A Place of Care: Mother Marianne Cope and the Kalaupapa Cultural Landscape

Portrait of Mother Marianne in habit
Mother Marianne Cope

Hawaii State Archives

Originally from the Grand Duchy of Hesse of the German Confederation, Barbara Koob was a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of Syracuse, New York. Upon receiving the religious habit of the Franciscan Sisters with the name Marianne Cope, she became a teacher and principal at schools in Upper New York. In 1883, Mother Marianne Cope arrived in Hawaii with six other Sisters of St. Francis to care for patients of leprosy on the Hawaiian Islands – a cause to which she would devote the rest of her life.

Mother Marianne passed away in 1918. Almost a century later in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI beatified Mother Marianne and made her a saint, a holy act to signify her devotion to the patients for whom she cared on the island of Molokai. Today, the life and actions of Mother Marianne demonstrate and reflect not only the saintly devotion dedicated to Hawaiian patients but also the changing historical cultural landscape on modern-day Kalaupapa National Historical Park.
View from the Pali Trail to Kalaupapa Peninsula, level and green surrounded by bright water.
The Kalaupapa Peninsula is isolated by dramatic natural features.

NPS Photo

About sixty years prior to Mother Marianne Cope’s arrival, diseases such as leprosy and syphilis had already arrived at the Kingdom of Hawaii. Throughout the ensuing decades, leprosy severely affected the Native Hawaiian population. Without knowing how to treat leprosy, commonly known as ma'i pākē among Hawaiians, King Kamehameha V of the Kingdom of Hawaii ordered in January 1865 for victims of leprosy to be quarantined on the island of Molokai, specifically on the isolated north shore of Kalawao County.

In 1873, Joseph De Veuster, commonly known as Father Damien, arrived to care for 600 leprosy patients and initiated the construction of care facilities throughout the peninsula. Mother Marianne and her group of St. Franciscan Sisters arrived a decade later. As she stated at the time:

I am hungry for the work and I wish with all my heart to be one of the chosen ones, whose privilege it will be to sacrifice themselves for the salvation of the souls of the poor Islanders.... I am not afraid of any disease, hence, it would be my greatest delight even to minister to the abandoned ‘lepers.’ [1]
The influence of Mother Marianne, in addition to her group of St. Franciscan sisters and Father Damien, cannot be understated for this affected community. With the settlement and patient-care established by the 1880s, development of the land helped create the cultural landscape on the peninsula.
The sharp white spire of a small church stands out from dense foliage and low stone walls.
Siloama Protestant Church, Kalawao

Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS HI-70), Library of Congress

With the arrival of patients and caregivers, the cultural landscape at Kalawao and Kalaupapa changed dramatically. The first major development of the leprosy community occurred on the eastern side of the peninsula at Kalawao. By 1888, 374 buildings had been constructed on the peninsula, which included a store, new-patient receiving house, physician house, dispensaries, Latter Day Saints chapel, two Protestant churches, two Catholic churches, 12 hospital buildings, and 350 cottages housing over 1,000 patients and caregivers.

Approximately 1,000 cattle were imported as a source of beef and dairy. Both patients and caregivers began growing sorghum and alfalfa for cattle, papaya and pumpkins for hogs, and began planting a variety of trees that included at least 1 Hala, 45 Japanese plum, 50 Eucalyptus, 50 avocado, date palm, hibiscus, and pomegranate trees.

The second major development occurred on the western side of the peninsula at Kalaupapa, marking another dramatic change for the cultural landscape. During this period, the Bay View Home for the Aged and Blind was built, a cemetery was constructed along the Kalaupapa coastline, and fences were erected to deter animals from damaging graves. Patients and caregivers began growing taro, potatoes, and vegetables and planted about 300 coconut trees. By 1918, most of the grounds had been graded and planted.
Two stone pillars frame the entry drive to the grounds of a two-story home.
The Charles R. Bishop Home and grounds

NPS Photo

Mother Marianne Cope advocated for a home specifically for girls and women, which opened at Kalaupapa in 1888 as the Charles R. Bishop Home for Unprotected Leper Girls and Women. The home became an important feature of the landscape, developed as an entire complex that included a dining hall, kitchen, chapel, dormitories for patients, and home for the nursing sisters.

Up until her death, Mother Marianne played a fundamental role caring for the patients as well as assisting with the development of Bishop Home and the surrounding landscape. She planted fruit trees and flowering shrubs and plants. Mother Marianne saw the practical value of the fruit as a food source for the home, and she understood the aesthetic value of the colorful flowers that helped cheer the spirits of the sick. In 1918, Mother Marianne passed away at Kalaupapa, leaving a landscape to tell her legacy of care and support for patients with what is now known as Hansen's disease.
A concrete monument depicts Christ coming down from the cross to embrace St. Francis.
After the passing of Mother Marianne Cope in 1918, the Sisters of St. Francis and patients took a collection to fund the construction of a memorial.

NPS Photo

In 1969, the Committee on Leprosy – a citizen committee created by the Department of Health – ruled against the policies of isolation on Hawaii. New admissions to the Kalaupapa settlement ceased that year, although many patients who had arrived prior to 1969 chose to continue residing at the settlement because it was home. The remaining residents played a central role in coordinating and supporting the establishment of the Kalaupapa National Historical Park that took place on December 22, 1980.

Managed in joint cooperation between the National Park Service and Hawaii Department of Health, the Kalaupapa National Historical Park and its historical cultural landscape shape the isolation story of patients, patients’ families, and caregivers alike. Mother Marianne Cope exemplifies a life dedicated to Kalaupapa, and her story illuminates the cultural landscape experienced today.

[1] The Vatican, Biography Marianne Cope (1838-1918), http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/saints/ns_lit_doc_20050514_molokai_en.html

Additional Reading

Last updated: March 29, 2017