Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Saint ‘Said Yes’ When Hawaii’s Sick Needed Her

By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Special To The Bulletin | Published November 8, 2012

As daybreak unfolded, Meg Burnett arrived by 6 a.m. at the entrance to St. Peter’s Square in Rome with prayerful excitement for the canonization for her great-great-aunt, Marianne Cope.

As she inhaled the atmosphere of anticipation on the fresh, sunny morn, she quietly rejoiced at the elevation to sainthood of her beloved relative in heaven for her care for those with leprosy in Hawaii for 30 years until her death in 1918. Having worked for over a decade for her cause, Burnett marveled at the banner above St. Peter’s Basilica Oct. 21, officially declaring her Saint Marianne to some 80,000 gathered.

“That banner meant it was finally happening. It was just an exciting experience to be there and witness it. I kept thinking, what she was thinking. She was a very private person and didn’t like publicity. She did her work very quietly and all she wanted was a private corner in heaven to praise her God,” said Burnett, back home on All Saints Day following the trip to Rome.

A Marietta resident and member of the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta, Burnett joined 220 others on a pilgrimage led by Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu, Hawaii.

At the culminating liturgy, St. Marianne, along with Native American St. Kateri Tekakwitha and five others, were canonized as their relics were brought forth in procession and Pope Benedict raised them up as examples through their total dedication to Christ and service to others. The pope praised St. Marianne, a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of Syracuse, N.Y., for having shown the “highest level of love, courage and enthusiasm for her work” in the tradition of Catholic nursing sisters and the selfless spirit of St. Francis when little could be done for those with Hansen’s disease, known at the time as leprosy.

Pilgrims also took part in a reception in the Vatican Museum gardens with U.S. Ambassador Miguel Diaz, who reflected on the American women saints’ service to native populations. The pilgrims celebrated Mass at a different basilica each day that concluded with an interpretive hula dance about St. Marianne. A spiritual highlight for Burnett was the visit to the Basilica of St. John Lateran where she beheld towering statues of the 12 apostles. The group also attended Mass at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi.

The daughter of German immigrants, St. Marianne, a naturalized American as a child, entered the Franciscan sisters when she was 24 with the idea of teaching. But she became a leader in the medical field, helping to establish the first Catholic hospital in Syracuse, known as St. Joseph Hospital. She spent the last 30 years of her life on the Hawaiian island of Molokai, living and working among those with leprosy on the isolated Kalaupapa peninsula, taking over a community run by St. Damien de Veuster after his death. She also opened one of Hawaii’s first hospitals on Maui in 1884, today known as Maui Memorial Hospital. She died in Hawaii in 1918 at 80.

For the process of beatification and canonization, two miracles were medically documented and credited to the intervention of St. Marianne. The first was the recovery of a young New York girl dying from multiple organ failure and the second was a 65-year-old New York woman healed of pancreatitis.

St. Marianne has always been the patron saint of Burnett’s family and she grew up in awe of her legacy and “overwhelming love of God.” Burnett has always been inspired by her great-great-aunt’s bravery.

“It was her willingness to go out to Hawaii to the unknown because she didn’t know what she was getting into. It was a time when Hawaii needed help and she responded. There were 50 other religious orders asked to help the sick of Hawaii, and she was the only one who responded,” Burnett reflected. “She had no qualms about it, no fear of the disease, and she just said yes and did it cheerfully. I wonder at age 45 would I have been able to do the same and at age 50 to exile myself to Kalaupapa?”

Instilling good hygiene practices, St. Marianne was confident that none of the Franciscan sisters who came would contract the infectious disease, for which there was no effective treatment until the late 1930s.

“She had predicted that none of the sisters who cared for the lepers would contract the disease, and 128 years later none of them have,” noted Burnett.

Burnett learned a lot about St. Marianne from the efforts of Franciscan Sister Mary Laurence, who researched the saint’s life for 37 years and died days before the announcement she would be canonized. Burnett’s connection to St. Marianne has also led her to Lourdes, France, and to Hawaii seven times where she’s walked the peaceful tropical grounds and reflected on the past horrors there, a place where lepers once were dropped off at sea because of the great fear of the disease.

In Kalaupapa, Burnett once heard St. Marianne ask her, “Why are you sitting there? Don’t you know there is work to be done?” From that she discerned a new life direction of service upon retirement from the Coca-Cola Co. She now raises funds for Our Lady of Perpetual Help Home for terminal cancer patients and helps the homeless through the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Atlanta.

“I feel her presence daily, and I firmly believe she’s watching over me,” Burnett said.

She’ll return to Hawaii in January 2013 when Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York will visit Kalaupapa for the first time. Back home, Burnett hopes to give more presentations on St. Marianne Cope’s legacy in the Archdiocese of Atlanta to make her better known beyond Hawaii and New York.

“I’m still in awe that it happened. I knew it was going to happen in my lifetime and to say it already has happened is just a phenomenal experience for me,” she said. “When you look back on her life and what she accomplished it’s just unbelievable … considering we’re talking 1883 and a woman’s place in the world was not what it is today.”

“Her work is still going on in Hawaii and also in Syracuse, N.Y. The St. Francis Health Care System is very, very alive on the island,” Burnett said.

Our Lady Of Divine Providence Patroness Of Puerto Rico

The image called Our Lady of the Divine Providence, venerated by religious orders and saints, was an oil painting of the Virgin Mary with the Child Jesus sleeping in her arms.

The title “Of Divine Providence” has been attributed to St. Philip Benicio, the fifth superior of the Servants of Mary. On a day when the friars had nothing to eat, they prayed and asked for the intercession of the Virgin Mary. Friars found at the door of their convent two baskets of food. The oldest carving of the image dates to 1853.

The feast is Nov. 19.