Newport Beach, California, Feb 28, 2023 / 10:00 am
Two centuries ago, Mary Elizabeth Lange (1789-1882) emigrated to the United States from Cuba and joined a friend to offer free education to Baltimore’s Black children. With the support of Baltimore Archbishop James Whitfield, she founded a school for “girls of color” and then the Oblate Sisters of Providence, a religious community for women of African descent. The cause for Mother Mary Lange’s canonization was introduced by Baltimore Cardinal William Keeler in 1991, and as a “Servant of God,” she has begun the first step on the road to canonization.
As many observe Black History Month in February, it is a fitting time for Catholics to consider the accomplishments of Black Catholics in America and the struggles that Catholics such as Lange have had in claiming their place in the Church. A Feb. 24 segment on “EWTN News In Depth” tells the complex, inspiring story of “The Impact of African Americans in the Church.”
Sister Brenda Cherry entered religious life in 1958 and selected Lange’s Oblates, she said, when the doors of other religious communities were closed to her. She recalled: “I lived right across the street from a group of nuns who were white nuns, and it was unacceptable at that time for me to join them, so I joined the Oblates.”
The Oblate Sisters came into existence more than three decades before the Civil War and its resulting abolition of slavery within the United States. Although Maryland supported the Union, it was a slave state when Lange arrived. EWTN News correspondent Mark Irons noted that she “established St. Frances Academy [in Baltimore] because she believed African American children had the right to an education.”