Barbara Koob – a Saint from Heppenheim

Saint Marianne Cope

Peter Koob, a farmer and day laborer, was married to Barbara Witzenbacher from Hambach and had 6 children with her. His daughter Barbara was born on January 23, 1838 in Friedrichstrasse in Heppenheim and was baptized the next day in the Catholic Church of St. Peter.  She was named Maria Anna Barbara Koob. 

Part of the beautiful old section of Heppenheim. This is what our ancestors saw.

In 1839 the Koob family emigrated to the USA on the ship Ariosta which left the port of Antwerp, Belgium, and docked in New York harbor on Oct 16, 1839. The majority of the passengers were families from Heppenheim and the nearby villages of Kirschhausen, Sonderbach, and Erbach. Most of them moved to Randolph and Suffield townships in Portage County, Ohio.

However, the Koob family settled on farmland in Utica, New York, where they became American citizens named Cope. From a young age, Barbara felt called to the monastic life, but at the same time, she was obliged to contribute to the livelihood of her family through hard factory work. It was only after her father’s death in 1862 that she entered the St. Anthony Convent of the Franciscan Sisters in Syracuse, New York at the age of 24. There she made her vows on November 19, 1863, and took the name Sister Marianne.  The schools and hospitals of her order were particularly important to her. Because of her assertiveness, she and several other sisters turned a saloon into a hospital that also treated alcoholics and African-Americans, and which still exists today. Due to her skills in organization and administration, she was appointed Superior of the St. Joseph’s Hospital in 1875 and two years later as Provincial Superior of her order.

When the King of Hawaii was looking for volunteers to care for lepers in 1883, Mother Marianne’s Order was the only one willing to undertake this difficult task. “It will be my greatest joy to serve the abandoned lepers,” said Mother Marianne.  Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) meant rotting alive, which at the time could only be prevented by isolating the sick. There was no cure.  A leprosy epidemic broke out in the 1860s, and in 1864 Hawaii’s government passed isolation laws to contain the disease. In 1866 the island of Moloka’i was designated a leper colony.

The conditions in the colony were terrible. Sick people were often torn from their families by the authorities and taken to the leprosy hospital in Kaka’ako, Honolulu, where they usually disappeared without a trace.

Sister Marianne and her fellow sisters cared for over 200 lepers in the colony. As early as 1885 she founded the Kapiolani Home for the healthy daughters of lepers. She not only took care of the physical ailments of the sick through devoted care but also introduced hygienic measures and had new clothes tailored for the lepers in the girls’ home.

When the hospital was closed in 1888, all the lepers were evacuated to Moloka’i, which means “island of the dead.”   The lepers eked out an existence without any medical care and were left to their fate.

At the request of Father Damien de Veusters, a Flemish friar and long-time director of the home for boys, Mother Marianne and 3 Franciscan Sisters arrived in Moloka’i in November 1888, just in time to take over the management of the home and to care for those with leprosy until their deaths.  She first founded a home for girls and women with leprosy to protect them from violent and assaulting men. She worked for the lepers for another 30 years.

Intensive care, hygienic measures and the procurement of medicines from abroad improved the living conditions on Molokai’i to the extent that the epidemic was contained and many of the leper’s children were saved from infection.

Mother Marianne was spared the illness and cared for the sick until her death on August 9, 1918. She was honored for her self-sacrificing, long-term work under the pontificate of Benedict XVI. Beatified on May 14, 2005, and canonized in Rome on October 21, 2012. 

In the church of St. Peter in Heppenheim, a memorial plaque and a statue of mother Marianne on the high altar honor a courageous, generous and determined woman, a true saint from Heppenheim. 

The above information was taken from

You are probably wondering why I am including the story of an American saint in my family history blog.  The reason is that passengers on the ship Ariosta that brought the Koob family to American included our ancestors Peter Klein and his wife Barbara Greisemer.  Their five children included our ancestor, John Klein-Kline born 1820 in Sonderbach, a village near Heppenheim, died 1855 at Randolph township, Portage County, Ohio.  John married Margaret May born in 1824 at Kirschhausen, near Heppenheim.  Some of her relatives were also on the ship Ariosta.  Their son, John J. Kline born in 1848 in Portage County and died in 1914 in Hamilton County, Nebraska was my generation’s great-grandfather. 


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