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American health care pioneer Mother Marianne Cope canonized

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 21st, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

American health care pioneer Mother Marianne Cope was canonized this past weekend. Mother Marianne, renowned for her work with Hansen's disease, is one of only 10 Americans thus far to have achieved sainthood.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - In the late 19th Century in Hawaii, people afflicted with Hansen's disease - more popularly known as leprosy then - were banished to live in leper colonies separated from their families and friends.

Banished to the remote island of Molokai, they remained at this leper colony for the rest of their lives. Children of lepers became orphans.

When an island priest sent out word to 50 religious organizations, all others were too fearful save for Mother Marianne who gladly responded. Before journeying to the leper colonies, she radically changed medical practices on the mainland.

Mother Marianne opened and operated some of the first general hospitals in the United States, St. Elizabeth Hospital in Utica, New York, in 1866 and St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center in Syracuse, New York, in 1869. Both remain in operation today.

Prior to the inroads made by the Mother Marianne, hospitals in the U.S. had an unsavory reputation. Many were staffed with unknowledgeable people and were filthy. Many 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 wonderful hospital administrator and really started the patients' rights movement and truly changed how people cared for the sick," Sister Patricia Burkard says, who until recently held the same office Mother Marianne did as head of her religious congregation, now known as the Sisters of Saint Francis of the Neumann Communities.

In addition, Mother Marianne made sure the medical facilities welcomed all people regardless of race, creed or economic standing, decades before desegregated hospitals. She was harshly criticized for treating alcoholics. She treated their problem, which was seen by many experts as a moral failing unworthy of help, as a disease.

Traveling with six sisters to Hawaii in 1883, she established the first general hospital on Maui one year later. The facility was so successful that King Kalakaua honored her with the medal of the Royal Order of Kapiolani. She also opened the Kapiolani Home, which cared for the many female orphans of patients with Hansen's disease.

Mother Marianne took over another badly run medical facility in Honolulu. The hospital, which was supposed to house only 100 patients, housed 200 and was unbelievably filthy.

"When she got to Honolulu, it was roll up the sleeves and clean the places up," Burkard said.

At the leper colony of Molokai, Father Damien DeVeuster, whom the Catholic Church named a saint in 2009, was dying from Hansen's disease at the time of Mother Marianne's arrival.

Upon his death, she took over his facility that cared for men and boys and established a separate enterprise to treat girls and women.

Raising money, she started programs that gave the ill population a much more dignified life. She set up classes for patients. She worked to beautify the environment with gardens and landscaping. Patients got proper clothes, music and religious counseling. She couldn't cure them, but she could make their lives better.

Mother Marianne died on August 9, 1918, at the age of 80. Most amazingly, to this day none of the Franciscan sisters have ever contracted Hansen's disease.

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