HONOLULU – In life, Mother Marianne Cope was known for her strength and kindness, battling bureaucrats in Hawaii as she led a group of fellow Franciscan nuns to care for leprosy patients in the islands.
Since her death 100 years ago, she has been credited with helping cure two people.
On Sunday, Mother Marianne is expected to be declared a saint, with the Vatican formally recognizing what her supporters have long believed in their hearts: She successfully asked God to perform two miracles, and is in heaven.
At the ceremony presided over by Pope Benedict XVI, the church will also canonize Kateri Tekakwitha, a 17th-century Mohawk Indian who spent most of her life in what is now upstate New York.
The two women are among seven saints to be acknowledged on Sunday, and are just the 11th and 12th people from the U.S. ever to be officially elevated to sainthood.
Bishop Larry Silva of the Honolulu diocese said the church canonizes people so adherents can be inspired by their example to go to heaven and become saints themselves.
"Our ultimate goal is to be in heaven and we know the journey there is not always easy. So we need role models, people who can inspire us through by their lives to do the same," he said.
The event comes nearly a century after Mother Marianne's 1918 death at Kalaupapa, an isolated peninsula on Molokai Island where Hawaii governments forcibly exiled leprosy patients for decades.
Mother Marianne heard the call to come to Hawaii from New York state in 1883 when she was 45.
She was the only religious leader in the U.S. and Europe -- of 50 asked -- that agreed to a request by Hawaii's king and queen to come to the islands to help leprosy patients.
At the time, there was widespread fear of the disfiguring disease, which can cause skin lesions, mangled fingers and toes and lead to blindness.
The Hawaiian kingdom began exiling patients to Kalaupapa in 1866 to control the disease, a policy that remained in place until a century later even though new drugs in the 1940s made it curable.
Shortly after her arrival from Syracuse, New York, she had learned that a government-appointed administrator was abusing patients at Branch Hospital in Honolulu.
Mother Marianne threatened to leave with the six sisters that accompanied her unless the government removed the official. The government soon gave her full oversight of the hospital.
She treated everyone with dignity, no matter their station in life, said Sister Davilyn Ah Chick, the principal of Our Lady of Perpetual of Help School outside Honolulu.
Mother Marianne looked after the material well-being of patients by doing things like planting flowers and making clothes for children born to them.
She looked after the children with particular care because the disease prevented them from touching their own mothers and fathers.
All the while, she was addressing the fear that some of the sisters had of leprosy. She had them wash their hands before they took care of patients and returned to their quarters.
"That's such a great leader who can inspire people to calm their fears and go on with their work," said Sister Patricia Burkard, past general minister of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities.
Mother Marianne is being canonized after the church determined she asked God to perform miracles on two people, the first on teenager Kate Mahoney who recovered from multiple organ failure in 1993.
In 2005, Sharon Smith fought off an infection that tore a hole between her intestines and stomach.
They were cured after friends and family prayed to Mother Marianne. In Smith's case, a sister pinned a bag of soil containing some of Mother Marianne's bone fragments to her hospital gown.
The first miracle leads to beatification, and the second leads to sainthood.
Two-hundred fifty pilgrims from Hawaii are traveling to Rome for the ceremony, among them nine Kalaupapa patients. Although cured, a dozen people still live at the peninsula, all older than 70.
It will be the second trip to Rome in three years for Hawaii pilgrims.
Many made a similar trip in 2009 for the canonization of Saint Damien, a Belgian priest who moved to Kalaupapa to care for leprosy patients in 1873 and who died of the disease 16 years later.
Silva said Mother Marianne's life has many lessons for people today, even though leprosy isn't a threat anymore. Her example can be applied to other issues, such as domestic violence or homelessness.
"She is an inspiration to us to do the hard work, to not always do the glory work, but to roll up our sleeves and do what needs to be done for the sake of our brothers and sisters," Silva said.