Born on January 23, 1838 in Heppenheim, in the Grand Duchy of Hesse, Maria Anna Barbara Koob moved with her family the next year to Utica, New York. Her father became an invalid when Maria was in the eighth grade. She left school and worked in a factory to help support her family. By 1862 her younger siblings were old enough to take care of themselves, and she felt free to follow her heart’s desire by joining the Sisters of the Third Order Regulars of Saint Francis based in Syracuse, New York. After her novitiate, she served as a teacher and principal in the parochial schools set up for the children of German-speaking immigrants.
She rapidly showed leadership and organizational skills and from 1870-1877 ran Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse. In 1883, by which time she was Superior General of her congregation, she received a plea for sisters to provide medical assistance to the leper colony on Molokai in Hawaii from the King of Hawaii. Fifty religious institutes had turned down the King, but he struck paydirt with the fifty-first. Mother Marianne responded enthusiastically, and she and six of her sisters landed in Honolulu on November 8, 1883. The sisters took charge of Kakako Branch Hospital which served as a receiving hospital for lepers from all over Hawaii, with the most serious cases sent to Molokai. The next year Mother Marianne, at the request of the Hawaiian government, set up Malulani Hospital, the first general hospital on Maui.
In the meantime her sisters had clashed with the inept government appointed administrator at Kakako Branch Hospital. Showing that steel that often surprised people who had never dealt with sisters before, Mother Marianne announced that either the administrator would go, or she and her sisters would catch the next ship back to America. The administrator was fired and the sisters placed fully in charge. Despite that bit of turbulence, the King thought so highly of the work of Mother Marianne and her sisters that he bestowed upon her the Cross of a Companion of the Royal Order of Kapiolani. In 1885 she opened a home for the homeless female children of leprosy patients, Kapiolani Home.
In November of 1888 she went to Molokai to take care of the dying Father Damien, internationally famous as the Leper Priest, and to assume his work with the lepers of Molokai. She and her sisters spent the rest of her life, she died in 1918, caring for the lepers. When she had accepted the King’s invitation in 1883 some of her sisters had been understandably nervous about possibly catching leprosy themselves. Mother Marianne promised them that if they followed the simple precautions she prescribed none of them would catch leprosy, and none of them ever did. When she died a newspaper in Syracuse summed up her life:
When the roll of the saints is called, Mother Marianne will be there. Fifty-six of the eighty years of her life she gave in the service of the Man of Galilee whose touch made a leper clean, and thirty-five of those she devoted in ministration to the doomed people ofMolokai.
Mother Marianne’s name will live on as that of a woman whose noble self-sacrifice ranks with the death-defying devotion of the martyrs of old. No woman ever went out of Syracuse on a greater mission, none from Syracuse ever gave more than she did. She left all she held dear, her friends, the highest office in the Third Order of St.Francis, which she then held, and every earthly tie, when she heard the call, ‘Come to Molokai.
On April 19, 2004 Pope John Paul II declared her Venerable and on May 14, 2005 she was beatified by Pope Benedict. On October 21, 2012 she was canonized by Pope Benedict.
Saint Marianne Cope said, God giveth life; He will take it away in His own good time. Meanwhile it is our duty to make life as pleasant and as comfortable as possible for those of our fellow-creatures whom He has chosen to afflict. Her faith in God was as indomitable as her courage.