Leprosy survivors look to Mother Marianne’s sainthood
At 81, Barbara Marks is among the last 17 leprosy patients Hawaii banished to the remote peninsula of Kalaupapa. Over more than 100 years, beginning in 1866, more than 8,000 were separated from their families and taken to this distant point on Molokai, where Mother Marianne Cope ministered to the settlement.
With the Oct. 21 canonization of Cope at the Vatican, and their numbers dwindling, the remaining patients are eager to make sure their stories are recorded and their home preserved.
“I’ve heard people say it would be a nice resort,” Marks said. “I don’t want them to do that to Kalaupapa. I don’t want it to change. It’s our home.”
Patients such as Marks describe doctors taking “snips” of their skin to test for leprosy, being poked and prodded and stared at as if they were “a monkey show.” They recall burying spouses, having babies taken away and spending family visits with a chain-link fence separating them from their relatives.
Still, many spoke with affection for the place they call home and their connection to the Hawaiian history that created two Roman Catholic saints: Father Damien and now Mother Marianne.
“I had a lot of sadness, but my life was not all bad,” Marks said.
Their stories date to 1865, when Hawaii’s King Kamehameha V implemented a policy of forced exile by approving the Act to Prevent the Spread of Leprosy.
Kalaupapa was chosen as the site of what became the world’s first leper colony because of its location. Cliffs as high as 2,000 feet cut the settlement off from the rest of Molokai, which is approximately in the center of Hawaii’s eight islands.
Today, the small village is a quiet, pristine retreat seemingly untouched by modern life. Black lava boulders hug the shores, and the waves are a constant, rhythmic backdrop. Visitors require permission; access is a rocky journey down a 1,700-foot mountainside by foot or mule, or by nine-seat plane.
The first exiles — 12 patients, one stowaway child and several kokuas (family members acting as helpers or caregivers) — were taken to Kalaupapa by boat on Jan. 6, 1866. By 1873, when Father Damien began working on Kalaupapa, about 600 patients had been shipped there. In 1890, two years after Cope and several other Franciscan sisters from Syracuse, N.Y., began their ministry, the patient population reached a high of about 1,200. [More]