ELIZABETH CLARISSE LANGE
(1784 – 1882)
Elizabeth Clarisse Lange founded the first school for black Catholic children in Baltimore, and she helped found the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first black Roman Catholic order in the United States.
Born in the French colony of Saint Domingue in 1784, she left the colony with her family as a child during the Haitian Revolution. The family initially immigrated to Cuba and eventually made its way to the United States. By 1813, Lange had settled in the Fells Point area of Baltimore. Her mother returned to the islands, but Lange remained in Baltimore. That decision alone was courageous for a black Catholic French-speaking woman, given that Maryland was a slave-holding Protestant state. Baltimore did have a French-speaking community, which included refugees from both the French and Haitian revolutions.
Soon after arriving in Baltimore, with the help of another refugee, Marie Magdalene Balas, Lange opened the first school for the city’s French-speaking immigrants and black families whose children had no access to public education. Limited financial support forced Lange to close the school. She then sought support from Father James Hector Joubert, and other black women Catholics, who helped her establish an order for black women since the existing orders only admitted white women. By giving the order an educational focus, it attracted women who could learn to teach and run Catholic schools for black children.
Lange died on February 3, 1882. In 1991, Cardinal William H. Keeler, then the Archbishop of Baltimore, officially opened an investigation of Lange’s life and works to consider the possibility of her canonization as a saint.