Nuns: Prayers to Marianne, Hawaii soil cured woman

December 20, 2011 - 9:25 PM

HONOLULU (AP) — The second Vatican-authenticated miracle in allowing a nun to soon become St. Marianne Cope involves the healing of a New York woman who had an infection destroying her organs, nuns from her religious order revealed for the first time Tuesday.

A bag of soil containing Marianne's bone fragments from the Hawaii peninsula where leprosy patients were exiled was pinned to Sharon Smith's hospital gown, said Sister Burkard, a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities in Syracuse, N.Y.

Marianne cared for leprosy patients at the Kalaupapa settlement on the island of Molokai in the 1880s. She died in 1918 of natural causes and was buried there. The pope proclaimed her a saint this week after the Vatican authenticated two miracles that were a result of her intercession. The first miracle involved the unexplained cure of a New York girl who in 1992 at age 14, was diagnosed with germ cell ovarian cancer.

Smith, now healthy and in her 60s, was hospitalized for nearly a year in Syracuse after being diagnosed in 2005 with acute pancreatitis, which tore a hole between her intestines and stomach. A friend shared Smith's diagnosis with a stranger sitting in the hospital waiting room who recommended praying to Marianne, Burkard said. The nuns had kept a bag of Kalaupapa soil with Marianne's bone fragments when her body was exhumed in 2005 and her remains were taken to Syracuse. They pinned the bag of soil to Smith's gown and began months of praying to Marianne.

Doctors then started to remove tubes from Smith's body. "She thought it was his way of saying there is no more hope," Burkard said. "He said to her, 'I don't know what you did but you are cured.'"

Smith was discharged from the hospital in January 2006 and began rehab. She now walks with a cane. She was with the Sisters of St. Francis for their announcement Tuesday but was too overwhelmed for an interview, the nuns said.

The Vatican Medical Board ruled unanimously the second miracle is an "inexplicable medical recovery," and theologians ruled the miracle was due to Marianne's intercession.

Smith plans to attend the canonization in Rome, Burkard said. It is expected to happen sometime next year.