With a friend, Marie Magdelaine Balas, Lange began offering free education to children of color in her home. In 1829, Lange founded not only the school but also a religious order of sisters for colored women. Lange and three other women made their first vows as Oblate Sisters of Providence. Lange, who became the superior of the order, took the religious name of Mary and became known as Mother Mary Lange.
The school founded by the sisters, St. Frances Academy, is the oldest continuous school for black Catholics in the United States and remains open today. By 1860, all colored children attending Catholic school in Baltimore were educated in schools run by the Oblate Sisters.
During her lifetime, Lange and her sisters not only educated children of color, they housed orphans and vulnerable elderly people, did extra washing and mending, and begged on the streets to support those they needed. were in charge. In 1832, the sisters also cared for the terminally ill during the cholera epidemic. After the Civil War, the sisters cared for dozens of black orphans who lived in Baltimore.
On February 3, 1882, after a long life of service to others, Mother Mary Lange died. His sainthood cause was opened in 1991.
Venerable Henriette DeLille
Henriette DeLille was born in 1812 to a wealthy French father and a free Creole woman of Spanish, French and African descent. Henriette was groomed throughout her childhood to be part of the plating system, by which free women of color entered into common law marriages with wealthy white plantation owners. But Henriette declares that her religious convictions are irreconcilable with the lifestyle for which she is being prepared. Raised a Catholic, she believed the veneer system violated Church teaching on the sanctity of marriage.
Working as a teacher since the age of 14, Henriette’s devotion to caring for and educating the poor grew. Although she was only one-eighth African and could have passed as a white person, she always called herself a Creole or a free person of color, causing conflict in her family, who had declared themselves white. during the census.
In 1836, wanting to consecrate her life to God, Henriette used the proceeds of an inheritance to found a small, unrecognized order of nuns, the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her non-white heritage had prevented her from being admitted into Ursuline and Carmelite orders, which at the time only accepted white women. This group would eventually become the Sisters of the Holy Family, officially founded at St. Augustine’s Church in 1842. The Sisters taught religion and other subjects to slaves, even though it was illegal to do so at the time, punishable by death or life imprisonment. .
Henriette Delille died in 1862 at the age of 50, probably of tuberculosis. At the time of her death, her order had 12 members, but it would eventually peak at 400 members in the 1950s. The Sisters of the Holy Family are an active order in Louisiana today, with sisters working in nursing homes and as teachers, administrators and other pastoral positions.
The Venerable Henriette Delille was the first African-American born in the United States to open a cause of holiness, according to her order.
Venerable Augustus Tolton
Although black Catholics had been part of the Catholic community in the United States for more than three centuries at that time, Father Augustus Tolton was the very first black Catholic priest in the United States. Throughout his life he endured extreme racism, even from his fellow Catholics, but never renounced his faith.
Tolton was born into slavery in Monroe County, Missouri in 1854 and escaped to Quincy, Illinois with his family during the Civil War. Although Illinois outlawed slavery in 1848, it was by no means a safe haven for escapees. This is true not only of the state as a whole, but also of the Catholic churches attended by the Tolton family; white parishioners in Illinois largely rejected their fellow black Catholics.
The parish priest of Tolton approached the very bright young man and asked if he had ever considered the priesthood. But Tolton faced a problem: no seminary in the United States to which he applied would accept him, because of his race. Instead, he had the opportunity to study for the priesthood in Rome. He was ordained in 1889.
Father Tolton expected to be sent to minister in another country, perhaps even in Africa. But instead, the Vatican sent him back to the United States, to the country that had hitherto rejected him, because the Vatican wanted people in the United States to see a black priest. Tolton served three years in a parish in Quincy, eventually accepting an invitation to come to Chicago where he led St. Monica Parish.
On July 9, 1897, Fr. Tolton collapsed on a hot day and died of sunstroke at the age of 43. A seminary set up in Baltimore by the Josephite religious order – whose charism is to serve black Catholics – opened shortly after his death. Many young black Catholics saw Father Tolton’s ministry and were inspired to enter seminary themselves.
His cause for canonization was launched in 2010 and he was granted the title of “Servant of God” by the Vatican in February 2011. The search phase for his cause ended on September 29, 2014.