9: Mother Mary Lange

2020 marks the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women in the ELCA, the 40th anniversary of women of color, and the 10th anniversary of LGBTQ+ siblings.

It’s an incredibly important marker for the ELCA, though it is only the beginning for the Church, as women are still denied ordination across the denominations and hold less than 15% of the leadership positions in the worldwide church! Therefore, in 2020, we in the Oregon Synod will highlight one woman from Christian history every week. Some you may know, others you may not, but all worthy of our respect and gratitude.

#9 Mother Mary Lange

Elizabeth Lange, founder of the first United States religious order of women of color, came to Baltimore a refugee from Cuba (and Haiti before that). She was a well-educated woman with independent means, (due to her family’s wealth), and a religious pioneer. She became aware of the need for education amongst the slave population, so she opened a school for Black children in her home, (Maryland was a slave state at the time and the education of Black children was outlawed). The free school that she created eventually transformed into the first Black Catholic school in the US. In 1829, she established the first religious order of women of African Descent, the Oblate Sisters of Providence, with a mission to educate Black children. Upon taking her vows, she took the name of Mary and became the order’s first Mother Superior. Mother Mary gave tirelessly and generously, On top of the schools she started there was also an orphanage, a woman’s home, spiritual direction, religious education classes, and vocational training (at night, the sisters taught Black adults to read and write). Mother Mary died in 1882. The Oblate sisters continue their work today teaching in schools, working in parishes and caring for the sick in the US, Cuba, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and parts of Africa. Mother Mary teaches us to use what we have and do all the good we can, wherever we are.