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This 1883 photo shows Mother Marianne Cope, a nun who dedicated her life to caring for exiled leprosy patients on Kalaupapa in Hawaii.

Nun who aided lepers to be sainted

– In life, Mother Marianne Cope was known for her strength and kindness, battling bureaucrats in Hawaii as she led a group of fellow Franciscan nuns to care for leprosy patients in the islands.

And since her death 100 years ago, she has been credited with helping cure two people.

On Sunday, Mother Marianne will be declared a saint, with the Vatican formally recognizing what her supporters have long believed in their hearts: She is in heaven and that through her intercession, two people were miraculously cured of ailments that should have killed them.

At the ceremony presided over by Pope Benedict XVI, the church will also canonize six others, including Kateri Tekakwitha, a 17th-century Mohawk Indian who spent most of her life in what is now upstate New York.

Bishop Larry Silva of the Honolulu diocese said the church canonizes people so adherents can be inspired by their example to go to heaven and become saints themselves.

“Our ultimate goal is to be in heaven, and we know the journey there is not always easy. So we need role models, people who can inspire us by their lives to do the same,” he said.

The event comes nearly a century after Mother Marianne’s 1918 death at Kalaupapa, an isolated peninsula on Molokai Island where Hawaii governments forcibly exiled leprosy patients for decades.

Mother Marianne heard the call to come to Hawaii from New York state in 1883 when she was 45. She was the only religious leader in the U.S. and Europe – of 50 who had been asked – who agreed to a request by Hawaii’s king and queen to come to the islands to help leprosy patients.

At the time, there was widespread fear of the disfiguring disease, which can cause skin lesions, mangled fingers and toes and blindness.

The Hawaiian kingdom began exiling patients to Kalaupapa in 1866 to control the disease, a policy that remained in place until a century later even though new drugs in the 1940s made it curable.

Shortly after her arrival from Syracuse, N.Y., she had learned that a government-appointed administrator was abusing patients at Branch Hospital in Honolulu.

Mother Marianne threatened to leave with the six sisters that accompanied her unless the government removed the official. The government soon gave her full oversight of the hospital.

She treated everyone with dignity, no matter their station in life, said Sister Davilyn Ah Chick, the principal of Our Lady of Perpetual of Help School outside Honolulu.

She looked after the children of leprosy patients with particular care because the disease prevented them from touching their own mothers and fathers.

Mother Marianne is being canonized after the church determined that through her intercession from beyond the grave, two people were miraculously cured in 1993 and 2005.

Two-hundred fifty pilgrims from Hawaii are traveling to Rome for the ceremony, among them nine Kalaupapa patients. Although cured, a dozen people still live at the peninsula, all older than 70.

Silva said Mother Marianne’s life has many lessons for people today, even though leprosy isn’t a threat anymore. Her example can be applied to other issues, such as domestic violence or homelessness.

“She is an inspiration to us to do the hard work, to not always do the glory work, but to roll up our sleeves and do what needs to be done for the sake of our brothers and sisters,” Silva said.

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