and one week later under government auspices, the Board of Health in Honolulu makes plans to place the Home under the care of Mother Marianne in whom it has "great confidence."  (Letter of President of Board of Health, April 22, 1889. State Archives of Honolulu).
     Mother Marianne accepts the work and by cooperating with the government she sees to the building of an entirely new Home on the property at Kalawao.  R. W. Meyer, the Superintendent, suggested it be named Baldwin Home in honor of its benefactor.  Bishop Home was named after its chief benefactor.
    When the work was completed Mother Marianne suggests Brothers be invited to teach the boys. Upon their arrival, the same day, she withdraws the sisters from Kalawao who are needed at Bishop Home and other Franciscan missions in Hawaii.  She had helped with negotiations for the Brothers and welcomes them. The government appoints (Brother) Joseph Dutton, who had been Fr. Damien’s assistant and then her assistant to be in charge of the new Home.

residence of sisters at Kalawao
©Residence of the Sisters of St. Francis at Kalawao, Molokai 1890-1895.  Becomes residence of the Brothers of Sacred Hearts in November 1895.

baldwin home for boys
1890 – 1894   The Baldwin Home for Boys, Kalawao, Molokai (built during time of Mother Marianne in charge)


       So in conclusion it is clear that these two holy people, Saint Damien DeVeuster and Blessed Marianne Cope worked together for the needs of the poorest of the poor and were both motivated by love of God.  Neither one ever would diminish the other one's legacy.  Let us attempt to do the same in our own practice of  justice. 

Questions are very welcome.

Sister Mary Laurence Hanley
Director/Historian of the Cause of Blessed Marianne Cope


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