Visit of Relics of 19th Century Hawaiian Missionaries Motivates Today’s Devotees

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Numerous faithful venerated first-class relics of two 19th century saints that visited the Archdiocese of New York from the Diocese of Honolulu in late September. Both saints—Father Damien de Veuster and Mother Marianne Cope—served and died in Hawaii.

Auxiliary Bishop John O’Hara, welcoming the relics to St. Patrick’s Cathedral at the 10:15 a.m. Sunday Mass he celebrated Sept. 29, said, “What a moving opportunity it is for us to remember these great saints but also to enshrine through their prayers the power of the resurrection in our lives that we, like them, might bring order out of the chaos of modern times.”

In his homily, Bishop O’Hara continued to encourage the congregation to follow the examples of “St. Damien, St. Marianne Cope—one from Belgium, the other from Germany—they chose not to run away from problems and play it safe; they ran toward the challenge…put their trust in the Lord and didn’t turn their backs on what He was asking them to do.

“They rejected the fear regarding leprosy,” Bishop O’Hara said. “They asked, ‘What can I do?’” to help the lepers on the isolated island of Moloka`i. “They embraced with love the human person as sacred, beautiful, created in the image and likeness of Almighty God…”

Yves Wantens, general representative of the Government of Flanders to the U.S., carried the relic of St. Damien in the processional. He spoke with CNY after the Mass.

“For us,” he said, “as a Flemish-Belgian community, to have this in New York and in this cathedral, is a special experience,” he said of the relics of St. Damien. At school, growing up, he said, “one of the people we always got taught about was Father Damien.”

St. Marianne was born in Germany, and in early childhood immigrated to Utica with her family. She entered the Sisters of St. Francis in Syracuse when she was 24, served as a teacher and principal in several elementary schools in New York state, and began a new ministry as a nurse-administrator in Syracuse.

She also served at the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin on Staten Island. The Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities, the religious community of St. Marianne, has members who serve in the Archdiocese of New York.

Sister Cheryl Wint, O.S.F., a custodian of the relics from the Diocese of Honolulu, told CNY that she finds it fulfilling “to see how the saints affect others and help them with their Catholic identity.”

Before the Mass began, Martin and Jeanne Rosol of Precious Blood of Christ parish in Pawleys Island, S.C., said they hoped to venerate the relics once they were returned to the Lady Chapel behind the cathedral’s main altar after the liturgy. The couple got a brief glimpse from the back of the chapel when it was announced the relics would be moved to the main altar for Mass.

“We looked in and said a prayer,” Martin Rosol, 82, told CNY moments later. “Everything here is magnificent.”

The relics complemented a surprise birthday celebration in New York for Mrs. Rosol, who turned 80 the day before. “They’re a gift to the followers,” she said of the relics. “They emit kind of an awe.”

The relics, which are bone fragments, began their tour in the Archdiocese of New York Sept. 26, in the Chapel of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in Manhattan. The chapel shares the name of St. Damien’s religious order. Outside the chapel is Father Damien Way, the stretch of East 33rd Street between First and Second avenues that was co-named in honor of the saint in 2015. On Sept. 27 the relics traveled to St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, and on Sept. 28, to the New York Catholic Bible Summit at Cathedral High School in Manhattan.

St. Damien, SS.CC., born Jozef de Veuster in Belgium in 1840, began his novitiate with the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in 1859 and took the name Damien. He prayed every day before a picture of St. Francis Xavier, patron of missionaries, to be sent on a mission. In 1863, his brother, who was to leave for a mission in the Hawaiian Islands, fell ill. Damien obtained permission from the superior general to take his brother’s place. He landed in Honolulu in March 1864 and was ordained a priest in May. Father Damien stayed in Moloka`i for 16 years, ministering to those afflicted with leprosy. Having contracted leprosy himself, he died at age 49 in 1889. He was canonized Oct. 11, 2009.

St. Marianne Cope, O.S.F., was born Barbara Koob in 1838. In 1883, after receiving a letter from a Catholic priest asking for help in managing hospitals and schools in the Hawaiian Islands, and mainly to work with leprosy patients, Mother Marianne, as the provincial mother in Syracuse, traveled with six other Franciscan sisters to Honolulu. By 1885, they had made major improvements to the living conditions and treatment of patients. In 1886, Mother Marianne and the sisters cared for Father Damien. After his death, Mother Marianne fulfilled a promise to him by continuing his work. She died of natural causes at age 80 in Hawaii in 1918. She was canonized Oct. 21, 2012.

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