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Baltimore woman, an immigrant from Cuba, is one step closer to sainthood

Sr. Mary Lange, the foundress of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first-ever Catholic religious order for women of African descent, is one step closer to canonization in the Roman Catholic Church.

The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Causes of Saints promulgated six decrees on Thursday, June 22, recognizing the “heroic virtues” of five people and the martyrdom of 20 others who were killed in Spain in 1936.  

Among those recognized for their “heroic virtues” was Servant of God Mary Lange — who will be known now as “Venerable Mary Lange,” according to Vatican News.


Mother Mary Lange split with a picture of the Virgin Mary

Sr. Mary Lange, above left, is one step closer to sainthood and now will be known as Venerable Mary Lange. To the right, a shrine at the mother house of the religious congregation she founded. (Public Domain/Getty Images)

“Elizabeth came to Baltimore as a courageous, loving and deeply spiritual woman. She was a strong, independent thinker and doer,” the website also noted.

As a well-educated person, it did not take Lange long “to recognize that the children of her fellow immigrants needed an education,” the site also said.

At the time, there was no free public education available for African American children in Maryland, the website also said. 

The sisterhood was eventually expanded out into a religious congregation, which became the Oblate Sisters of Providence.

Mother Mary Lange staring at camera

Mother Mary Lange was born in Cuba and immigrated to the United States in the 1800s. She eventually settled in Baltimore, where she founded the Oblate Sisters of Providence, a religious order for African American women to educate and minister to Black children. (Public Domain)

That school became known as St. Frances Academy, still operating today in Baltimore. 

The sisterhood was eventually expanded out into a religious congregation, which became the Oblate Sisters of Providence.

“Father Joubert would provide direction, solicit financial assistance and encourage other ‘women of color’ to become members of this, the first congregation of African American women religious in the history of the Catholic Church,” said the Oblate Sisters of Providence. 

The formation of a religious congregation for African American women came nearly three decades before the ordination of the first priest of any African American descent, and almost six decades before the ordination of the first priest widely acknowledged to be of African American heritage. 

Bishop James A. Healy, the first priest and bishop in the United States of known African descent, was ordained in 1854. 

Healy’s mother was a mixed-race enslaved woman and his father was an Irishman — and he largely hid his background and passed as a White man, notes the New England Historical Society. 

“This congregation would educate and evangelize African Americans. Yet they would always be open to meeting the needs of the times,” said the Oblate Sisters of Providence.


“Thus the Oblate Sisters educated youth and provided a home for orphans. Slaves who had been purchased and then freed were educated and at times admitted into the congregation. They nursed the terminally ill during the cholera epidemic of 1832, sheltered the elderly, and even served as domestics at Saint Mary’s Seminary.”

The school primarily serves students who live in Baltimore’s Poppleton neighborhood, says the Archdiocese of Baltimore. 

Catholic Sister religious habit

Sr. Wilhelmina Lancaster as a young nun. Lancaster was initially a member of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the religious order founded by Ven. Mary Lange. The Catholic nun was recently found not to have decomposed in the four years since her death.  (Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles)

Most students are not Catholics — and nearly all receive some form of tuition assistance. 

Lange’s cause for canonization, or the official process of being recognized as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church, began in 1991, says the Archdiocese of Baltimore. 

Once the person has been approved by the Vatican and determined to have lived a holy life, the person is declared “Venerable,” according to the Vatican’s website.

Pope Francis embraces cardinals

A saint is canonized in a special Mass over which the pope presides.  (Giuseppe Ciccia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

After this step, the Vatican has to approve of a miracle attributed to the intercession of the potential saint. 

Typically, this miracle involves a medical healing that cannot be explained otherwise by science. 

After one miracle is attributed to the person, that person is beatified and known as “Blessed.” 

A second miracle is required for canonization. 

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