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BUFFALO (Reuters) - Upstate New York Catholics on Monday cheered the canonization of two women from the region as welcome good news for a church that has been more used recently to making headlines about sex scandals and controversies over doctrine.
The Vatican declared the 17th century convert Kateri Tekakwitha and 19th century health pioneer Marianne Cope saints on Sunday.
"It's very rare to have two people canonized from the same state," said Sister Fran Ganglosf, a member of Cope's congregation at the Sisters of St. Francis in Western New York state.
Tekakwitha, the first Native American to be canonized, was born in 1656 to a Mohawk father and an Algonquin mother in what is now New York state. Cope was the daughter of German immigrants who settled in Utica, New York, in 1839.
In naming the saints on Sunday, the Catholic church drew a spotlight that has focused more often recently on the church's opposition to same sex marriage, birth control and litigation tied to child sex abuse allegations against priests.
"Often times the goodness of the church and the goodness of the people in the church is overlooked because it won't make sensational news," said Sister Lorraine Wesolowski, director of communications for St. Francis.
"I think this gives the church an opportunity to say, 'we do have good news,'" Wesolowski said.
Cope opened some of the first general hospitals in the United States - in Utica and nearby Syracuse - which practiced cleanliness to stem the spread of disease at a time when it was not common practice. She later started a general hospital in Hawaii to treat patients with Hansen's disease, then known as leprosy.
Cope provided fashionable clothing to patients and filled hospitals with flowers and plants, showing respect for human dignity at a time when Hansen's patients were often feared, said Ganglosf, who is writing a book about Cope's life.
Tekakwitha, known as "Lily of the Mohawks," impressed missionaries with her devotion, even as smallpox ravaged her family and left her partially blind.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and David Brunnstrom)
This story was corrected to change the century in second paragraph