Retired Lahaina priest Gary Colton will be at the center of holy activity next month as one of the priests who will assist Catholic bishops during the canonization of Mother Marianne Cope.
The recently retired pastor of Maria Lanakila Catholic Church in Lahaina was asked by Bishop Larry Silva of the Diocese of Honolulu to assist at the main altar during the canonization Mass in Rome on Oct. 21.
"I'm honored," Colton said about his assignment.
A photo from the exhibit “A Reflection of Kalaupapa Past Present and Future” features Mother Marianne Cope at the Kakaako Branch Hospital in 1885. The original photo comes from the Collection of the IDEA Archives. This photo of the original photograph was taken by The Maui News photographer Matthew Thayer.
Retired priest Gary Colton (middle) poses in Rome with Maria Lanakila Church parishioners Marie and Anthony LaBanca during the canonization of Father Damien in 2009. Colton, of Kihei, will be attending the canonization of Mother Marianne Cope in October.
A priest from Oahu also will assist at the altar, Colton said.
In addition to participating in the ceremony, Colton is looking forward to being reunited with some of the Kalaupapa patients, whom he became acquainted with during this frequent visits to the isolated community.
Nine Kalaupapa patients will make the trek to Rome, said Sister Alicia Damien Lau of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities on Oahu, who is coordinating the patients' trip. Lau, who is from the same religious community as Mother Marianne, said she thought it was "very important" that the patients witness the ceremony.
"You cannot think Damien's name without thinking of Sister Marianne. Both of them are saints in Kalaupapa," she said.
Mother Marianne is known as the nun who succeeded St. Damien in caring for exiled leprosy patients on Molokai. She and other Sisters of St. Francis members went to Kalaupapa to help leprosy patients in November 1888. She and her fellow sisters ran various homes, including one founded by St. Damien.
Mother Marianne never went back to the Mainland and spent the rest of her life at Kalaupapa. She died there in 1918 at the age of 80.
Seawind Tours & Travel on Oahu, which is hosting the only canonization tour with Bishop Silva, said currently there is a waiting list for that tour. The group includes the patients, their caregivers, other staff and parishioners.
They will travel to Syracuse, N.Y., where, in November 1862, Mother Marianne entered the Sisters of St. Francis, as well as to Rome marking her official ascension to sainthood.
Recently, a fundraiser was held on Oahu to pay for the travel expenses of patients, their caregivers and other staff.
"People just came out of the woodwork in order to support the patients going to Syracuse and Rome," said Lau.
She is "very excited" to attend the canonization of Mother Marianne. Lau said that the more she studies and reads about Mother Marianne, the more she tries to emulate her.
"How can I live my life like she did?" Lau said she asks herself. "How can I be of service to people?"
The breadth of Mother Marianne's work was familiar to Colton as well. When he attended the canonization of Father Damien in 2009, he knew Mother Marianne also would become a saint.
"Start saving your money, we're coming back," Colton said he remembers telling others in Rome.
Colton said he also has a "family connection with Kalaupapa."
During the 1940s and '50s, his father, Lloyd Colton, a dentist, used to visit Kalaupapa once a month. He was contracted by the state. Although his father did not serve patients, only the staff, his father did make friends with the patients. He did not treat patients because there were worries back then that he might contract the disease.
Lloyd Colton also befriended the St. Francis sisters whom he treated. They told him about Mother Marianne.
"All of them were his patients and told him stories of what happened. It just became a special place for him," the retired church leader said.
Gary Colton said he remembers that his father used to carry around a medal with Mother Marianne's photo on it.
"It's almost like I have a family connection there, so it's important that I go," he said.
Mother Marianne arrived in Hawaii on Nov. 8, 1883, at the age of 45, with six other Franciscan sisters. She served as an administrator at Honolulu's Kakaako Branch Hospital for leprosy patients, opened Kapiolani Home for the daughters of leprosy patients and founded Maui's first general hospital, Malulani.
Mother Marianne went on to the Kalaupapa settlement in 1888, five months before the death of St. Damien.
She also took care of the "well children" of leprosy patients.
Mother Marianne's remains were exhumed from her Kalaupapa grave site in 2005 to be taken back to the motherhouse chapel of her Sisters of St. Francis in Syracuse. Still, some of her remains are on Molokai, Lau said.
She said it appeared that Mother Marianne had osteoporosis, so her bones were brittle. While large bones were exhumed from the grave, Lau said, many smaller brittle bones are still in the Kalaupapa soil.
Lau said knowing that Mother Marianne was still on the island brought some relief for the patients who didn't want to see her leave.
A tour featuring a relic of Mother Marianne that is currently housed at Honolulu's Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Honolulu will be held in the islands after her canonization, along with other events, Lau said.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at email@example.com.