A bold Catholic investment in downtown education

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Mother Mary Lange is the founder of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, based in Baltimore. (CR file)

Chances are, “Mother Mary Lange” is not a household name in most American Catholic circles. This unfortunate state of affairs may change, however, thanks to a courageous initiative now underway in Baltimore, one of America’s most troubled cities.

Who was the Servant of God Mother Mary Lange, OSP?

A few years after her birth on the island of Hispaniola, the child baptized Elizabeth Clarisse Lange was taken by her parents to Santiago de Cuba, as the family fled the chaos of the Haitian Revolution of 1791. Emigrated to the United States In their infancy, Elizabeth appears to have lived in Charleston and Norfolk before settling in Baltimore, which had a sizeable free African-American population whose numbers were augmented by refugees from French-speaking Haiti. After opening a school for black children in her home in Fells Point near Baltimore Harbor, Elizabeth, guided by a French Sulpician priest, Father James Joubert, discerned a vocation to consecrated life: she would help found a religious community for women of African descent, dedicated to the education of African Americans.

Archbishop James Whitfield approved and on July 2, 1829 Elizabeth Clarisse Lange made her first vows and, along with three other “free women of color” (as they were called at the time), created the Oblate Sisters of Providence. Taking the religious name of “Sister Mary,” Lange became the first superior of the community and led the new order, founding schools for girls, homes for widows and orphans, and vocational training centers for women. Risking their lives and the future of their community during a cholera epidemic in 1832, four of the sisters, including Mother Lange, treated victims of the plague. Mother Mary Lange then served her community as a longtime novice mistress and, we can assume, a role model, before her death in 1882.

Over a century later, in response to long-standing local reverence for this remarkable woman, the Archdiocese of Baltimore initiated a formal study of the heroic virtues of Mother Mary Lange, and the cause for her beatification was opened to Rome in 2004. It is a success, and indeed, the subsequent canonization of Mother Lange would be most welcome. Meanwhile, her example is embodied in the first Catholic school opened in the city of Baltimore in 60 years, as Mother Mary Lange Catholic School welcomed its first 400 students in late August.

The Archdiocese has raised over $ 25 million to launch this cutting-edge facility for some of the city’s most disadvantaged youth. Partnerships with local universities, businesses, nonprofits, and social service agencies will enhance the school’s academic excellence with extended care, summer and enrichment programs. Unlike too many modern downtown schools, which are more like bunkers or prisons, Mother Mary Lange School was designed to be open to the struggling neighborhoods of West Baltimore, better known as the location of many urban depredations described in Thread. As Alisha Jordan, the principal of the new school, said, “When you walk into this building there are so many rooms and windows from which you can see the community. I think that’s it [Mother Lange] would have liked. This is true, I think, because Mother Lange would also have applauded the fact that 80-90% of the students at the school, who come from 70 postcodes and are 80% non-Catholic, will receive generous help towards the costs of schooling – and religious education.

When the bishops of the United States mandated a nationwide Catholic school system at the Third Plenary Council in Baltimore in 1884, they probably didn’t realize they were endorsing the most successful anti-poverty program in the world. Catholic history in the United States – and arguably American history. . Today, inner city Catholic schools are a lifeline for children whose futures are even more threatened by the failure of state schools and stubborn teachers‘ unions who resist education reform while engaging in various forms of ideological indoctrination. This lifeline is threatened by financial pressures on many dioceses, and while vigorous efforts are underway across the country to save Catholic schools in the city center, the pandemic has made the predicament even more difficult.

It takes vision, courage, and faith to launch a multi-million dollar adventure in high-level Catholic education in urban settings in these circumstances: the kind of vision, courage, and faith that led a poor black immigrant to found a new religious school. commission for African-American women in the prewar south; the kind of vision, courage and faith that has now led to the opening of the aptly named Mother Mary Lange Catholic School in Baltimore, my beloved, albeit in a hurry, hometown.

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