“Let us make best use of the fleeting moments. They will not return.” –St. Marianne Cope
A saint who practically defines for us what it means to be a missionary entrepreneur is St. Marianne Cope. Over the course of a life devoted to God, St. Marianne served the suffering in New York and Hawaii with such tenderness that she has become known as the “Beloved Mother of Outcasts.”
St. Marianne the Missionary
St. Marianne, a German immigrant to the United States, joined the Sisters of St. Francis in 1862, and worked to open Catholic hospitals in New York. After several other religious orders refused to respond to the call to serve the health care needs of the lepers of Hawaii, St. Marianne answered the call with a resounding yes. In 1887 she described: “We were not only willing but anxious to go and care for the poor outcasts.”
Once at the colony, St. Marianne brought God to the lepers not only through her facilitation and management of a hospital and education system, but even more importantly through her spirit of love, joy, and courage. St. Marianne became a servant not only to the lepers, but also to orphans of those who had contracted leprosy, as well as to religious, like St. Damien of Molokai, who eventually contracted leprosy.
St. Marianne spent her life in the service of lepers not for her own sake, but for God. “I do not think of reward; I am working for God, and do so cheerfully,” she said. She knew that God infinitely loves each person, and calls us to reflect His love, especially to the vulnerable. Without trivializing the hardship of having leprosy, St. Marianne knew that she could find in it a source of grace and solidarity; we are all vulnerable human beings, whatever disabilities we do or do not have, and our vulnerability is transformed by Christ’s redemption.
For Us: Patience and Determination
One of the lessons St. Marianne’s offers missionary entrepreneurs is the necessity of balancing patience and determination.
St. Marianne discerned a call to the religious life early on, but family obligations delayed her entry into religious life. Rather than letting this obstacle become a source of bitterness or frustration, St. Marianne went to work in the factory and help support her family when her father became ill. Then, after she had entered the Sisters of St. Francis with the intention of teaching, she found herself tasked with an administrative job.
Even though the plans she felt God calling her to did not always play out immediately or as she expected, St. Marianne responded not with impatience but with acceptance. At the same time, she maintained her determination in wanting to follow His will, in not letting changes or setbacks distract her from that mission. She said, “Try to accept what God is pleased to give you no matter how bitter— God wills it, is the thought that will strengthen you and help you over the hard places if we wish to be true children of God.”
As missionary entrepreneurs, we need to practice both patience and determination in our lives, like St. Marianne. If we can respond to the obstacles we experience with grace and gentleness, while earnestly continuing to follow what we believe to be His plan, God will be able to work powerfully in us.
St. Marianne the Entrepreneur
St. Marianne Cope was a leader, and this was appreciated by her community, who quickly placed her in an administrative position. Moreover, like any true entrepreneur, St. Marianne was willing to take risks in pursuit of a goal— in this case, the goal of sharing God’s love. This willingness to take risks enabled her to respond in the affirmative to the request for help for the lepers. St. Marianne was willing to sacrifice her health and life for the sake of the living the will of God, which she knew extended beyond this life.
St. Marianne especially showed the marks of an entrepreneur in bringing a more dignified quality of living to the diseased persons she served. “My heart bled for the children and I was anxious and hungry to help put a little more sunshine into their dreary lives,” she said. A nurse who worked with her recalled how she thought-outside-the-box to engage the sick in things they had forgotten or no longer saw as relevant to their lives: colors, beauty, décor.
Interestingly, as a servant leader seeking to improve the lives of the lepers, St. Marianne appealed to the emotions of those she served. As she sought to revitalize their sense of dignity and belief in God’s personal love, St. Marianne showed the lepers personal attention and love by appealing to their emotional responses to simple decorations and cleaner environments.
Besides showing how even the little details of our lives affect us and are integrated into the big picture, this reveals a business insight that John Kotter and Dan Cohen describe as the sequence of See-Feel-Change. According to Kotter and Cohen, people tend to think that change happens based on analysis, then thinking. Yet, the reality is that most successful change happens based on seeing, feeling, then changing! Being touched on an emotional level often prompts change in a powerful way, fighting inertia in a way that reason sometimes struggles to.
For Us: Dignity of Life
St. Marianne has been called the “Beloved Mother of Outcasts” because she devoted so much of her life to those suffering from leprosy. Through this work, St. Marianne testified to the dignity and sacredness of human life, from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death. She said:
For us it is happiness to be able to comfort, in a measure, the poor exiles, and we rejoice that we are unworthy agents of our heavenly Father through whom He deigns to show His great love and mercy to the sufferers.
St. Marianne models for us how we are called to affirm the sanctity of life and, as much as we can, to improve the quality of life of those suffering. Even if this means isolation from the prosperous, we are called to serve the poor and vulnerable. In an interview with St. Marianne’s nurse in 1941, the nurse described:
She revolutionized life on Molokai, brought cleanliness, pride and fun to the colony. People on Molokai laugh now—like other people in the world, laugh at the same things, the same dilemmas and jokes.
One of the practical lessons St. Marianne offers the missionary is to focus first on personhood and on Christ’s love for each person, not to focus first or exclusively on a particular disability or disease, like leprosy. Indeed, Christ became vulnerable for our sake, so vulnerability can be a source of communion with Him.
St. Marianne Cope’s Intercession
Especially for entrepreneurs in the medical field, St. Marianne Cope is a model of courage and joy while serving the vulnerable. Like her, we can fuse patience and urgency in our own missions— gently but insistently demanding to put the urgent things, the priority of living God’s love, first in our life, then patiently and persistently living that out. Besides having a beautiful impact on the quality of life of others, this can be a source of communion with God.
St. Marianne Cope, pray for us.
To read about another saint of Molokai, click here.