During Saturday’s Kalaupapa celebration of Saint Marianne Cope, Bishop of Honolulu Larry Silva described the young Marianne as a “rising star” in the Catholic Church.
At almost the same moment, the looming cliffs above Kalaupapa, shrouded in thick clouds, broke clear as a ray of sun forced its way through. While perhaps not a miracle of intercession, the crowd of about 400 people was grateful for the break in the weather until the celebratory mass concluded.
The event represented the official Kalaupapa celebration of the Oct. 21 canonization of Mother Marianne in Rome. Many observers, including Molokai native and National Park Service Law Enforcement Ranger Amy Sakurada, said it was even larger than the gathering in Kalaupapa to celebrate the sainthood of Father Damien three years earlier.
The Kalaupapa settlement, home to about 10 surviving Hansen’s disease patients, handled the mass influx of visitors beautifully. All morning, one after another, small planes landed at the Kalaupapa Airport to bring in bishops, deacons, families of patients and Catholic fans of Saint Marianne from around the world. Even the pali trail, three miles of steep and muddy switchbacks from topside Molokai, had more foot traffic than it had seen in years.
Visitors were welcomed to Bishop Home by rangers of Kalaupapa National Historical Park with the sounds of Iolani Hawaii Suzuki Strings Tour Group playing in the background. Music from the St. John Vianney Choir also helped create an atmosphere of celebration.
Mass began at 10 a.m. with a welcoming from NPS Superintendent Steve Prokop who turned it over to Bishop Silva for acknowledgements of the special guests. These included the Most Reverend Carlo Maria Vigano, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States; Archbishop of New York Timothy Cardinal Dolan, president of the United States Conferences of Catholic Bishops; Most Reverend Robert Cunningham, Bishop of Syracuse; and the Most Reverend Peter Paul Yelezuome Angkyier, Bishop of Damingo, Ghana, West Africa.
An especially elegant hula performance was followed by comments by Bishop Silva on the life of Marianne Cope. Born in 1838, Marianne served as a Sister of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities, based in Syracuse, N.Y. before arriving in Hawaii. Extending the “rising star” metaphor, Bishop Silva said that Marianne, “knew instinctively that the best stars lead to journeys of adventure.”
Marianne entered religious life in 1862 in Syracuse and came to Hawaii in 1883 to provide health care to patients with Hansen’s disease, commonly known as leprosy. She arrived in Kalaupapa in 1888, about a year after Father Damien died of Hansen’s disease. Upon arriving in Kaluapapa, following in the footsteps of Father Damien, Marianne, “quickly changed it to a place of light, dignity and joy.”
Remaining humble throughout her days, Marianne, “became smaller as God became larger,” Silva continued. “She found Jesus in those who were truly confined on the rough cross of Kalaupapa.”
To this day, the Sisters of St. Francis continue Marianne’s work in Kalaupapa. Sister Roberta Smith from the Sisters of St. Francis spoke about Marianne’s significance. “Because of her courage we are all here today. She had the ability to respond to isolated people … Her example of self-sacrifice and love speaks to use over the centuries. Let us enjoy our day together in the blessed and sacred place.”
Nuncio Vigano spoke about what made the day special. “Marianne had a heart so great she was able to spend her whole life in charity … For me this day is very special, the way the people of Hawaii recognize the gift of what has been given them.”
Representing the Kalaupapa Patient Advisory Council, Gloria Marks spoke with much gratitude. A patient there for most of her life, Marks, and her late husband Richard Marks, started Damien Tours, the company that still, every day, allows visitors a glimpse into the history and life of Kalaupapa. Richard Marks is also responsible for starting the movement to turn Kalaupapa into a national park in the 1980s.
Marks thanked the bishops and sisters for allowing the patients to make a second visit to Rome to witness the canonization. She was particularly impressed with the reception she received when visiting Syracuse prior to traveling to Rome. “You put on quite a show,” said Marks, “Are you trying to show up Saint Damien,” she said, with a grin.
Mass concluded with the song, “Saint Marianne.” This was followed by a celebratory lu’au at McVeigh Hall. Next to McVeigh Hall was a pictorial history of St. Marianne. Memorabilia was for sale by Pacific Historic Parks.
Just as the lu’au concluded — featuring a wide variety of traditional Hawaiian foods freshly prepared — the rain began.
Visitors were shuttled to the newly renovated Paschoal Hall for a performance of the play “November’s Song.” Told from the point of view of Marianne, the play recounts her travels to Hawaii and her decision to take on the challenge of serving the leprosy patients of Kalaupapa.
Many of the turning points in Marianne’s life took place in November. She talks about how her adventure began as an administrator at St. Joseph Hospital in Syracuse and the decisions that brought her to the Sandwich Isles for the first time. Marianne is played with great conviction by Eva Andrade. The play is directed by Deacon Modesto Cordero, who also plays Damien.
A second performance was offered later in the day for those who were not leaving Kalauapapa on Saturday.