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6594: Canonization cause of Haitian-American picks up steam (fwd)
>From the December 2000 issue of The Josephite Harvest
Mother Lange canonization effort picks up momentum
Although the canonization cause for the foundress of the first religious
order dedicated to educating African-American children got off to a slow
start, it's picked up momentum during the past 10 years.
Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange founded the Oblate Sisters of Providence in
Baltimore in 1829, but the order didn't petition the archdiocese until 1989
to investigate her cause. Mother Lange died in 1882.
"It's not a mystery to those who know black history in the U.S.," why the
order didn't make the petition sooner, said Sr. M. Virginie Fish, O.S.P., the
vice postulator of Mother Lange's cause. In addition to the Oblate Sisters'
lack of economic resources to promote the cause - they have just 106 members
and work primarily with the poor - she cited the "social element of the slave
mentality," in the U.S., as well as racial discrimination and a
"male-dominated environment," in the Church, which previously gave most of
the credit for the Oblate Sisters' foundation to Sulpician Father James
Joubert, their first confessor and spiritual director.
It took 171 years for the City of Baltimore to dedicate a historical market
at 610 George Street, where Mother Lange and three other women took vows of
chastity, poverty and obedience, thus forming the Oblate Sisters of
Providence during a time of legalized slavery in Maryland. Mayor Martin
O'Malley dedicated the marker on Feb. 13, 2000. The Oblates founded St.
Frances Academy in 1828, which is the oldest U.S. continuing educational
facility for black children, and they later moved it to the 610 George Street
A free black woman who came to Baltimore after fleeing her native San Domingo
(now Haiti) with her family and first living in Cuba, Mother Lange educated
black children, many of them orphans, with her own money for 10 years. She
had thought about becoming a sister during that time, but religious orders
didn't accept blacks then, Sr. Virginie said. Fr. Joubert encouraged Mother
Lange to form a religious order to educate black children. Mother Lange, a
small-framed but determined woman who didn't speak English well, received the
support of Archbishop James Whitfield of Baltimore to found her order.
At a time when black children could receive religious instruction but no
other education, Mother Lange suffered from discrimination by a prospective
landlord who refused to rent to her when he found out about her apostolate,
and neighbors and Catholic Baltimoreans showed their scorn for the black
religious, Sr. Virginie said.
Baltimore Archbishop Samuel Eccleston ordered the Oblates to disband in 1844
and serve as domestics because he didn't see what good it would do to educate
black children. Until Father John Neumann - later archbishop of Philadelphia
and canonized saint - sent a fellow Redemptorist to rescue the abandoned
sisters - they hadn't taken a retreat for three years and had difficulty
going to Mass and didn't have a regular confessor.
Through the trials, Mother Lange kept her love of the Blessed Sacrament and
her faith in God's will. She regular volunteered to do menial tasks,
according to Sr. Virginie, and refused to serve consecutive terms as mother
superior so her personality wouldn't dominate the order too much. When a
cholera epidemic hit Baltimore, New York and Philadelphia in 1832, all 11
Oblate members volunteered to serve as nurses to the sick. One Oblate died as
a result of her nursing work.
Since the U.S. bishops gave their approval to Baltimore's Cardinal William
Keeler to investigate the life of Mother Lange in 1991, Sr. Virginie has
compiled "several notebooks" filled with favors that people have received
after praying for Mother Lange's intercession, she said. Letters inquiring
about Mother Lange's life have come from 18 countries and "just about every"
U.S. state, she said.
Josephites - who served as spiritual directors and confessors for the Oblates
from 1879 through the Second Vatican Council - and Josephite parishioners are
some of the strongest backers of the Mother Lange canonization effort. Fr.
Donald Fest, S.S.J., helped found a Mother Lange Chapter at St. Veronica's
Church in Baltimore, and Fr. Lowell Case, S.S.J., wants to launch one at Our
Lady of Perpetual Help parish in Washington, Sr. Virginie said.
Maria M. Lannon, the Josephite Pastoral Center director in Washington, wrote
Response to Love, a 19-page Mother Lange biography in 1992 with additional
background information on the Oblate Sisters. Phyllis Douglass, the member of
Josephite-staffed St. Francis Xavier Parish in Baltimore and principal of
that city's Rosa Parks Catholic Middle School, is the Mother Mary Lange Guild
president, and Fr. John L.H. Filipelli, S.S.J., has served as a guild board
In addition to proving that Mother Lange lived the virtues to a heroic
degree, her canonization cause needs medically-confirmed miracles to go
further. While Mother Lange and her Oblates largely didn't succeed from a
human perspective during her lifetime - their order's early annals are filled
with failed attempts to staff schools in other cities - perhaps she can serve
as a powerful advocate in Heaven for anyone who prays for her intercession.
For more information on the Mother Mary Lange Guild, please contact Sr.
Virginie Fish at the Oblate Sisters of Providence/701 Gun Road/Baltimore, MD
Please respond directly to Bill Murray at firstname.lastname@example.org with any
questions about this posting.