(aka Mother Mary Lange of the Oblate Sisters of Providence)
Born circa 1784- died February 3, 1882
Elizabeth Clarisse Lange’s parents were refugees who fled to Cuba from the revolution taking place in their native Saint-Domingue, known today as Haiti. Her father was a gentleman of some financial means and social standing. Her mother was a Creole. However, in the early1800’s young Elizabeth left Santiago de Cuba to seek peace and security in the United States. Providence directed her to Baltimore, Maryland where a great influx of French-speaking Catholic San Dominguois refugees were settling.
About 1813 Elizabeth Lange came to Baltimore. She was a courageous, loving and deeply spiritual woman. She came as a strong, independent thinker and doer. Although she was a refugee, she was well educated and of independent means, possessing monies left to her by her father.
It did not take Lange long to recognize that the children of her fellow refugees needed education. She determined to respond to that need in spite of being a Black woman in a slave state long before the Emancipation Proclamation, when to educate slaves was against the law. She used her own money and home to educate children of color. For ten years Elizabeth, with a friend, Marie Magdaleine Balas, offered free education. Inevitably, money would run out.
Providence intervened through the person of Reverend James Hector Joubert, S.S. who, encouraged by Archbishop James Whitfield, presented Elizabeth Lange with the challenge to found a religious congregation for the Christian (Catholic) education of Black children. Fr. Joubert would provide the direction, solicit financial assistance and encourage other “women of colour” to become members of this, the first congregation of women of African heritage. Elizabeth joyously acquiesced.
Elizabeth no longer kept locked up the deepest desire of her heart. For years, she had felt God’s call to consecrate herself and her works entirely to God. How was this to be? Black men and women could not, at that time, aspire to religious life. But now God was providing a way! On July 2, 1829, Elizabeth and three other women pronounced promises of poverty, chastity, and obedience to Archbishop Whitfield and the chosen Superior.
Elizabeth, founder and first Superior of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, henceforth would be known as Sister Mary. She was Superior general from 1829 to 1832, and from 1835 to 1841. “What were the works of Mother Mary Lange? We know of her private school in the early 1800s, of her academy in 1828 and of her religious foundation in 1829. But, there was also an orphanage, a widow’s home, spiritual direction, religious education classes and vocational training. The early Sisters did home visiting and conducted night schools so Black adults could learn to read and write. When the Civil War was over, Baltimore was flooded with Black war orphans . Mother Mary gathered 60 of them and began a new era of caring for destitute children. She was a religious pioneer.” (Sr. Reginald Gerdes, OSP, What We Have Seen and Heard, pg # 81).
Through Mother Mary and the Oblate Sisters of Providence thousands upon thousands were
Photo enhanced of the original Mother Lange picture
• Born circa 1783 - 1794
(various census reports)
• Lange Family fled Haiti to Cuba
1787 = 1793
• Immigrated to the United States
• Opened first Catholic School for
children of color 1818 = 1828
• Began religious Formation 1828
• Founded St. Frances Academy 1828
• Made Religious Consecration
July 2, 1829
• Foundress and First Superior 1829 -
1832 (and 1835 - 1841)
• Receives approval of Congregation
from Rome 1832
• Serves as nurse for Cholera victims
• Serves as Treasurer 1833 - 1875
• Serves in Seminary Ministry 1849 -
• Becomes Mistress of Novices 1851 -
• Chosen Assistant Superior (by Mother
1851 - 1857
• Principal and Superior of St. Benedict’s
School, Fells point 1857
• Director of Novices 1858 & 1867
• Member of the Council
• Feeble, almost blind, relieved of all
• Mother Lange dies February 3, 1882
The Time She Lived
educated and evangelized. The Oblates would always be open to meeting the needs of the times . Sleavs who had been purchased and freed were educated and at times admitted into the congregation. The Oblate Sisters of Providence nursed the terminally ill during the cholera epidemic of 1832, sheltered the elderly and even served as domestics at St. Mary’s Seminary in time of crisis.
Mother Mary’s early life had prepared her well for the turbulence that followed the death of Fr. Joubert. She suffered
violence of soul as she was buffeted by poverty and racial injustice. Ther was a sense of abandonment at the dwind-
ling number of pupils and defections of her closest companions and co-workers. Yet, through it all Mother Mary
never lost faith in Providence.
Mother Mary Lange practiced faith to an extraordinary degree. In fact, it was her deep faith which enabled her to
persevere against all odds. To her Black brothers and sisters she gave of herself and her material possessions until she
was empty of all but Jesus, whom she shared generously with all by being a living witness to his teaching. In close
union with her God, she lived through disappointment and opposition until God called her to himself February 3, 1882.
In 1991 William Cardinal Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore, with the approval of Rome, officially opened formal
investigation into her life of union with God and works of charity which could lead to her Canonization as Saint in the