Kalaupapa Franciscan Sister Theresa Chow couldn't contain her emotions last week as she and two other sisters from the Molokai peninsula known as the home of leprosy patients prepared for their trek to Rome to see one of their own elevated to sainthood.
"I'm excited; I can't think straight," Chow said Thursday as she was still packing and preparing for her trip to see the canonization of Mother Marianne Cope at St. Peter's Square.
Cope, who arrived in Kalaupapa in 1888 to take care of patients at the settlement, belonged to the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities, the same community Chow belongs to.
CLARENCE KAHILIHIWA, current Kalaupapa patient – 'It’s a big honor for us and also for the state of Hawaii and the island of Molokai. I’m not sure if any other place (has) two saints at the same place.
This is the plaque at Mother Marianne Cope’s grave site in Kalaupapa. On Oct. 21, Cope will become a saint.
GARY COLTON photo
"It's such as great honor for someone in our community to be raised as a saint. . . . Here we have Marianne, who is one of us, who is going to be declared a saint. That is something really special; she is one of us," Chow said via phone while staying at the Manoa convent on Oahu. "It's such an honor in the church itself. . . . When she was alive she never wanted any kind of recognition for herself."
Chow and the two other sisters from Kalaupapa, Therese Souza and Rose Annette Ahuna, will join approximately 225 people from Hawaii traveling to Rome for the ceremonies on Oct. 21, according to the Diocese of Honolulu. Some residents are making a stop first in Syracuse, N.Y., to pay homage to where Cope entered the Sisters of Saint Francis in 1862.
Cope's canonization is set for 9:30 p.m. Saturday HST. It will actually be held on Oct. 21 in Rome, as Rome is 12 hours ahead of Hawaii. According to the Diocese of Honolulu, the cable Eternal Word Television Network, or EWTN, will show the canonization live.
Officials at a couple of local television stations on Oahu said Saturday that they were not sure yet if they would also carry the canonization live but, if so, more details will be released this week.
Current Kalaupapa patient Clarence "Boogie" Kahilihiwa was also excited before he left Hawaii last week for his second trip to Rome in three years.
Kahilihiwa and his wife, Ivy, went to Rome in 2009 to witness the canonization of then-Father Damien.
He said he has a "hard time" explaining his feelings about having two saints from Kalaupapa.
"Imagine on a small island like Kalaupapa, on a small peninsula. It's a big honor for us and also for the state of Hawaii and the island of Molokai. I'm not sure if any other place (has) two saints at the same place," he said via phone from Oahu on Thursday as he prepared for his Friday departure.
Kahilihiwa arrived in Kalaupapa in 1959, when he was 19.
He said he has "no regrets" about living isolated in the settlement. He said he wasn't sure where his life would have taken him if hadn't stayed in Kalaupapa.
He added that perhaps Kalaupapa kept him away from trouble and the "hippie years" of the 1950s and 1960s.
Officials said that nine patients from Kalaupapa will make the trip to Rome.
Retired Lahaina priest Gary Colton was also making final preparations last week for the trip to Rome, where he, Bishop Larry Silva of the Diocese of Honolulu and Father Lane Akiona of Oahu will participate in the ceremony.
In Colton's luggage will be photos of the plaque from Cope's grave in Kalaupapa.
(In 2005, Cope's remains were exhumed from her Kalaupapa grave site to be taken back to the motherhouse chapel of her Sisters of St. Francis in Syracuse. However, a sister said that some bone fragments still remain in the Molokai soil.)
Colton visited Kalaupapa on Tuesday and took the photos of Cope's initial resting place.
He said he will present one photo to the Franciscan Sisters from Syracuse and the other to the pope for the Vatican archives.
Colton, who recently retired from Maria Lanakila Catholic Church in Lahaina, said his trip to Kalaupapa on Tuesday to take around friends and clergy served as a "warm-up" to his Rome trek.
He said that at St. Philomena Roman Catholic Church in Kalawao (which Damien and his patient helpers helped enlarge), he "could feel the presence of both of those people, Damien and Marianne."
"It seemed to me that was like a warm-up. I'm getting ready to go," Colton said.
Cope arrived in Hawaii on Nov. 8, 1883, at the age of 45, with six other Franciscan sisters. She served as administrator at Honolulu's Kakaako Branch Hospital for leprosy patients, opened Kapiolani Home for daughters of leprosy patients and founded Maui's first general hospital, Malulani.
She went on to the Kalaupapa settlement in 1888, five months before the death of Father Damien.
She and her fellow sisters ran various homes, including one founded by Father Damien.
Cope never returned to the Mainland, spending the rest of her life at Kalaupapa. She died there in 1918 at the age of 80.
Patrick Downes, editor of the Hawaii Catholic Herald on Oahu, said that Cope "was a remarkable woman."
"For all of them to come out here from New York and say goodbye to family and friends forever; most of them never went back," he said. "Hawaii was not the paradise of the Pacific. It was a little island, with a backwater kingdom with a lot and lot of sick people. They answered the call."
Downes said King Kalakaua in the 1880s had sent out a request to the Mainland looking for people to come to Hawaii to help.
"(Cope) was the only one that answered in the positive."
He noted the various programs and medical facilities Cope helped with while in Hawaii.
"At every point, her presence was indispensable," he said.
Longtime journalist and former Maui News Staff Writer Valerie Monson, who has interviewed and compiled the history of Kalaupapa patients for decades, is inspired by Cope. She is now the coordinator of Ka 'Ohana O Kalaupapa, a nonprofit organization of Kalaupapa residents, family members/descendants and longtime friends and supporters
"Mother Marianne went about her work in a quiet way so she often didn't get the credit that was due to her. I think it's important to remember that Mother Marianne, like Father Damien, worked closely with the people of Kalaupapa and the Royal Family," Monson wrote in an email. "Very often, Mother Marianne and Father Damien are portrayed as people who came from far away and changed things on their own, but they were actually very involved with Queen Kapiolani and King Kalakaua. I think these strong relationships add to their legacies, showing how they worked with the Royal Family to improve conditions for people in Hawaii with leprosy.
"The canonization of Mother Marianne is something I would not have expected when I first started going to Kalaupapa in early 1989. At that time, most of the history of Kalaupapa revolved around Father Damien. There was little talk about Mother Marianne's accomplishments or about the lives of the Hawaiian people who were sent to Kalaupapa in the early days because of government policies regarding leprosy," Monson added.
"It's amazing how things have changed over the past 25 years and how this history is being told in a more accurate and inclusive way. It's exciting to see Mother Marianne finally get this overdue recognition."
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.