The Haitian Connection
By Marlene Apollon

Diane Batts Morrow: Persons of Color and Religious at the Same Time (p. 56);Amer. Antille Vol.4 f. 293 cited in Sur les Traces de Mere Lange p. 313, transcribed by Fabiola Fouron with notes by Fr, Maurice Elder Hyppolite, sdb. Sur les Traces de Mere Lange p. 320.
Much of the Oblate Sisters of Providence early history had strong ties with Haiti. Two of the charter members, Sisters Frances and Rose, were born in Haiti, and Sister Theresa Duchemin, while American born, had Haitian heritage from her mother. Mother Mary Lange was born in Cuba, she had close ties to the refugees from Haiti who flocked to Santiago de Cuba where she lived until she emigrated to the United States. The Oblates early annals until 1845 were written in French, revealing a continuing attachment to the French language and culture. In a letter to Father Kohlman of Rome, dated March 10, 1833, Father Joubert expressed his wish to establish an Oblate mission in Haiti and, in another one, dated October 30, 1833, refers to St. Domingue as “my country” because he had lived there many years before coming to America. By the time Mother Lange died in 1882, the connection with Haiti was completely severed. It would take more than 100 years for it to be reestablished, when around 1997, Fr. Maurice Elder Hyppolite in Haiti, Mr. Max Auguste in New Jersey and Father Andre Pierre in Washington, D.C., found out about the Oblates almost simultaneously.

Father Maurice Elder visited the sisters in Baltimore and arranged for Father Bowen, Sr.Virginie and Sr. Claudina to visit Haiti. This on-site visit was the first official introduction of the Oblate Sisters to the country which played such a large part in the formation of the community.

Max August, a promoter of the cause of Venerable Pierre Toussaint, joined the Mother Lange Guild and opened the Centre d’Information et de Services Pierre Toussaint et Mere Marie Lange. In June, 2006, the Center sponsored a pilgrimage to sites connected to Mother Lange.

In March, 2000, Father Andre organized a “Pilgrimage to the Source” which took Haitian-Americans of the Baltimore and Washington Metropolitan areas to Haiti and inspired the formation in September, 2000, of Haitian-Americans United (HAU) for Mother Mary Lange.

Initially, HAU's mission was to promote the cause of Mother Lange., primarily among Haitians and people of Haitian origin and to translate literature and documents into French and Haitian Creole, as necessary. To fulfill its mission, HAU’s members focused first on the Haitian-Americans in their immediate communities, distributing information at Haitian Masses, charismatic conventions and other religious gatherings; publishing the book Her Name was Elizabeth: The Story of Mother Lange, later translated in French, creating an annual “Mother Lange Writing Contest”—an initiative of Father Andre—for young people and inviting them to participate as members of the Youth Choir in the liturgies at Haitian pilgrimages.

We then reached out to the Haitian communities in other areas of the United States, in Canada and in Haiti through publication of articles in French, Creole and English in Haitian newspapers, on Haitian mailing lists and websites and invitations to groups from other states to organize pilgrimages to Mother Lange sites of life and ministry. The latter initiative led to the formation in 2003 of the New York Mother Lange Sainthood Cause Chapter—which initiated the tradition, that HAU later adopted, of having a commemorative Mass in February to honor Mother Lange—and, in turn, stronger relationship of HAU with the Brooklyn, NY based “National Center for the Haitian apostolate” (SNAA in Haitian Creole), founded and directed by Monsignor Guy Sansaricq, now an Auxiliary Bishop of Brooklyn.

Thanks to the strong support of Monsignor Sansaricq and the leadership of his Public Relations person, Buteau Espiegie, this affiliation made it possible to reach a much wider segment of the Haitian clergy and of the communities of Haitian origin both in Haiti and in other parts of the world through emails, lectures and workshops at SNAA’s conventions and mini-conventions and radio and newspaper interviews. Efforts have been made to discern vocations among Haitian and Haitian-American women and invite them to consider joining the Oblate Sisters of Providence. Haitian and Haitian-American priests recommended a few possible candidates, but for several reasons, including political upheavals in Haiti, language barrier and difficulty in obtaining a U. S. visa (or for the Sisters to travel to Haiti) so far, they have not been successful. Nevertheless, we remain convinced that, in His time, Providentia Providebit! We continue the journey with the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the Mother Lange Guild, all the Mother Lange chapters and the thousands of people all over the world who are engaged in this work of faith and love to obtain that the Church officially recognizes what we already know: Mother Lange is a saint.