Mother Mary Lange
Mother Mary Lange founded the first religious order for women of African heritage. She was born in Cuba of San Domingan parents and made her way to the United States in the early 1800s, settling in Baltimore where she found a large community of French-speaking Dominican Catholics. As a well-educated woman, Mary recognized the needs of other immigrants and soon opened a school for black children in her home. This was despite the fact that she was a Black woman, pre-Emancipation Proclamation, in a state where it was against the law to teach Black people.
With two other women, in 1829 Mary founded the Oblates of Providence, a community dedicated to teaching children of color. As Mother Mary Elizabeth, she led the order in establishing an orphanage, expanding the school to include 300 students, opening a home for widows, nursing cholera patients, and ministering to the Caribbean-American and African-American community. The Oblates of Providence, continued their good works and began ministries in other cities, as well, despite the fact that many people did not approve of Black women in nun's habits.
Mother Mary Lange died on February 3, 1882. Today, the Oblates of Providence continue a vital ministry around the world.