Within the Bangladeshi tribal communities, women often have very limited access to the same opportunities afforded to men. Women who are orphaned or from extremely poor families are afforded even less opportunities and their horizons are astonishingly small. Having seen this reality for young women over the past 30+ years as a Holy Cross priest and missionary, Fr. Frank Quinlivan, C.S.C., established the St. Marianne Cope Project – a ministry of the Sacred Heart Province of Priests in Bangladesh that has completely changed the course of these young women’s lives.
The young women supported through the St. Marianne Cope Project are either orphaned or abandoned, who without help would be subjected to a life consisting of little education, young marriage and child rearing, and arduous domestic work. For orphaned or abandoned girls, there are two orphanages, one in Dhaka and one hosted by the Missionaries of Charity, which will board and educate them through the end of high school (10th grade in Bangladesh). Upon completing their schooling, they must leave and return to their community, which may or may not accept them. There is no support or continued aid after completing high school, but many young women are passionate about studying through the intermediate level (Grades 11 & 12) and going on to degree or specialized studies. Without financial support, these young women’s desires are impossible. However, through the St. Marianne Cope Project, young, orphaned women receive financial aid to attend higher education and vocational training. Women are in the program on average two years depending on the length of their studies with the project currently supporting 24 young women. The majority of these women are pursuing degrees in nursing while a few women are studying law, business, and hospitality.
Additional education is beneficial to their professional future as well as personal relationships and vocation. While part of this project and studying, a number of young women have discerned and/or joined a religious order or have met and married their husbands. For those who get married, their husbands are well-educated young men who value their wife’s intellect and want a partner of equal intelligence and education. Because of their education, these women are able to work in their field of study and support the family they joined. For the most part, if the married woman is still in studies, her in-laws and family will assume responsibility for the cost of her education. Those who do not marry or discern religious life receive continued aid so they may continue to de well, graduate, and pursue a meaningful career.
This project is named after St. Marianne Cope whose feast day is celebrated January 23. St. Marianne was a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of Syracuse, New York, and was a model of what concern and care for the outcast of the world, women, and children should look like. She did not let impediments or social structure prevent her serving those who needed her attention the most. St. Marianne worked as a teacher and later a principal at a school for immigrant children. She was also trained as a nurse, served the poor through establishing clinics, and helped direct the opening of the first two Catholic hospitals in central New York. St. Marianne aided with caring for lepers in Hawaii and served the orphaned children of lepers remaining on the islands of Oahu and Maui before joining Fr. Damien in Molokai. Throughout her life she cared for those who were given no chance, and through her work gave them the opportunity they deserved as a person with inherent value.
Pictured Above: Founder Fr. Frank Quinlivan, C.S.C. (left), Project Director Sr. Bashona Rebeiro, C.S.C. (right), Mission Center Director Fr. Tom Eckert, C.S.C., and women currently supported through the St. Marianne Cope Project.
Published: January 11, 2024
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