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This Advent, Ignatian writers from across the Jesuit Conference are sharing 25 days of reflections on Ignatian heroes. You can receive these reflections directly in your inbox by signing up here.

Day 20: Mary Lange

By Kendall Conder

Ashamed to say it, but as a lifelong Catholic, the first time I heard the name Mother Mary Lange was about two years ago during a service for the Oblate Sisters of Providence in Baltimore.

Why hadn’t I heard of her before?

She founded the first Black American religious order … and I had never heard of her.

She founded the first Black Catholic school in America – that is still in operation today and which I drive by all the time … and I had not heard of her.

Why didn’t I know her?

How could I not have known about such an incredible woman, a leader in the Catholic Church and innovator in education in America?

I had learned about Teresa, Joan, Elizabeth Ann … but not Mother Mary Lange.

A Haitian-born refugee who grew up in Cuba and later immigrated to the United States, Mother Mary Lange was a founding member of the first religious order of women of African descent: the Oblate Sisters of Providence.

She, along with three other Black women, established St. Frances Academy in 1828. It is the first and the oldest continuously operating school for Black Catholic children in the United States. It is still educating children in Baltimore today.

The order also purchased land in Baltimore City, endowing American Black Catholics their own separate chapel for worship, baptisms, marriages, confirmations and funerals for the first time.

Black history and Black excellence in the Catholic Church are not taught or often even recognized. This needs to change.

How can you and I be a part of this change?

Like Mother Mary Lange did when she saw the lack of opportunity for Black children in Baltimore, decide that you’re going to be the teacher.

As a co-chair of the Anti-Racism Task Force at St. Ignatius Church – the Jesuit parish in Baltimore – I work alongside other parishioners to bring awareness to racist policies in the church and our community.

We work to educate ourselves on Black excellence in the church and share with our family, friends and congregation.

We press our church to highlight Black contributions to Catholicism in the artwork on the walls, the homilies and Sunday School teachings.

We collaborate with Black Catholic churches in our area. Our community works closely with other local parishes, supporting important efforts like the canonization of Black American Catholics.

Despite the canonization of 911 candidates since the start of Pope Francis’ pontificate in 2013, there are currently no Black American saints. Three million Black Catholics in America continue to be unrepresented.

In our parish, inspired by the Ignatian tradition and our Jesuit values, we believe it is our duty to press the church to be more inclusive, lift up Black members and revere their contributions … like Mother Mary Lange’s.

Reflection: Take time to look at the images on the walls in your church. Who is reflected there? Who is missing? What can you do about it?

Kendall Conder grew up splitting time between Las Vegas and San Francisco. She relocated – on a whim – to Baltimore about 8 years ago and is currently the Therapy Services manager at the Baltimore VA Hospital. She and her husband Kevin have been parishioners at St. Ignatius for 3 years and are the co-chairs of the Anti-Racism Task Force.

 

 

 

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