One of the wonderful joys of February is the celebration of Black History Month. We use the second month of the year to offer our community a special occasion in which to celebrate the unique, and sometimes overlooked treasures in the annals of our country’s history. One such example of an unnoticed gem sits just down 695 in Halethorpe, MD. The motherhouse for the Oblate Sisters of Providence in Halethorpe is credited as the first successful Roman Catholic sisterhood in the world established by women of African descent. It was the work of a French-born Sulpician priest and four women, who were part of the Caribbean refugee colony which began arriving in Baltimore, Maryland in the late eighteenth century. Father James Hector Nicholas Joubert, a Sulpician priest, discovered it was difficult for the Haitian refugee children to master their religious studies because they were unable to read. As such, he contacted two devout Caribbean women who were already conducting a school for black children in their Baltimore home. And so it was that in 1828, Elizabeth Lange (later Mother Mary Lange) and Maria Balas accepted Fr. Joubert’s proposal to start a sisterhood with the primary mission of teaching and caring for African American children. Consequently, the Oblate Sisters of Providence were founded in 1829 in Baltimore and were established to respond to the needs of the time. Today the Oblate Sisters continue to respond as Mother Mary Lange did, “trusting in providence, loving all and seeing Christ in each person”. Currently the order has approximately eighty members and continues its ministry in Baltimore, Miami, Buffalo, as well as Alajuela and Siquirres in Costa Rica.
This local connection to black history served as the backdrop to a joyous occasion that I hope will become an annual event at St. Agnes School. Using Saint Valentine’s as the setting, our 4th grade class paid a visit to the Oblates of Providence with the event billed as “Sweets, Songs, and Scattegories with the Sisters”. In preparation for this day, our students learned about the order’s foundress, Mother Mary Lange and her social and spiritual impact on people of color in the Baltimore area. In addition, we used this event as a memorable occasion in which to visit the convent, celebrate mass together and host a Saint Valentine’s social where the student’s sang songs, served food and drink and played the game Scattegories with the Oblate Sisters. This wonderful day involved a firsthand study of black history, a celebration of our faith and direct service in sharing the Light of Christ with this blessed order of faith-filled nuns. And special events like this would not occur without the support of many hands. I want to extend my heartfelt appreciation for the generosity that Sr. Gwynette Proctor, the Director of Black Catholic Ministries for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, offered in support of this event. I also want to thank faculty members Katie White and Dan Baker, along with our H.S.A. President, Sherita Thomas, for all of the organizational efforts they offered to this event.
Witnessing the shared smiles between the Oblates and my students served as a fitting reminder that a St. Agnes education extends far beyond the walls of our charming schoolhouse as it provides cultural experiences which serve to the needs of our broader community.
We Are…ST. AGNES!