SENECA FALLS — Members of three local parishes marked International Women’s Day on March 8 by taking a trip to Women’s Rights National Historical Park to view an exhibit about a female saint with local ties.
St. Marianne Cope, a Franciscan nun from central New York, was the subject of an exhibit at the park’s visitor center from March 8-31.
Park staff chose to feature the saint because she was a strong woman who was a pioneer in many areas, said Dave Malone, park ranger at Women’s Rights National Historical Park. Malone put the exhibit together and on March 8 gave a presentation about St. Marianne’s life.
"St. Marianne was a woman who really gave her entire life to the service of others," Malone explained.
Many local Catholics were excited when they heard about the new exhibit dedicated to the saint.
"I’m so pleased that the National Park Service has recognized the significance of someone like St. Marianne," said Ann Buddle, a member of St. Francis Solanus Parish in Interlaken. St. Francis Parish, along with Holy Cross Parish in Ovid and St. James the Apostle Parish in Trumansburg, sent several carloads of parishioners to the March 8 presentation and exhibit opening.
St. Marianne was born in Germany in 1838 and emigrated to the United States with her family when she was about a year old, Malone said during his presentation on the saint’s life. The family settled in Utica, where they belonged to St. Joseph Parish. The future saint attended the parish school and became a U.S. citizen in 1850 at the age of 12. She began working in a factory at a young age in order to help support her ailing father and her younger siblings, Malone said.
"She wrote that even as a young girl she had a religious calling. She really wanted to do something in the church and for the good of mankind. She was not able to fulfill this vision of hers until 1862," Malone said.
When St. Marianne’s father passed away that year her younger siblings were old enough to support themselves, so she entered the Sisters of St. Francis in Syracuse. She worked for several years as a teacher and later as a principal at Catholic schools throughout the region and also took on leadership positions in her religious congregation. It was through this work with her congregation’s leadership that she helped establish St. Elizabeth Hospital in Utica in 1866 and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse in 1869, Malone said.
"These were among the first 50 public hospitals in the country to accept people without regard to their religion, their race or their nationality," he added.
St. Marianne was a very effective hospital administrator and encouraged her hospital’s staff to wash their hands before treating patients, a concept that was not commonly practiced at the time, Malone said. In 1883 she received a letter from Father Leonor Fouesnel, a missionary who was serving Hawaii’s large number of people suffering from leprosy, now known as Hansen’s disease.
"They were looking for someone to come out there and help them. I’m told that Father Fouesnel went throughout the United States (seeking help) and no one answered the call," Malone said.
St. Marianne enthusiastically answered the call, however, and set out for Hawaii with six other Sisters of St. Francis. She devoted the rest of her life to caring for patients with Hansen’s disease and their families. She established and ran a general hospital as well as a residence for the homeless female children of Hansen’s disease patients. When patients with Hansen’s disease were exiled to the island of Molokai in 1888, she followed them there and cared for them.
"By Mother Marianne going with them, she’s essentially banishing herself," Malone said. "She had expected to return to Syracuse, but it was decided by the Hawaiian government and the church that her services were really needed there. She never went home to Syracuse as long as she lived."
St. Marianne never contracted Hansen’s disease and died in 1918 of natural causes. Pope John Paul II declared her venerable in 2004, and Pope Benedict XVI beatified her in 2005 and canonized her Oct. 21, 2012. She is credited with the miraculous healing of two Syracuse-area patients with extreme illnesses. St. Marianne is the subject of a shrine and museum in Syracuse.
Carol Ann Kuklo, a member of St. James the Apostle Parish, said she was grateful for the opportunity to learn more about St. Marianne without traveling more than a few miles.
"It seemed like a good opportunity and it was close," agreed Buddle. "I have heard of Mother Marianne but really didn’t know about her life."
Fellow St. Francis Solanus parishioner Maryann Dendis said St. Marianne’s story was inspiring.
"Someone that actually came from our little community became such an important person," she noted.