The remains of St. Marianne, who became known as the "Mother of Outcasts" for her 30 years of work with leprosy patients at Kalaupapa, will be returning to Hawaii after spending nearly a decade on the Mainland.
The announcement was made Thursday by the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities in Syracuse, N.Y., where St. Marianne's remains have been since 2005. She was a member of that order.
No timetable has been set for the move, but her remains will be placed alongside relics of St. Damien, who also worked and died at the Molokai settlement, at the Diocese of Honolulu's Our Lady of Peace Cathedral. St. Marianne was canonized in October 2012 and St. Damien in October 2009.
"Oh my goodness, it's wonderful," Kalaupapa Franciscan Sister Samuel Marie Settar said of the move. "The community is truly excited. I can't think of any other words to describe it. I'm very elated and happy that it's happening."
Sister Lorraine Wesolowski, executive director of communications with the order in New York, told The Maui News on Thursday afternoon that St. Marianne is being moved because the church where she is interred is structurally "not good" and would cost $12 million to repair. She said the 96 sisters at the church will be relocated to a newly built campus this summer and that returning St. Marianne's remains to Hawaii "seemed like the best thing to do."
Mother Marianne Cope was born in Germany in 1838, and a year later moved with her family to Utica, N.Y. She became a sister of the order of St. Francis in 1862 and moved in 1883 to Hawaii, where she was assigned to the Kakaako Branch Hospital on Oahu.
Five years later, she transferred to Kalaupapa, where she eventually became known as the "Mother of Outcasts" for her care of leprosy patients.
"A lot of people forget that (St. Marianne) was 45 when she came to Hawaii, and that's getting older back in those days," said Valerie Monson, a coordinator for Ka 'Ohana O Kalaupapa. "She had to go cross-county from New York and halfway across the Pacific Ocean - and then she went to Kalaupapa when she was 50.
"She was a role model for all of us, and I think it will be an inspiration for her to come back."
Ka 'Ohana O Kalaupapa, a nonprofit, helps local families reconnect with their ancestors.
Monson said St. Marianne helped open Malulani Hospital in the 1880s, making it the first public hospital on Maui. However, she was recalled to the Oahu hospital to improve conditions for leprosy patients.
"(The Hawaiian monarchy) put the word out through the Catholic Church, and Mother Marianne was the only person to respond," Monson said. "Care during her time dramatically improved."
St. Marianne was transferred to Kalaupapa in 1888, where she remained until her death in 1918. She was buried on the grounds of the Bishop Home before her remains were exhumed in 2005 during her canonization process and moved to Syracuse.
Patrick Downes, spokesman for the Diocese of Honolulu, said St. Marianne's remains and St. Damien's relics - two bones - will be placed in a private chapel within the cathedral that has yet to be built. The chapel is part of a $10 million restoration project of the 170-year-old downtown Honolulu cathedral and is expected to be completed in a couple of years, he said.
Father Damien de Veuster's remains were returned to his hometown in Belgium in 1936. A relic of his hand was reinterred in his original grave in Molokai in 1995.
Downes admitted it was "kind of a surprise" when he heard the announcement of St. Marianne's return to Hawaii, although he had heard rumors.
"I haven't even had time to talk to (Bishop Larry Silva), but I'm sure he's happy," he said Thursday afternoon.
Silva told The Associated Press that Marianne's return was a "wonderful blessing." The sisters approached him a couple of months ago about the possibility of returning her remains, Silva said, and he learned of the final decision Wednesday.
St. Marianne's move required the permission of the Vatican in Rome, which it received, Downes said. Her remains will likely stay at the Honolulu cathedral permanently.
Returning St. Marianne to her original resting place in Kalaupapa was ruled out because of inaccessibility - reached only by plane, mule or a long hike down a switchback trail - said Downes. In addition, the burial site was on state land as opposed to church-owned property.
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.