Hundreds attend mass for saint's return to Hawaii; St. Marianne Cope cared for leprosy patients

HONOLULU - A white hearse pulled up to the entrance of a downtown Honolulu cathedral Thursday, carrying the remains of a saint known for caring for exiled leprosy patients in the 1880s.

A metal box containing the remains of St. Marianne Cope was carried into the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace for what was a cross between a funeral Mass and a homecoming ceremony.

She was 80 when she died of natural causes in 1918 at the remote Kalaupapa peninsula on the island of Molokai, where leprosy patients were exiled. Her remains were exhumed from Kalaupapa in 2005 and taken to Syracuse, New York, where her religious congregation is based.

Born Barbara Koob in Germany, she immigrated with her family to Utica, New York, when she was a year old. In 1883, the nun accepted a mission to care for leprosy patients in Hawaii.

She gained sainthood in 2012 after the Vatican authenticated two miracles that were a result of her intercession.

Relocation from New York was necessary because the buildings of the campus where her remains were housed are no longer structurally sound, requiring the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities to move to another part of Syracuse.

St. Francis sisters carried the box into the cathedral atop a carrier made out of koa wood in the shape of a canoe.

It makes sense to keep her remains in Honolulu, as opposed to Kalaupapa, which can be accessed only via plane or mule, said Bishop Larry Silva of the Honolulu diocese.

Hundreds packed into the cathedral, where people lined up for a chance to kiss the box, wrapped in a Hawaiian funerary cloth and draped with lei and a quilt bearing a Hawaiian flag design.

"The mortal remains of this frail creature of God...have an incredible spirit of their own, an aura that makes us want to be near them, to be changed by the very odor of holiness that emanates from them," Silva said in his homily. "We want to touch the relics of this woman who dedicated herself to healing, so that we may be healed and may be healers."

The remains -- a full collection of her bones -- arrived Sunday in a casket aboard a United Airlines flight from Newark, New Jersey, said diocese spokesman Patrick Downes.

After Thursday's Mass, diocese officials planned to place the sealed zinc-coated metal box containing the bones upright in a koa and glass cabinet in the cathedral. The display cabinet already contained her relic, a small box of bone fragments a nun brought to Honolulu in 2011. The relic was taken on a tour of the Hawaiian islands.

The diocese plans to build a chapel at the 170-year-old cathedral where her remains will be entombed underground, said Alika Cullen, cathedral general administrator.

Take a video tour of the shrine and museum honoring her life: 

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