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24763: HaitiFactsCheck (pub) Church seeking sainthood for Haitian nun
*Church seeking sainthood for Haitian nun*
*By Foster Klug
BALTIMORE -- In an era of slavery, a Haitian immigrant called Mother
Mary Lange led the country's first community of black nuns, gracefully
matching wits with a slave-owning priest and dodging insults from racist
Mother Lange also established the country's oldest continuing
Catholic school for black children more than 30 years before the 1863
Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in the United States.
Today, the Archdiocese of Baltimore seeks to formally recognize
Mother Lange's work and make her the first black U.S. saint -- a role
many believe she has served in all but name since her death in 1882.
"She has been a saint in the eyes of many people for a long time,"
said Sister Julia Apolonio, an Oblate nun who said that four years of
daily prayer to Mother Lange helped her walk again without pain after
her body was twisted and broken by lupus and repeated surgeries. "She
does answer the prayers of the people who pray to her."
In December, 2,000 pages of painstakingly compiled documentation
formally were sent to the Vatican for review. It was the culmination of
a 14-year effort that occasionally resembled a densely plotted mystery
novel, with intrepid priests and nuns plowing through crumbling archives
in Baltimore, Cuba and Haiti.
"It is a relief, but we know it's not finished," said the Rev. John
Bowen, 80, a Sulpician priest from Baltimore who is leading the effort
to canonize Mother Lange.
Within nine months, the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of
Saints is expected to determine whether Mother Lange's case is worthy of
consideration. If it does, and if proof of a miracle is then found, the
church would beatify her. With evidence of a second miracle, she would
be named a saint.
Frustrated researchers often were stumped by language barriers and
documents rendered missing or incomplete because of the revolutions that
convulsed the Caribbean at the end of the 18th century, when Mother
Lange was born in either Haiti or Cuba.
The picture of Mother Lange that emerges, though incomplete, stands
in contrast to the oppressive lives of other black women living at the
time south of the Mason-Dixon Line -- the border between Maryland and
Pennsylvania and, before and during the Civil War, the boundary between
the slave states and the free states.
"What striking things she did," said Cardinal William Keeler, the
archbishop of Baltimore. "It must have taken great courage and holiness."
She was born Elizabeth Clarisse Lange about 1784. After she fled the
violence of the Haitian slave revolt in about 1812, she settled in
Baltimore, one of the East Coast port cities that Haitian refugees
flocked to during the period.
Mother Lange began teaching black children in her home, using her
own money. In 1828, she founded St. Frances Academy with the help of the
Rev. James Joubert, a French Sulpician priest who supported the
education of black people. Several congregations rejected her attempts
to become a nun, so Joubert helped Mother Lange and three other women
take their vows in 1829 and start the Oblate Sisters of Providence,
which now has about 100 members.
Life for the community of nuns was hard. They suffered insults
because they wore habits and crosses, which some white Catholics
considered offensive. After Mother Lange and three other nuns nursed
victims of Baltimore's 1832 cholera epidemic, city officials neglected
to mention their service when honoring others.
In 1835, the women were asked to do domestic work at St. Mary's
Seminary in Baltimore. Before she agreed to do the job, Mother Lange
sent a letter to the head of the seminary asking that he not "miss the
respect which is due to the state we have embraced and the holy habit
which we have the honor to wear."
It was an extraordinary letter, in that Mother Lange, a black woman,
was writing to a white priest with slave holdings, Mr. Bowen said. "She
was willing to risk a lot."
No black person in the United States has been named a saint.