By Margaret Smith
Maria Anna Barbara Koop (later changed to Cope) certainly had a nomadic life. Born in 1838 in Heppenheim, Germany, she was living with her family in Utica, New York, by the time she was two and spent the greater part of her life in the Hawaiian Islands.
Her ambition was to join a religious order, but her father’s ill-health and early death meant that she had to work in a textile factory in order to support the rest of the family. In 1862 though, she was able to join the Sisters of The Third Order Regular of St. Francis in Syracuse, New York state.
When she received the habit, she changed her name to Marianne and became a teacher, and later Principal, in one of the regions newly established schools for German speaking immigrants. Later she became involved in healthcare and helped to found the first two Catholic hospitals in central New York.
By 1883, Marianne was Superior General of her Order and in that same year she received a letter that was to change her life completely. The letter came from King Kalakaua of Hawaii, pleading for help with the leprosy sufferers in his country.
The work in Hawaii was hard. Their first task was at the Kakoake hospital where the Sisters had to examine all the patients suffering from Hansen’s disease, leprosy. The worst cases were then transferred to the island of Molokai where they would spend the rest of their days in virtual isolation.
Conditions in this hospital, originally built to house 100 patients but which had double that number, were dreadful, prompting one Sister to declare it was time to “roll up the sleeves and clean the places up.”
Despite such conditions, Mother Marianne and her Sisters organised the building of the first ever general hospital on the island and when news surfaced about administrative problems at Kakaake hospital, the government called in Mother Marianne to deal with this.
Her response was quite simple but firm, either the administrator was dismissed or the Sisters would return to America. The Sisters remained in Hawaii and after only two years there, Mother Marianne was awarded the Cross of a Companion of The Royal Order of Kapiolani by the King himself for the work she and the Sisters had done amongst his suffering people.
The Sisters’ workload kept on increasing though. Little thought had been given to the families of the lepers and on the advice of the Sisters, the Kapiolani Home for homeless female children of leprosy sufferers was opened with a second such home following later. With the help of a local businessman, Henry Baldwin, a home and school was built for boys which was run later by Brothers of the Sacred Heart.