Mother Marianne Cope found little evidence of God’s gift of creation when she arrived on the remote peninsula of Kalaupapa, so she set about adding beauty and sustainability to this home of leprosy patients.
Saint Mother Marianne Cope Listens to the ‘Aina
By Sister Alicia Damien Lau
Are we really listening to the voice of creation? Listening is to heed, to hearken, to take to heart, and to hear with thoughtful attention. Do you hear the wind blowing through the trees, the birds of the air, and the sound of the seashore? Mother Marianne listened to the call of the ‘aina, the land, and the sea, and it spoke to her.
Franciscan sister Saint Marianne Cope patterned her life after St. Francis of Assisi. She travel
ed from a safe German/American culture to the Sandwich Islands, where she did not know the culture, language, or political atmosphere. She cared for the physical needs of those with leprosy and embraced the Hawaiian culture. She learned that this ancestral land is the center of Native Hawaiian spirituality, health, and well-being. The Hawaiians lived on and worked the land and the sea. So, she was surprised when after working in Honolulu for five years, she arrived in Kalaupapa, Molokai, to find the land desolate, with very few trees. Caring for the patients was the priority; however, caring for the ʻĀina, “love of the land,” is a heart issue for Hawaiians. Mother discovered that the ‘aina (land) is not just soil, sand, or dirt. It is the land, the sea, and the sky which provided food that sustained them. Although food was ordered weekly for the home, there were many weeks when high surf prevented the boats from landing and bringing food to the peninsula of Kalaupapa.
Twice a week, the sisters and the girls would go into the valley to pick mountain apples and other wild fruits. They also brought back wide varieties of ferns that Mother Marianne planted to beautify the grounds. On other occasions, they would go to the beach to pick opihi, a delicious Hawaiian clam.
Kalaupapa was noted for its wild winds, so Mother Marianne began to plant trees and shrubs as windbreakers. However, the administrator discouraged her because the trees might be uprooted during the intense winds. Still, Mother quietly planted a variety of fruit trees, such as oranges, mango, guava, peach, fig, coconut, and avocado. It is said that she had planted over 321 varieties of trees. The sisters and girls enjoyed the fruit as we continue to do so today.
Mother Marianne noticed the numerous butterflies around the complex, and in a letter to the superintendent, she described the girls as “joyful as butterflies.”
Mother Marianne listened and learned that the Islands’ ecological and cultural orientations are founded upon a sense of being connected to all living things, present, and past. The land lives on in the spirits of all our ancestors who nurtured both physical and spiritual relationships with the land.
Throughout history, the people of Kalaupapa have maintained a deep abiding faith in the land. One feels its power to provide physical sustenance, spiritual strength, and political empowerment. “Without the land, we are nothing.” For generations, this land has provided for the Native Hawaiians, the people of Kalaupapa and will hopefully provide for those yet to come.