|St. Marianne Cope|
I’d like to share from the life of a newly sainted woman – Mother Marianne Cope – who reached beyond herself and met adversity in its many forms and disguises. (I share this with you as a graduate of Brother Dutton Grade School and recall fondly the stories of Br. Joseph Dutton who worked on the island of Molokai for 43 years, and who no doubt ministered with Mother Marianne.)
Prior to the inroads made by Mother Marianne, it is said that hospitals in the U.S. had an unsavory reputation. Many were staffed with unknowledgeable people and were filthy. Many people went to hospitals to die. Mother Marianne began to change all that by instituting cleanliness standards. The simple act of hand-washing between patient visits cut the spread of disease significantly.
• She was a hospital administrator that started the patients' rights movement and changed how people cared for the sick.
• She made sure the medical facilities welcomed all people regardless of race, creed or economic standing.
• She was harshly criticized for treating alcoholics - for she treated their condition as a disease rather than a problem.
In 1884, the Sisters of St. Francis of Syracuse took charge of a leper hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii. “When they arrived at the request of the Fr. Damian, they found horrendous conditions. Patients of all ages and both sexes slept together on bloodstained mattresses on the floor; wards crawled with bedbugs, lice, and maggots. The stench of rotting flesh permeated the premises. Mother Marianne immediately improved the sanitary and social conditions of the patients, teaching her sisters how to nurse the sores of the patients.
When Fr. Damian died from leprosy himself, Mother Marianne took over for him at the island of Molokai. She took charge and established a new standard of living for the residents. As a teenager growing up in New York, she had worked in a clothing factory and had a great sense of style. Rather than provide simple, drab uniforms for her patients, she fashioned beautiful clothing for them. She took great pride in making dresses for the girls. When Mother Marianne went to the island people they had no thought for the graces of life. ‘We are lepers,’ they told her, ‘what does it matter?’ She changed all that. Doctors have said that her psychology was 50 years ahead of its time.”
“As Mother Marianne continued to lead her sisters in their work, she also had to deal with government officials who often seemed to cause more hindrance than help. With tact and determination, she was able to overcome the obstacles put in her way.”
No doubt, Mother Marianne and her sisters could have said, “This isn't what we expected,” but they truly reached out in love and looked beyond the mess into the eyes and hearts of those with leprosy.
• And so in our age, when there is renewed awareness of the suffering of innocent people though human trafficking, or through the exploitation of third world countries, or through the tragic systematic death of peoples by means of torture, famine, and genocide, then we can be sure that the saints are there tirelessly spending their lives to alleviate the suffering of humankind – in all its messiness and adversity.
• In an age when there is a clash between human dignity of all and the restrictive power of a few over all, we can be sure that the saints will be there to name the injustice and call it social sin.
• In an age when Christians are often confronted to choose between life and death for the sake of the Gospel, we can be sure the saints will be there with a holy resiliency, boldly standing in the mess and muck of it all - choosing life - and willing to stare death in the face for the sake of God’s reign.
• In an age when there is an ecclesial restriction of gifts of the Spirit to some groups, we can be sure that the saints will be there and will witness to the freedom of the Spirit regardless of restrictive laws about the use of those gifts.
• In an age when discrimination, elitism, and oppression operates in society, in governments, or in churches, we can be sure the saints will be there to again proclaim the reign of God and be voice and heart, call and sign of the God whose design for this world is justice and mercy for all.
The nature of sainthood is an incarnational reality, the shape and form of holiness may change from age to age and culture to culture. But, the Spirit of the Holy will continue to call people like all of us who are present here and those beyond this faith community – for it is God’s caring that we witness and it is God’s love that we share – no matter the cost, no matter the messiness of it all – let us be willing to face up to all things that will come now and later as adversity and more adversity, for it truly builds character.
So, I close with the words of Tagore – who speaks to us about what being a saint truly is:
-I slept and dreamt that life was joy.
I awoke and saw that life was service.
I acted and behold, service was joy.
- Rabindranath Tagore