The Oblate Sisters of Providence are the oldest order of Black nuns in the world. Founded in 1829 by Rev. Father James Hector Joubert and Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange, (pictured) the order still exists today and continues Mother Mary’s dedication of service to children and the poor.
Not much is known about Lange’s early life and historians have produced several conflicting documents. What most researchers agree on is that she was born around 1784 in Santiago de Cuba and raised in the French-speaking region of the nation. Lange was also connected to a family of means and social standing.
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After arriving in Baltimore in 1813, Lange encountered other Caribbean people and realized they should be educated. Though Maryland was then a slave state, Lange began teaching people for free using her own money and the home she shared with Mary Frances Balas in Fells Point.
In 1828, Father Joubert came to Lange with the idea of beginning a school for Black girls, which subsequently led Lange to pledge her life to the Catholic Church. In July 1829, Lange, Sister Balas and two other women formed the Oblate Sisters order. In 1831, the order was officially recognized by the larger church body.
The Oblates, as they were sometimes called, recognized the trials and barriers Black people faced in America and worked tirelessly to serve the needy. Racism and gender discrimination also visited the Oblates but according to accounts, they never wavered from their godly call to serve. As Mother Superior, Lange was seen as the face of the order, but all of the sisters were known contributors.
Lange lived a long life, working until she died in February 1882.
In recent times, The Oblates have campaigned for Lange to be considered for sainthood because of her work for the church.
Little Known Black History Month: The Oblate Sisters was originally published on blackamericaweb.com