In the early decades of the nineteenth century, Mary Elizabeth Lange founded the first order of African American Catholic nuns, the Oblate Sisters of Providence, under the blessing of the Archbishop of Baltimore. Now, more than 130 years after her death in 1882, Lange is being considered for canonization — which would make her the first African-American saint in the history of the church.
Lange’s legacy lives on in Baltimore in a number of ways. The Oblate Sisters still exist, and run a non-profit residential care facility with the aim of bringing “wholeness to adolescent girls and their families.” Lange was also instrumental in the founding of St. Frances Academy, a school dedicated to the education of children of African-American descent that’s still operating 185 years after its founding.
Lange was first nominated for canonization in 1991, but becoming a saint is not a quick process. In 2004, then-archbishop William Keller completed a profile of Lange; that was step one. (The process is apparently supposed to include an exhumation of the maybe-saint’s body ” to ensure the candidate did not practice heretical worship.”) An 800-page document providing evidence that Lange led a heroic life is currently under review at the Vatican. If she passes this test (and, come on, she definitely should), then comes a tricky part: proving two posthumous miracles.
So if you happen to notice any miraculous happenings, please inform your local Catholic Church ASAP. Henriette Delille, the African-American founder of the Sisters of the Holy Family in New Orleans, is also in the process of canonization.
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