Elizabeth Clarisse Lange was born in 1789 on the island of Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic). Her mother was the daughter of a plantation owner and her father was a biracial slave on the same plantation. They fled to the island of Cuba during the Haitian revolution, and there she received an excellent education. The family finally settled in Baltimore.
As a young woman, Elizabeth opened a school for African-American children in her home, as there were no free schools for Black children in Baltimore at that time. A priest suggested that Elizabeth start a school for girls. This gradually evolved into the idea of a religious community of teachers. At that time, Black women were not admitted to religious orders, at least in the United States. Archbishop James Whitfield approved the idea, and so the first congregation of women of African descent in the United States was begun, called the Oblate Sisters of Providence. Elizabeth took the name “Sister Mary” and became the first superior general.
The school they founded in 1828, Saint Frances Academy, still operates today in Baltimore. Mary Lange died on February 3, 1882. Her remains now rest in the chapel of the Oblate Sisters of Providence in Baltimore.
(Image by unknown author, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)