“And have you seen what is happening in beautiful Maui now? It makes me sick to think of it.”
These laments from an elderly religious sister — 91 years old, to be exact — were shared with me just a few days after wildfires devastated the historic town of Lahaina, on the island of Maui, Hawaii.
The subject is close to the heart of the elderly but otherwise sharp Sister Jean, who was giving a tour of the Shrine and Museum of St. Marianne Cope in Syracuse, New York, where Marianne lived and worked after joining the Third Order Sisters of St. Francis. For though Mother Marianne was highly successful in her vocation — she had become mother provincial of her congregation in New York — it was to Hawaii that she and a handful of other sisters traveled by choice to minister to the leper colonies there.
Illustrating this change in venue from upstate New York to the Pacific Ocean, the walls of the small museum and shrine were covered with maps of the Hawaiian Islands and supersized photographs of blue water and lush greenery. It was a place that would become a pivotal part of Mother Marianne’s story. For it was there that she and her fellow sisters spent their days doing the unthinkable — caring for children who, stricken with the contagious disease, had been separated from their parents and the rest of their families. More than just caring for them, the sisters became family to those who were ill and forgotten.
Patron saints of Hawaii
The selfless ministry of the sisters went hand in hand with the equally remarkable work of Jozef De Veuster — now better known by the name St. Damien De Veuster — who had made Hawaii his home at a time of great need. For more than a decade, Damien also cared for those suffering from leprosy on Molokai — the island just northwest of Maui. Over the years, Damien became known as “apostle to the lepers,” as he ministered to those who had been cast out because of their disease. More specifically, Damien celebrated the sacraments, built housing, and cared for the ill, physically, emotionally and spiritually. When Damien eventually contracted the disease himself, it was Marianne who sat by his sickbed and nursed him in his final days.
Mother Marianne eventually passed away on the island at age 80, never having contracted the dreaded disease. She had spent 35 years in Hawaii at the service of the people there; Damien had spent 16.
Because of their great work on the islands that so many consider to be a kind of paradise, both St. Damien De Veuster and St. Marianne Cope are considered patron saints of the state — and, boy, are they needed right now.
Pray for the island
As of this writing, 99 people are dead from the wildfires on Maui that tore through parts of the island beginning Aug. 9. Hundreds more are missing. The scene is one of complete devastation — homes turned into piles of rubble and ash; businesses destroyed; bodies still being dug out under the wreckage. Residents and businesses in the small town will be literally picking up the charred pieces of their lives for months to come.
When Mother Marianne was still in New York and heard of the great need of the people in Hawaii, she responded that she wished “with all my heart to be one of the chosen ones” to assist. Again, the people of Hawaii are in a time of desperate need — not from a disease, but from a natural disaster that spread quickly and furiously. As the community — indeed, as all of us — continues to take stock and determine the scale of the devastation, Sts. Damien and Marianne are here still, ready to help. These patron saints of Hawaii are the ones we need right now to help us bear the weight of all that has passed and all that is yet to come.
So let us turn to them, asking them to continue to watch over our brothers and sisters in Hawaii. May Sts. Marianne and Damien be with them, comfort them and intercede for them in their sorrow and their need — as they have done before and as they will do again. St. Marianne Cope and St. Damien De Veuster, pray for Hawaii.
Gretchen R. Crowe is the editor-in-chief of OSV News.