Oblate Sisters of Providence

Baltimore, Maryland

Providing Education and Service to all for over

189 Years

Mother Mary Lange

We do not know much about the early years of Mother Mary Lange, the foundress of the Oblate Sisters of Providence. She was born Elizabeth Lange in the around 1794 in Santiago de Cuba, where she lived in a primarily French speaking community. She received an excellent education and in the early 1800s Elizabeth left Cuba and settled in the United States. By 1813, Providence directed her to Baltimore, Maryland where a large community of French speaking Catholics from Haiti was established. Elizabeth came to Baltimore as a courageous, loving, and deeply spiritual woman. She was a strong, independent thinker and doer. As a well educated, it did not take Lange long to recognize that the children of her fellow immigrants needed an education.  There was no free public education for African American children in Maryland until 1868. She responded to that need by opening a school in her home in the Fells Point area of the city for the children. She and her friend, Marie Magdaleine Balas (later Sister Frances, OSP) operated the school for over ten years.
Providence intervened through the person of Reverend James Hector Joubert, SS, who was encouraged by James Whitfield, Archbishop of Baltimore, and  presented Elizabeth Lange with the idea to found a religious congregation for the education of African American girls.  Father Joubert would provide direction, solicit financial assistance, and encourage other "women of colour" to become members of this, the first congregation of African American  women religious in the history of the Catholic Church. Elizabeth joyfully accepted Father Joubert's idea. She no longer needed to keep locked up the deepest desire of her heart. For years she felt God's call to consecrate herself and her works entirely to Him. How was this to be? At the time black men and women could not aspire to religious life. But now God was providing a way! On July 2, 1829 Elizabeth and three other women professed their vows and became the Oblate Sisters of Providence.

Elizabeth, foundress and first superior general of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, took the religious name of Mary. She was superior general from 1829 to 1832, and from 1835 to 1841.  This congregation would educate and evangelize African Americans. Yet they would always be open to meeting the needs of the times. 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.

Mother Mary's early life prepared her well for the turbulence that followed the death of Father Joubert in 1843. There was a sense of abandonment at the dwindling number of pupils and defections of her closest companions and co-workers. Yet through it all Mother Lange never lost faith in Providence. Mother Mary Lange practiced faith to an extraordinary degree. In fact, it was her deep faith which enabled her to persevere against all odds. To her black brothers and sisters she gave herself and her material possessions until she was empty of all but Jesus, whom she shared generously with all by witnessing to His teaching. In close union with Him, she lived through disappointment and opposition until God called her home, February 3, 1882 at Saint Frances Convent in Baltimore, Maryland.

Mother Lange Guild

Reverend James Hector Joubert

Co-founder of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the Reverend James Mary Hector Nicholas Joubert de la Muraille, of the Society of Saint Sulpice (SS), was born at Saint Jean d'Angely on the west coast of France, September 6, 1777.  He was the son of a lawyer, John Joseph Mary Joubert, and the former Suzanne Claire Cathering Guimbaut. His parents decided when he reached the age of twelve to place him in the military school at Rebois-en-Brie. Young Joubert then followed a military career for a few years until he went to work in the tax office. The French government sent him in 1800 to the island of Saint-Domingue (Haiti), where Toussaint L'Overture had just re-established order after the successful slave rebellion that began in 1791.

One account of Napoleon's betrayal of Toussaint, war resumed in 1803 and James Joubert fled first to Cuba and then to the United States. He reachedBaltimore in September 1804 and soon obtained a job teaching geography in Madame LeCombe's fashionable school for girls. A year later he entered Saint Mary's Seminary in Baltimore, Maryland to study for the priesthood. He was ordained a priest and received into the Society of Saint Sulpice in 1810. For the remainder of his life Father Joubert performed various duties at Saint Mary's Seminary, including a professor of French and geography, treasurer, vice president, and prefect of discipline at the seminary.
In obedience to his superior, Reverend John Tessier, he began the duty of catechist in the Chappelle Basse (Lower Chapel) in 1827. Father Joubert soon realized that the children, many French speaking immigrants from Haiti, were having trouble learning their catechism because of their difficulty in reading. The unfortunate situation gave him the idea to establish a religious order of women, with the mandate to teach African American children. This resulted in the organization of the original novices of the Oblate Sisters of Providence in the spring of 1828. Father Joubert crafted the order's original constitution and served as their director until his death in 1843.  From his writings, one may surmise that Father Joubert was a practical, determined, eminently spiritual man, who had both feet on the ground at all times. He stood boldly against his many contemporaries who were holding that blacks had neither souls to be saved nor minds to be instructed. Father Joubert's support, guidance, and strong commitment to the mission of the Oblate Sisters of Providence helped the order succeed and flourish under his devoted direction.