Saints of Hawaii

Bishop Silva of Honolulu Speaks About St. Damien, Upcoming Canonization of Blessed Marianne Cope

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By Ann Schneible

ROME, APRIL 24, 2012 (Zenit.org).- In the Pontifical North American College stands a three-foot statue of St. Damien of Molokai, made from native Hawaiian Koa wood. Sculpted by Maui native Dale Zarrella, the statue depicts the Belgian-born saint as he would have been upon his first arrival to Hawaii: young, his face unmarked by the leprosy that would one day claim his life, hair and cassock blowing in the wind, and with one arm around a small child whose face is shielded by the saint's overcoat. The sculpture was blessed last week after evening prayer at the PNAC by Bishop Clarence Silva of Honolulu, Hawaii, while he was here in Rome for his ad limina pilgrimage.

Later this year, Hawaii will celebrate the canonization of Blessed Marianne Cope, the second Hawaiian saint to be canonized following St. Damien of Molokai's canonization in 2009. Blessed Marianne of Molokai was born in Germany, but moved to New York when she was a young child. As an adult she joined the Sisters of St. Francis. In 1883, she answered the call with six of her fellow sisters to go to Hawaii and serve the lepers there.

Bishop Silva, who has been bishop of Hawaii since 2005, spoke with ZENIT about the cult of St. Damien and Blessed Marianne Cope of Molokai’s upcoming canonization.

ZENIT: You dedicated a statue of St. Damien to be left here at the Pontifical North American College, and another copy of the same statue was blessed by the Pope and donated to the Vatican. Could you give the story behind this statue?

Bishop Silva: Dale Zarrella is a parishioner at St. Theresa's Kihei, Maui, and he got in touch with me about a year ago and spoke about wanting to do these statues, which he'd already designed. He was inspired by Damien, as so many people are, and it was his dream to have the Pope bless a copy and give it to the Vatican. I suggested to him that it might be more useful to have it at the seminary, so we made arrangements to have it shipped here, and tonight [April 18th] we decided to bless it at Evening Prayer. Dale Zarrella took another copy of the statue to the papal audience, and the Pope blessed it as he blessed all the religious objects, and it's in the Vatican now.

ZENIT: Could you speak about the cult of St. Damien and Blessed Marianne Cope among the Catholics in Hawaii?

Bishop Silva: The cult of Fr. Damien is very long-lived, and I have talked to people from throughout the world of various ages who have said that they have been inspired by Damien since they were children. His story is very well-known, and quite captivating. And, I think because he was dedicated to the Lord, no matter what – no hardship was too difficult for him to face – because he was the Lord's servant , he served the people in beautiful ways, people that others didn't want to serve, people who others didn't want to have anything to do with. He served them not only as a spiritual leader, as a priest of the parish in Molokai, but as a community organizer, as undertaker, as carpenter, as nurse. Whatever had to be done, Damien did. I think that has been a great inspiration to people for decades.

Marianne Cope was a contemporary of Damien. Her story is not quite as well-known: perhaps a little more humble story. Nevertheless, she still did great things in terms of her service to the people with leprosy in Hawaii. The king of Hawaii at that time wanted Catholic sisters to come and work with the leprosy patients because he knew that they were dedicated, that they would do a good job, that their work was quality work. He had the Catholic mission write to 50 different religious orders, and the only one who responded was Marianne Cope. She was the superior of the Franciscan sisters of Syracuse, and she said, “we will go.” There were seven sisters who went, including herself.

First they went to Honolulu, and there was a receiving station for leprosy patients. When they arrived there, it was in terrible shape; it was not a place that was very humane. Within a month or so, she and her sisters really turned it around, cleaned it up and made it a dignified place.

She also opened a general hospital on Maui, and then in 1888, just five months before Damien died, she went to Molokai, and began her work there which continued until her death in 1918, dying of natural causes at the age of 80. She never contracted the disease, nor did any of her sisters, some say because of a bargain she made with God, but also because they were trained nurses and were therefore much more fastidious about hygiene. Damien, on the other hand, was very free about sharing the poi bowl with the community and passing his pipe around, and being very hands-on with people. While the sisters where hands-on, they also knew that it was important to observe some hygienic rules.

But nevertheless, the people of Hawaii are very proud of Marianne, not only of what she did, but of her legacy. There is a whole health care system that grew out of her efforts, which is still functioning today, and serves many people. There are schools that the sisters have taught at. So, there is a great devotion to Marianne.

ZENIT: Could you speak about the process preceding her canonization?

Bishop Silva: In 2005, Marianne was beatified, less than a month after Benedict had been elected Pope. Since then, there have been a lot of prayers for healing through her intercession. One of the things I think we need to say is that we don't believe saints heal people; it is God who does that. It is God who performs miracles. But, we pray to the saints in the sense of asking them to pray for us, to intercede for us, to go to God and say "please help the person who is in need."

A woman in Syracuse New York – who was not a Catholic, by the way – was dying of cancer, and through the intervention of one of the sisters of St. Francis prayed to Marianne and was almost spontaneously healed. According to the process, that [healing] is written up, sent to the Congregation for Saints’ Causes. They review it meticulously. You have to have the medical reports that say that the person was terminally ill, and then all of a sudden there was a reversal of that and there was no medical explanation for it. Then, all of that evidence is reviewed by a panel of physicians for the congregation, and all they can say is that there was a disease that seemed to be fatal, then there wasn't this disease all of a sudden, and there is no medical reason we can give why this healing happened. Then it goes to theological commission, and they review the case from their point of view to see if it was indeed through Marianne's intercession that this healing took place; they have the testimony of witnesses there when prayers were offered and a relic of Marianne was placed upon this woman. They review all of that, and determine that yes, it was through her intercession.

Then it goes to full congregation of bishops and cardinals, and they review all the material that came from those two boards: the medical board and the theological board. If they pass on it, it then goes to the Holy Father and he makes the final decision.