I have a soft spot for saints who were teachers. And I have a quirky desire to dig up as many unknown saints as I can in my reading, so I’d like to introduce you to this incredible woman, Mother Mary Lange, who founded the Oblate Sisters of Providence in Baltimore, Maryland.
Mother Lange’s cause for canonization has been open since 1991, and perhaps moving closer to the day she will be canonized.
I wrote about her in my book, My Badass Book of Saints, because she has some unusual ties to the Caribbean, and I wanted to explore her further. She and I share a common circumstance in our immigration stories. Both of us are refugees; her family fled the dangers of the Haitian Revolution and my family fled the dangers of the Cuban Revolution.
Born Elizabeth Lange in 1790, some sources say she was born in Haiti or the Dominican Republic, and then emigrated to Santiago de Cuba, others say she was born in Cuba. She eventually emigrated to the United States and settled in Baltimore, Maryland.
She dedicated herself to educating the Black children in her community and fervently wanted to consecrate her life to the Lord. At that time, there were no orders of religious sisters taking women of African descent. The Emancipation Proclamation was decades away, and educating slaves was illegal. Elizabeth took it upon herself to privately fund her efforts to educate the children in her community. She did this with another like-minded young woman, and together they formed a small school out of her home, serving the needs of the Catholic African-American community in which she lived.
When the local bishop found out, he urged her to found an order for African-American women, and thus, she became the foundress of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first religious order for women of African descent. Her little school became the Baltimore Academy for Colored Girls and later changed it’s name to St. Frances Academy. Today, the school is co-educational and continues to serve a largely African-American student body.