Mother Mary Lange
Servant of God
Co-foundress of the Oblate Sisters of Providence
Mother Mary Lange, nee – Elizabeth Clarisse Lange was born in Haiti in 1784 though this date is told by oral tradition and is not documented. She was the granddaughter of a moderately wealthy plantation owner in Santa Domingo. She fled to Cuba with her family and its wealth during the slave revolution in Haiti. She emigrated from Cuba to Baltimore, MD in the early-1800s.
In 1813, Elizabeth was part of a large community of French speaking Haitian Catholics in Baltimore. Baltimore also had a large population of free African-Americans who were receiving education from a number of religious organizations.
Elizabeth Lange and her friend, Marie Magdalaine Balas opened a school in the Fells Point section of Baltimore for the purpose of providing education to meet the needs of the growing immigrant population.
During this time, the Sulpician Order, a French order, also sought refuge in Baltimore emigrating from France because Catholics were being persecuted in France. They opened St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore for the education of priests. Fr. James Hector Nicholas Joubert, a Sulpician priest and a former soldier, had also fled the rebellion in Haiti. Fr. Joubert was charged with teaching some of the refugee children their catechism, but discovered that it was difficult for the children to learn as they were unable to read.
Fr. Joubert discovered that Elizabeth and Marie and their free school in their home. Fr. Joubert, encouraged by the Archbishop of Baltimore, encouraged them to start of school for girls of colour. Elizabeth stated that this was the calling she had been waiting for from God and inquired about starting a religious order, as well.
On July 2, 1829, Elizabeth, Roseanne Boegne, Marie Balas and Almaide Duchemin took their vows as the Oblate Sisters of Providence. Oblate means a person offered to the service of God. Providence is the manifestation of God’s care over His people. The order adopted the habit of a black dress, cape and a white cap, reminiscent of the Mennonite women.
Elizabeth, now Mother Mary Lange was the first superior general serving from 1829-1832 and serving again from 1835-1841. The first paragraph of the Rule was “The Oblate Sisters of Providence are a religious society of virgins and women of color. Their end is to consecrate themselves to God in a special manner not only to sanctify themselves and thereby serve the greater glory of God, but also to work for the Christian education of colored children.”
The Oblate Sisters of Providence, in addition to providing education services to children, conducted night class for women, vocational and career training, and established homes for widows and orphans, sheltered the elderly and nursed the terminally ill during the cholera epidemic of 1832. They performed a number of duties despite the shortage of personnel and financial resources. In the face of poverty, racism, humiliations and untold hardships he women demonstrated leadership and divine daring serving as role models who provided an atmosphere of faith and hope to the parents and children degraded by a slave society.
By 1860 all of the Catholic schools for colored children in Baltimore were taught by the Oblate Sisters, i.e., St. Frances Academy (all-girls school), St. Joseph’s School for Boys and St. Michael’s. Saint Frances had four schools under one roof: the academy for children whose parents could pay, the boy’s school, a free school for children whose parents could not afford to pay, and the orphans’ school. Funds for support of this institution were derived from tuitions, collections, concerts, entertainment, bazaars and begging. The Oblate Sisters of Providence were also invited to conduct schools in several places, for example, St. Louis, New Orleans, Washington, DC, Philadelphia and Kansas
Mother Mary Lange died on February 3, 1882 at St. Frances Academy convent.
In 2005, three Baltimore Catholic schools were combined into Mother Mary Lange Catholic School, the first American school named after her. In 2008, St. Frances Academy celebrated its 180th anniversary of its founding. It is now operating as a college preparatory school in East Baltimore and is reported to be the oldest, continually operating Black Catholic school in the United States.
In 1991, William Cardinal Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore, with approval of Rome, officially opened a formal investigation into her life of union with God and works of charity. In 2004, documents describing Mother Lange’s life were sent to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine for the Causes of Saints and the Congregation approved the cause of her sainthood.
In 2013, Archbishop Lori presided over the two-hour canonical celebration encompassing the transfer and blessing of Mother Lange’s remains, which included her skull and several bones exhumed May 28. The faithful venerated the relics before they were sealed in a reliquary and sarcophagus in the chapel’s oratory. The sarcophagus cannot be reopened without Vatican permission. Also present at the celebration were Bishop John H. Ricard, bishop emeritus of Pensacola-Tallahassee, and Xaverian Brother Reginald Cruz, vice postulator for Mother Lange’s cause for sainthood.
If the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints approves the positio being written by Brother Cruz, Mother Lange, currently considered a “Servant of God,” would be given the title “Venerable.” A confirmed miracle attributed to her intercession would then be necessary for her beatification, and a second miracle would be necessary for her canonization.