Mother Mary Lange, founder of first African American religious congregation is on the Path to Sainthood

Ben Ebuka July 03, 2023
The declaration of Mother Mary Lange as a Venerable is the beginning of the approval process of any miracle that will be attributed to her intercession, after which she can be 'beatified.' -- Photo credit: Wikipedia

The Catholic Church has kick-started the process of elevating Mother Mary Lange to Sainthood.

“Pope Francis has advanced the sainthood cause of Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange, a Black religious sister who founded the United State’s first African American religious congregation in Baltimore in 1829,” Hannah Brockhaus, Senior Rome correspondent for Catholic News Agency wrote.

In 1991, with the approval of the Vatican, the then Archbishop of Baltimore, William Cardinal Keeler, began the official investigation into the life of Mother Mary Lange – her union with God, and works of charity, which could lead to her elevation as a Saint in the Catholic Church.

The official recognition of her heroic virtue and selfless works, as well as the formal advancement of her sainthood cause, was announced by the Vatican via a decree signed on June 22, proclaiming her Venerable.

The declaration of Mother Mary Lange as a Venerable is the beginning of the approval process of any miracle that will be attributed to her intercession, after which she can be ‘beatified.’

According to Mother Mary Lange Guild, her early life is not well known, however, the guild asserts that “recent research points to Santiago de Cuba as her birthplace. Most likely she grew up in the French-speaking area of the city, because she was well educated we believe that she came from a family of some means and social standing.”

Young Elizabeth left Cuba in the early 1800s to seek peace and security in the United States and settled in Baltimore, Maryland. By early 1813, Elizabeth Lange recognized the plights of many children of her fellow Caribbean immigrants, including lack of education.

Despite being a Black woman in a slave territory long before the Emancipation Proclamation, Elizabeth and her friend, Marie Magdelaine, began educating children of color with her money and using her home in the Fells Point area of the city as a tutorial center.

She started a school for girls of color in 1829, through the intervention of Father James Hector Joubert and the support of Archbishop James Whitfield. Elizabeth had nurtured the idea of establishing a women’s religious order a decade earlier but waited patiently for God’s direction.

She shared her passion with Father Joubert, who thought it over and decided it was a very worthwhile vocation. He offered different material assistance and encouraged other women of color to join the society, which became the first congregation of women of African Heritage.

Living at a time when Black men and women could not aspire to religious life, God provided a divine intervention, and on July 2, 1829, Elizabeth and three other Black women made their religious consecration and became the pioneer members of the congregation; pronouncing promises of poverty, chastity, and obedience to Archbishop Whitfield and the chosen superior.

The new congregation was proclaimed Oblate Sisters of Providence; where Elizabeth became Sister Mary Lange and the first Superior ‘Mother’ of the congregation. She served as the Superior General from 1829 to 1832 and 1835 to 1841. She also offered many selfless community services; including nursing the sick during a Cholera Epidemic in the early 1830 and the mid-1840s.

“Mother Mary Lange practiced faith to an extraordinary degree. In fact, it was her deep faith that 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. Mother Lange’s life was a long one. She lived to celebrate the golden anniversary of the order,” the Mother Mary Lange Guild notes in an online biography.

“She is an example of how we may all aspire to be. In close union with her God, she lived through disappointment and opposition until God called her to himself on February 3, 1882.”

Below is a brief timeline of her earthly journey, according to the Mother Mary Lange Guild

Born circa 1783 – 1794 (based on various census reports)

Lange Family fled Haiti to Cuba 1787 – 1793

Immigrated to the United States 1802 -1812

Opened first Catholic School for children of color 1818 – 1828

Began religious Formation in 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 a nurse for Cholera victims 1832

Serves as Treasurer 1833 – 1875

Serves in Seminary Ministry 1849 – 1851

Becomes Mistress of Novices 1851 – 1857

Chosen Assistant Superior (by Mother Gertrude) 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 duties c.1876

Mother Lange dies on February 3, 1882


Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: July 3, 2023


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