Black (And Catholic) Like Me 1: Servant of God Mother Mary Lange, A True Mother of God’s Forgotten Children (Black History Month 2019)
This is the first Black saint/holy one to be featured during this year’s celebration of Black History Month by my apostolate.
Also, this is the first official installment of Black (And Catholic) Like Me an article-series that will feature a Black Catholic saint from history (or soon to be one) and tell a little about him/her and what I believe we can all learn from this godly one about holiness. For the title, I drew some inspiration from the title of journalist John Howard Griffin’s 1961 book “Black Like Me” though I am not drawing from its content. I’ve always like the ring of its title, but along with that – I’m Black and I’m Catholic, and here are some great Catholic examples who were Black as well. Additionally, while canonized people and those on the way to being canonized will be the main focus, I may also include recent examples of Black Catholics (deceased and living) who are also good examples of “Catholicism through a colored lens.” The holy ones featured in this series will be added to the Black Saints and Holy Ones list described below.
Without further waiting here is the first Black Saint:
Mary Mother Lange – A True Mother of God’s Forgotten Children
It is highly appropriate to have her be the focus today being this is the anniversary of her death!
Death: February 3, 2019
Cause Opened: By Archdiocese of Baltimore (Servant of God)
The following is adopted from the bios of Mother Lange from the Oblate Sisters of Providence (OS), her Cause’s website (C), and her Wikipedia page (Wiki). I mixed them all together from the best details they each had about her life to form a streamline of information. Click those links for more of the info I used.
Early Life and Immigration to the US
– Not much is known about her early years.
– She was born Elizabeth Clarisse Lange in Santiago de Cuba sometime between 1783-1794. Sources give various years. (C)
– She lived in a primarily Haitian community.
– She received an excellent education and in the early 1800s.
– “Oblate oral tradition said she arrived first in Charleston, South Carolina, then traveled to Norfolk, Virginia, and finally settled in Baltimore, Maryland, by 1813.” (Wiki)
Settling In Baltimore and Responding to the Needs of Children
– “By 1813, Providence directed her to Baltimore, Maryland where a large community of French speaking Catholics from Haiti was established.” (OS)
– Lange soon noticed that immigrant children lacked an education. Also, there was no free public education for African American children in Maryland, which did not come until the late 1860s.
– “She responded to that need by opening a school in her home in the Fells Point area of the city for the children. She and her friend, Marie Magdaleine Balas (later Sister Frances, OSP) operated the school for over ten years.” (OS)
A Match Made in Heaven, The Beginning of the Oblate Sisters of Providence
– She later met a Sulpician priest named Fr. James Nicholas Joubert who taught catechism to Black children.
– He later started a school for girls after seeing how the children could not read well. And “after getting permission from the Archbishop he began looking for two women of color to serve as teachers.” (Wiki)
– “A friend suggested Elizabeth Lange and Marie Balas since they were already operating a school in their home. He then decided it a good idea to start a women religious order at the same time, to teach the children, and asked the women if they would do so.” (Wiki)
– Lange and Balas had felt called to religious life “and had been waiting for Him to show them a way to serve Him.” (Wiki)
The Oblate Sister’s website: “She no longer needed to keep locked up the deepest desire of her heart. For years she felt God’s call to consecrate herself and her works entirely to Him. How was this to be? At the time black men and women could not aspire to religious life. But now God was providing a way!”
– “Joubert agreed to support them and persuaded Archbishop James Whitfield to approve the new community. Thus the Oblate Sisters of Providence were founded by Lange and Joubert as the first religious congregation of women of African descent in the United States” with the “primary purpose of the Catholic education of girls.”(Wiki)
– This occurred on July 2, 1829 when Elizabeth and three other women professed vows and became the Oblate Sisters.
– Elizabeth Lange took the name “Mary” and began the congregation as the first superior general.
– The religious habit consisted of a black dress and cape, with a white cap. (Wiki)
Oblate Sisters’ Ministry to the Free Black Community
– “They started in a rented house with four sisters and twenty students.”
– The school they founded which became the St. Frances Academy, still operating in Baltimore today.
– Experienced poverty and racism (Wiki)
– Sought to evangelize the Black community through Catholic education” (Wiki)
“In addition to schools, the sisters later conducted night classes for women, vocational and career training, and established homes for widows and orphans.” (Wiki)
-“Slaves who had been purchased and then freed were educated and at times admitted into the congregation.” (OS)
– “By 1832, the community had grown to eleven members.” (Wiki)
Legacy of a True Mother of God’s Forgotten Children
– “She was superior general from 1829 to 1832, and from 1835 to 1841.” (OS)
– When a cholera outbreak hit Baltimore “the entire community volunteered to risk their lives in nursing the victims of this plague [but] only four were chosen, Lange herself and three companions.” (Wiki)
– In the mid-1840s she worked “as a domestic at St. Mary’s Seminary in the city to help support her community.” (Wiki)
– “In 1850 she was appointed to serve the congregation as Mistress of novices, a position in which she served for the next ten years.” (Wiki)
– “Mother Mary’s early life prepared her well for the turbulence that followed the death of Father Joubert in 1843. There was a sense of abandonment at the dwindling number of pupils and defections of her closest companions and co-workers.” (OS)
– She died February 3, 1882 at Saint Frances Convent in Baltimore, Maryland. (OS)
I will post a personal reflection on her life in the next few days. Then she will be officially placed in the Black Saints page.
Mother Mary Lange pray for us!