Marianne of Molokai


Those who lay down their lives for their fellow men are not forgotten….

By Ward Clarke

The Mariposa was an ordinary little steamer which plied in obscurity between San Francisco and the Hawaiian Islands. She was not much to look at, but she was sturdy and, though no throngs ever greeted her arrival in port, she was satisfied wth her knowledge of work well done.

Yet, unknown as she was, one day she had her triumph, a day of glory such as never came even to those nobler and far more famous ships which shared her anchorages.

It was on the eighth of November in 1881 that she breasted her way with calm assurance into the familiar harbor of Honolulu, proud of her cargo, proud of her mission.

A great assemblage welled from deep in the city right up to the edge of the water. The crowd surged to the very string-piece of the wharf as she touched the landing.

Tumultuous cheering split the bright sky and the balmy air. Church bells rang wildly, and shouts of welcome arose on every side. Four royal carriages stood polished and shining at the dock, waiting for her, the Mariposa.

Slowly she warped her way to the pier, as lines were made clear. Sharp orders were given, as the gangplank was lowered and lashed in place. A sudden hush which had fallen on the expectant multitude broke with a spontaneous outcry of joy and happiness, for seven little Sisters of St. Francis had set foot on Honolulu’s soil and had stepped into the royal coaches.

There was good reason for this wild rejoicing, for to a people confused and crushed by the mysterious march of leprosy, which had claimed so many of their number, there had finally arrived a ray of hope, a sustaining hand for which they had waited so long.

True, for ten long years, they had had the heroic aid of the indomitable Father Damien, but now that valiant warrior himself lay near to death and addressed his pitiable congregation as “Fellow lepers.” Even he, the mighty one, had fallen prey to the terrifying disease, and realized that only the Sisters could carry on the work to which he had given his life.

For he knew, as the president of the Board of Health of Hawaii had said, that the lepers “were afflicted with a disease so peculiarly objectionable in its character and conditions that to cope with it with any possibilities of relief, it was not alone sufficient to be provided with skilled physicians and remedies, but with experienced and devoted nurses—especially women, endowed with that rare devotion to the cause of the sick and suffering that arises solely from the highest inspiration of Christian charity.”

And so had come the call which had brought Marianne and her six Franciscan Sisters to the fabled islands of the Southern Seas.

Marianne brought to Hawaii not the fire and enthusiasm of youth which seeks adventure, but the calm judgment and mature reasoning of her forty-seven years, twenty-one of which she had given to God’s service in the Sisterhood, during which period she had become Superior of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse and later Provincial Superior of her Order.

Thus, she was peculiarly equipped by training for the task which lay before her. The task was a gigantic one, calling for all the strength and patience at her command. But patience and strength had been bred in her bones on the day she was born in the far off little town of Heppenheim in the Province of Hesse-Darmstadt.

For her parents, Peter and Barbara Kopp, were of that hardy Hessian breed which had fought in successive centuries against Gaul, German, Hun, Goth, Vandal, and Saxon.

And when, a few years after the family’s arrival in the United States, her mother died, she was the little mother who cared for the other children of the family.

Her trials during these years did much to mold the character which marked her life. She began her work at once, after a cordial reception by Bishop Koeckemann at the Cathedral, and a royal audience at the palace of Queen Kapiolani and King Kalakaua.

Her first duty was to improve conditions at the Branch Hospital in Honolulu. Things there were in terrible shape. Male and female lepers were grouped together in a manner not permitted in the worst of penal institutions; gambling, opium smoking, and other evils were rampant. Dirt lay thick on every side.

Those in charge of the poor lepers were brutal men who diverted hospital funds to their own purpose. Sanitation was completely ignored, sterile methods were unknown, living quarters were abominable, and an air of absolute despair pervaded the atmosphere.

The afflicted ones were even tending the kitchen. And, in that mild climate, there were many days and nights when the weakened patients were actually blue with cold.

It would hardly have been surprising had the Sisters flinched before the appalling spectacle which confronted them. Had there not been such a great opportunity to exercise real charity and to work for the conversion of these souls to Christ, the tiny expedition might have come to early grief.

But, with a resolution born of her years of service, Mother Marianne took charge, and began to transform the place—physically, mentally, and morally. Clean and scrub, clean and scrub. That was the order of the day for months. Clean and scrub and sterilize.

And slowly, painstakingly, the Sisters worked a change. There was here no sudden martyrdom which the world applauds. There was no startling display of heroics which catches attention and wins the wonder of the on-looker. There was no single stroke of bravery which breaks into headlines in the news.

Here there were only that inner strength and that gift of grace which far surpass all other forms of courage, and that give one the heart to clean and scrub day after day, day after day, so that helpless souls might find relief from all their pain and suffering.

For five years, Marianne and her faithful Sisters labored to improve conditions in the Branch Hospital. And during those five years Marianne found time and strength to open many other hospitals and homes, always insisting that the surroundings must be clean both physically and morally.

And she succeeded so well in every effort that the ancient technique of merely letting the leper live in isolated squalor and helplessness was changed to the present procedure which calls for that constant attention and utmost cleanliness upon which she so strongly insisted.

Her success was so great that she was finally asked to go to Molokai, that gray, forbidding island whose name still strikes terror to those who remember the former state of its leper colony.

Father Damien, who had left Honolulu to take care of these most neglected of all the lepers, was rapidly succumbing to the ravages of the disease, and he pleaded with the Sisters to assume the labor which he knew he must soon relinquish. Molokai was dear to him, and he prayed that they would carry on his work.

And so began Marianne’s thirty years of service on Molokai. For she answered Father Damien’s plea at once, and took up her station on this isle of dread, where the most ravaged of the lepers were held in isolation from their fellow-men.

For thirty years, she ruled with a firm insistence on Godliness and cleanliness. With a faith born of her convictions, she predicted that none of her Sisters would ever contract the malady if proper precautions were taken.

And today, after more than fifty years of service, her Sisters bear witness to her faith, for not one has ever been stricken. Thus Marianne brought peace and hope to a broken and bewildered group of outcasts.

With her deep spirituality, she combated the ancient pagan superstitions and substituted for them the love of Christ. With her remarkable  ability for organizing, she built new churches and homes and hospitals. With her courage, she drove out the inefficient and cruel overseers who had had charge of the lepers.

With her deep insight into the value of beauty, she transformed much of Molokai’s ugly soil into flower beds which charmed the eye. For she was one of the first to recognize the therapeutic power of beautiful surroundings in aiding the mental outlook of the sick.

Finally, after thirty-five years of unremitting work among the lepers, Marianne’s labor in the vineyard came to an end. God took His servant who had worked for more than fifty years in His cause.

And at the foot of a little hill on which is an orange grove which she, herself, had planted, she was laid to rest. For her work was done, and she and Father Damien had won the fight.

For in Damien, Molokai had met its match, but in Marianne—its master.

Today there are many mighty monuments to mark the years of Marianne’s endeavors. Instead of the sloth and dirtiness, cramped quarters and utter neglect, which greeted her arrival, there now face the visitor the vast improvements for which she was mainly responsible.

The sun-baked, grisly plain of the leper colony is broken by flowers, gardens, trees, and wood-lots. Food is now raised where only desolate waste had reigned. Soft vegetation has taken the place of the glaring red-dust roads which met her eye.

Furthermore, in place of the bare rocky crags and windswept spaces of Molokai, there are now well-ordered settlements, cottages for the inhabitants of the island, and separate homes for the men and women lepers.

Hospitals abound, and the newest of scientific methods are practiced by doctors trained in research. The spirit of the lepers has risen from one of complete despair to one of hopeful resignation.

And for all these things the grateful colony reveres the memory of Marianne.

Yet, despite these magnificent achievements, there have been hardly any tributes from the world removed from Molokai. And that is the way that Marianne would want to have it.

But there is one great tribute from one who was not of her Faith, but who recognized her sanctity. It was written and dedicated to her by Robert Louis Stevenson after he visited her on the island.

To see the infinite pity of this place,

The mangled limb, the devastated face,

The innocent sufferers smiling at the rod,

A fool were tempted to deny his God.

He sees, and shrinks; but if he look again,

Lo, beauty springing from the breast of pain!

He marks the Sisters on the painful shores,

And even a fool is silent and adores.

And who can say that the great Robert Louis Stevenson ever uttered a greater truth in all his travels and in all his tales.

Oh Queen, my Mother, I give you my whole self. And to show my devotion to you, I offer to you my eyes, my ears, my mouth, my heart, my whole being. Wherefore, as I am your own, keep me, defend me, as your property and possession. By holding your hand, you lead me to your Son, and I have the surest and easiest path to heaven.

Excellent sermon! We need to trust God as little children trust their parents….

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In With God in Russia, Ciszek reflects on his daily life as a prisoner, the labor he endured while working in the mines and on construction gangs, his unwavering faith in God, and his firm devotion to his vows and vocation. Enduring brutal conditions, Ciszek risked his life to offer spiritual guidance to fellow prisoners who could easily have exposed him for their own gains. He chronicles these experiences with grace, humility, and candor, from his secret work leading mass and hearing confessions within the prison grounds, to his participation in a major gulag uprising, to his own “resurrection”—his eventual release in a prisoner exchange in October 1963 which astonished all who had feared he was dead.

Powerful and inspirational, With God in Russia captures the heroic patience, endurance, and religious conviction of a man whose life embodied the Christian ideals that sustained him…..

Captured by a Russian army during World War II and convicted of being a “Vatican spy,” Jesuit Father Walter J. Ciszek spent 23 agonizing years in Soviet prisons and the labor camps of Siberia. Only through an utter reliance on God’s will did he manage to endure the extreme hardship. He tells of the courage he found in prayer–a courage that eased the loneliness, the pain, the frustration, the anguish, the fears, the despair. For, as Ciszek relates, the solace of spiritual contemplation gave him an inner serenity upon which he was able to draw amidst the “arrogance of evil” that surrounded him. Ciszek learns to accept the inhuman work in the infamous Siberian salt mines as a labor pleasing to God. And through that experience, he was able to turn the adverse forces of circumstance into a source of positive value and a means of drawing closer to the compassionate and never-forsaking Divine Spirit.

He Leadeth Me is a book to inspire all Christians to greater faith and trust in God–even in their darkest hour. As the author asks, “What can ultimately trouble the soul that accepts every moment of every day as a gift from the hands of God and strives always to do his will?”
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