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Sister Marcia Hall Shares the Story of Mother Mary Lange

Colby Davis, C'23

In kicking off Black History Month on February 3, the Mount community had an opportunity to meet via Zoom with Sister Marcia Hall, OSP, of the Oblate Sisters of Providence for a discussion about Mother Mary Lange, foundress of the Oblate Sisters. One of Hall’s responsibilities is to give talks and tours about Mother Mary Lange, walking where Mother Lange did in Baltimore. The tours are currently suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions.

mother-lange.jpgOn the 139th anniversary of Mother Lange’s birth into eternal life, Hall explained her significance to the Catholic Church and journey to potential sainthood.

Mother Lange was born Elizabeth Carissa Lange in Santiago, Cuba. Her first language was French. She later learned Spanish and then English. She has been referred to as “French to her bones.” We do not know much about her life before she moved to Baltimore in 1813, a time when Anti-Catholic riots were occurring in the city.

She was a free woman of color and periodically received money from her father. However, she did not have privilege, being a black woman in a slave state. Although she was an immigrant, she did not let others define who she was. She was a faith-filled woman who wanted to meet the needs of others, so she opened a free school for African American children in her home with her friend Mary Magdaleine Balas.

The women operated the school for 10 years before the Rev. James Hector Nicholas Joubert, encouraged by Archbishop of Baltimore James Whitfield, presented Lange with the idea of founding a religious congregation for the education of African American girls. The Oblate Sisters of Providence is the oldest religious community for women of color in the world. In June 1828, the women, along with another friend, founded a school for girls. This school, still in existence, is now called St Frances Academy and is the oldest school for Black children in the United States.

Lange, who founded the Oblate Sisters of Providence and served as the first superior general, caused a stir when she and her fellow sisters walked the streets in their habits. They were seen as subversive in what they were doing and people would whisper such things as “who do they think they are?” The school received papal approval in 1832.

After Joubert died in 1843, Mother Lange faced challenges as the number of students decreased and co-workers left. Through it all, Mother Lange believed in providence and that God called her. She was to be obedient to His call. Mother Mary Lange later founded four schools in Baltimore before 1860. One school was a co-ed day and boarding school. All girls were welcomed to schools for colored girls. She took in orphans and half orphans as well as those with one living parent who was unable or unwilling to care for the child, and cared for widows and other elderly women.

On February 3, 1882, Mother Mary Lange passed away. She was fortunate enough to have lived to see her congregation expand beyond Baltimore. On the path to sainthood, she has been recognized as a servant of God. Once a formal report showing proof of extraordinary and heroic virtue is reviewed and approved, a miracle then has to be reviewed and approved.

Colby Davis, C'23