Oblate Sisters of Providence

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Oblate Sisters of Providence

The Oblate Sisters of Providence, an order of black nuns, pioneered in the area of black Catholic education in America. The order was founded in Baltimore in 1828 by a group of free women of color who had fled the turmoil of slave insurrections on the French island colony of San Domingo. Elizabeth Lange, one of the order's founding members, had already been involved in educating black children in Baltimore when she was approached by a local priest with the idea of founding a "religious society of virgins and widows of color." Three other Haitian women joined Lange in the formation of the community, and the four took their vows as sisters on July 2, 1829. Lange served as the order's first mother superior. The Oblates' chapel, built in 1836, became an important center for worship among black Catholics in Baltimore. There, members of the black Catholic community could be baptized, married, confirmed, and buried.

Although tuition and boarding fees were charged at St. Frances Academy, the Oblates' school, the sisters made a regular practice of caring for and educating homeless and orphaned children. Non-Catholic children were also accepted as students. The Oblates taught both academic and trade subjects. Despite frequent difficulties, the Oblates were ever expanding. Their own numbers grew and the order drew African-American women in addition to women from San Domingo. The order of the Oblate Sisters of Providence is still in existence, and members of the order are at the forefront of leadership of black nuns in America. St. Frances Academy, the original school, continues to operate as well.

See also Catholicism in the Americas


Gerdes, Sister M. Reginald, O.S.P. "To Educate and Evangelize: Black Catholic Schools of the Oblate Sisters of Providence (18281880)." U.S. Catholic Historian 7 (spring/summer 1988): 183199.

Sherwood, Grace H. Oblates' Hundred and One Years. New York: Macmillan, 1930.

judith weisenfeld (1996)