The Oblate Sisters of Providence have announced a virtual ceremony commemorating the feast day of Servant of God Mary Lange, to be broadcast live on Saturday, February 5th at 2pm ET from the sisters’ motherhouse, the Our Lady of Mount Providence Convent in Baltimore.
It will feature a commemoration of the 140th anniversary of Lange’s death—officially celebrated yesterday, February 3rd—and a recommitment ceremony for the members of the Mother Mary Lange Guild, which promotes her canonization cause.
At present, Lange is one of six African-Americans on the path to sainthood in the Catholic Church, and none have yet been beatified. There are presently no Black saints from North America, but a petition in support of the six candidates was recently mailed to Pope Francis by a group based in Baltimore.
Born in Cuba to Haitian parents, Lange later immigrated to Baltimore and founded the Oblates in 1829 as a congregation for Black women, who at the time were barred from religious communities in the United States.
It was the first Black religious order in the United States, and as their leader, Lange became the world’s first African-American superior general.
The sisters retained their flagship school, now known as St Frances Academy, which they started prior to the formal establishment of the order. It is today one of the oldest continually operating schools in the United States, and the oldest such Black Catholic institution.
With the charism of service “to victims of poverty, racism, and injustice”, the order later expanded to operations in more than a dozen US states, and also started missions in Cuba, Providence Island (Colombia), the Dominican Republic, and Costa Rica.
The sisters also ran a junior college in Baltimore for three years in the 1960s, one of the few Black Catholic institutions of higher education in American history.
Since her death in 1882, Lange’s fame as a holy figure in the Church has continued to grow, especially since her canonization cause was officially opened in 2004. There are currently chapters of her guild in 16 countries around the world.
The guild recently submitted clarifications to Rome concerning her cause, and members are hopeful that she will soon reach the next stage and become the fourth African-American in history to be declared “Venerable”.
In popular media, Lange will soon be featured in an upcoming documentary on venerated African Americans due to be released later this month. A Spanish-language film on her order’s work in Cuba, “Sisters of the Heart” (“Hermanas de Corazon”), premiered overseas in December.
The recently opened Mother Mary Lange Catholic School in Baltimore celebrated her feast day on Thursday by dedicating its chapel in her honor, with Archbishop William Lori presiding over a school Mass,
Saturday’s event will be streamed live on the Oblates’ Facebook page.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).