America’s First Black Nuns

America’s First Black Nuns February 3, 2009

Today marks the death of Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange (1784-1882), foundress and first superior of the Oblate Sisters of Providence. Born Elizabeth Clarisse Lange in Haiti, she came to America as a child, settling in Baltimore. With money left her by her parents, she started teaching African-American children in her own home. With the support of her spiritual director, a French Suplician named Hector Joubert, Mother Lange and three other women started a religious community for women “of color” in 1828. A year later, they made their solemn religious profession as the first community for African-American women, with Mother Lange as the first superior. The school she founded in 1828, St. Frances Academy in Baltimore, continues her mission “of serving disenfranchised young people — the enslaved, the orphaned, the segregated, the immigrant, the poor.” In addition to the schools, the Oblate Sisters operated an orphanage, a widow’s home, offered vocational training, and did home visits. Mother Lange’s canonization cause is currently under consideration.

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