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*On this date in 1784, we celebrate the birth of Mary Lange, O.S.P. She was a Black religious sister, the foundress of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the religious congregation established to allow African American women to enter religious life in the Catholic Church. The cause for her beatification has been opened, and thus she is honored as a Servant of God by the Catholic Church.
Elizabeth Clarisse Lange was born in Santiago de Cuba, in a Haitian community about 1784. There she received an excellent education. She left Cuba in the early 1800s, immigrated to Charleston, South Carolina, Norfolk, Virginia, and settled in Baltimore, Maryland, by 1813. Baltimore's free Blacks outnumbered the city's slave population. There was also a fair-sized French-speaking African Caribbean population who fled the revolution in Haiti.
In the early 1800s, various Protestant organizations in Baltimore, such as Sharp Street Methodist Episcopal Church’s Free African School (1802), Daniel Coker’s Bethel Charity School (c. 1812), St. James Protestant Episcopal Day School (1824), and William Lively’s Union Seminary (1825) created schools for Black students. While providing a valuable service, they could not meet the demands of Baltimore’s growing free African American population.
Lange recognized the need for education for Black children and opened a school for them in her home in the Fells Point area of the city. There were no free public schools for nonwhite children in Baltimore until 1866. This was the beginning of a legacy that has thrived over the years in 25 cities in the United States and several foreign countries. In 2005, three Baltimore parochial schools (St. Dominic School, Shrine of the Little Flower, and St. Anthony of Padua) were combined into Mother Mary Lange Catholic School, thus becoming the first school named after her in America. The 180th anniversary of her founding of St. Frances Academy was celebrated in 2008. Mary Lange died on February 3, 1882.